Demographic Bomb

Changing Tack with Africa

Gerd Müller in Afrika
Pushing for a Marshall Plan for Africa is a key priority of Berlin's foreign policy. Source: DPA.

The forces currently at work in Africa could either tear the continent apart – and seriously shake Europe in the process – or could put it on a long-term path to growth for the first time and possibly even make a target for investment out of a continent accustomed to receiving aid. Current United Nations forecasts predict that the population of sub-Saharan countries will more than double by 2050 – from just over 1 billion now to at least 2.2 billion. Whether these people really will become enthusiastic consumers and manufacturers one day, or just create social dynamite will be decided in the next generation. It remains unclear where all the schools, hospitals and above all the millions of jobs for many young Africans will come from.

In light of the dramatic situation around the Mediterranean Sea, there are growing concerns in Europe that migration from the south could get out of control again and finally overrun Europe. It was only sheer panic which drove Chancellor Angela Merkel – who has displayed little interest in Africa over the years – to make the continent a focus of the G20 summit. And the fact that it merited no more than a few platitudes in the final declaration was certainly due to the many other global flashpoints. Furthermore, most G20 states, including China and Japan, are not among the refugees’ favorite destinations and are therefore much less concerned than Germany.

At least this time, unlike at previous summits, the talk was no longer about increasing the levels of development aid, which has proved inefficient, and more about a greater involvement of the private sector. But past experiences show that it’s far from certain that it will be enough to establish more small industry in Africa and to arrange a few business sponsorships for countries like Tunisia or Ghana, which have better governance anyway, while ignoring key countries like the Congo, the ailing core of Africa.

It has also been known for a long time that the ongoing flow of external aid has actually hindered real growth in Africa.

Again, the demographic explosion south of the Sahara was hardly mentioned at all, although it is the greatest single impediment to Africa’s recovery, if only because the constant population growth immediately neutralizes whatever small progress is made. It’s no wonder that for decades German companies have been extremely reluctant to invest in sub-Saharan Africa.

The ongoing concern of European politicians that making political demands of the continent would elicit immediate accusations of neocolonialism, explains their tendency to beat themselves up whenever, for example, Third World activists complain about trade barriers, allegedly erected by the West keeping Africa dependent and supposedly preventing an economic upswing. In fact, most subsidized agricultural exports from Europe to Africa have now been ended. And nearly all African states, because they are some of the least developed countries in the world, can export practically everything to the European Union in unlimited volumes and free of tariffs, with the exception of arms.

It has also been known for a long time that the ongoing flow of external aid has actually hindered real momentum in Africa instead of promoting it. The Federation of German Industries (BDI) again pointed out in a position paper for the G20 summit that more investment by the private business sector would be contingent above all on “changed political and social conditions in Africa”: that many obstacles to investment, like for example, corruption and nepotism, were predominantly political by nature and could therefore not be solved by financial or technical means.

And that is why Germany’s new Marshall Plan for Africa will probably only provide very limited help, because the countries receiving it cannot even absorb the funds due to lacking or inexistent administration facilities. Instead, African governments, which up to now have shown little interest in the common good, could be obliged to adopt more sustainable demographic policies by making aid funds dependent on finally reducing their ludicrously high birth rates, as already happened in South America and Asia, and therefore defusing the enormous internal pressure this creates.

Such realism would be important above all for those politicians like Ms. Merkel or Development Minister Gerd Müller who still believe Africa can be helped externally to achieve its long-awaited economic boom, as was the case with Asia. But that will not succeed, not least of all because of the time which has been lost. And now it’s too late for a swift turnaround. The old ways of thinking will not change until Africa stops hiding behind its colonial past and accepts that it cannot delegate its development to the West or nowadays perhaps to China. Because in the final analysis only Africans themselves can save Africa.


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