May 1, 2015 By Oswald Hanciles
“Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done’…” – Matthew 21:21, Holy Bible
Mano River Union (MRU) presidents, Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and Guinea’s Alpha Conde, in public statements in Brussels and Washington over the past two months, have called for a form of ‘Post Ebola Recovery Marshall Plan’ for their countries – $8billion. The Ebola War has meant about 12 percent loss of GDP for the three countries; and, fearful drop in livelihood for millions of their peoples. In addition, the three countries’ health sectors have been partially wiped out by the epidemic, or forced to divert resources to fighting Ebola – at the expense of other diseases like measles, malaria and AIDS.
In a report by Bidita Debnath in Tropical Disease News of April 19, 2015, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf “… told global financial and aid leaders in Washington that the sum ($8 billion) is admittedly high, but crucial to help Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone recover after the devastating (Ebola epidemic)…”.
In a recent meeting in the US, which included heads of UN agencies, the World Bank, IMF, etc., the Harvard-educated Sirleaf (she studied Economics and Public Policy at world-famous Harvard university’s John F. Kennedy School of Government from 1969 to 1971, gaining a MBA) used a bit of the ‘rhetorical emotions weapon’ in these words: “Is this asking too much? We say no, because a strong Mano River Union can be a formidable force for recovery and resilience in the sub region.” Emotive language can help; but, the 77 year old Johnson-Sirleaf has to put into play her vast experience on the international stage for a last hurrah to catalyze a Marshall Plan for the MRU. Sirleaf worked in the World Bank after fleeing the murderous Doe regime in 1981 (a finance minister in the Rev. William R. Tolbert government that Doe had overthrown in 1980, Johnson-Sirleaf was lucky not to be tied to the stake on a beach and publicly executed). She worked in the World Bank briefly, before moving to Niarobi, Kenya, in 1981 to serve as Vice President of the African Regional Office of Citibank. After losing an obviously rigged presidential election in 1985, Johnson-Sirleaf worked for Equator Bank, a subsidiary of HSBC. In 1992, Sirleaf was appointed as the Director of the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa at the rank of Assistant Administrator.
Both presidents Ernest Bai Koroma (who for almost twenty years was the successful head of the Reliance Insurance Company in Sierra Leone; and head of the main political opposition party in parliament between 2002 and 2007) and Lansana Conde (Conde understands the French language and culture!! The 77 year old Conde migrated to France at age 15. In France, Conde was active in the National Union of Higher Education; and was a leader in the Association of Guinean Students in France, and the Federation of Black African Students in France in the 1970s) share the same sentiments on the Ebola outbreak: “The Marshall Plan was the consequence of a war. Ebola was like a war for our countries… We need these funds immediately…”Oxfam also calls for Ebola Marshall Plan
Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of Oxfam International, has also joined the call for a multi-million dollar post-Ebola ‘Marshall Plan’.
Oxfamis calling for “an international pledging conference” to agree recovery plans backed by generous support from rich countries.
Winnie Byanyima said: “The world cannot walk away now … Failure to help these countries after surviving Ebola will condemn them to a double-disaster. The world was late in waking up to the Ebola crisis…”
The Original Marshall Plan
Now, a bit on ‘Marshall Plan’ history: R. Glenn Hubbard, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush; and William Duggan, a former Ford Foundation representative for West Africa, write this about the Marshall Plan: “……More than 60 years ago, on June 5, 1947, U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall announced the European Recovery Program (later known as the Marshall Plan) in a famous commencement address at Harvard University. He said that it was ‘logical’ for the United States to do whatever it could to restore the region to economic growth, ‘without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace’. The plan, funded by the U.S. government and administered by a Europe-wide commission, spent US$13 billion over four years and engendered the highest rate of economic growth (about 35 percent per year) in European history. When the work of the plan was finished, the economies of every western European country had not just returned to prewar levels of growth and economic development, but surpassed them….” Exhilarating that a Marshall Plan can be replicated in the MRU!!
The call for a ‘Marshall Plan for Africa’
The call for a Marshall Plan made by presidents Koroma, Johnson-Sirleaf, and Conde has been shouted on rooftops by diverse intellectuals for over three decades now. In a piece published on June 4, 2007, titled, ‘Why Africa needs a Marshall plan’, by Glenn Hubbard and William Duggan, I draw ideas on a Marshall Plan:
The original Marshall Plan was not a grand aid programme. It was a targeted effort to restore the power of business as a growth engine..
The plan had four main elements. First, a rich country – the US – made grants to European governments for restoring production through loans to local businesses which repaid them to their own governments.
Second, the second component was the intensive involvement of the private sector. The original initiative was run by business leaders, including the top administrator, Paul Hoffman of Studebaker Motor Company, then a major carmaker based in Indiana. The ultimate recipient of each loan — in effect, the unit of economic development — was an individual entrepreneur or business, not a government agency or nongovernmental organization (NGO). Money went directly to European governments, but they were required to use it to make loans to local businesses. The borrowers later repaid the loans to these governments, which could then lend them out again. This virtuous circle meant that all money spent on public projects would come from loans, most of which were repaid. It also helped ensure a focus on restoring the commercial infrastructure — such as ports and railroads, supply chains, banks and other financial institutions, and telecommunications networks — that would further boost economic activity. Each European government spent the repaid funds on restoring commercial infrastructure to boost production, such as ports and railways.
Third, each European government made economic policy reforms to support their domestic private sectors.
Fourth, a regional co-ordinating body handled the distribution of funds among countries.
Grand foreign aid plans have little in common with the original Marshall plan. Aid plans foster government-led development with an emphasis on social services. The Marshall Plan fostered business-sector development with an emphasis on loans and economic infrastructure.
The original Marshall plan had its own institutions: it created an Economic Co-operation Administration to run the entire programme, with headquarters in Washington and small missions in every European country. Each country had a special ECA account. Receiving countries formed a regional co-ordinating body, the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, which led to both the OECD and the European Union.
In the original Marshall plan, governments spent the repaid loans on economic infrastructure projects the ECA approved. The Marshall plan was competitive among countries: if one did not co-operate, another country was happy to take the funds instead. An African Marshall plan would do the same.
In his speech, Marshall was very clear that the “breakdown of the business structure of Europe during the war” was the problem aid must solve.
Glenn Hubbard and William Duggan argue that “Marshall’s logic applies to Africa today: a thriving business sector is the key to improving political and social progress. Aid must help, not hinder, and reform itself. Otherwise, Africa is doomed…”. (Source: http://www.strategy-business.com/article/08203?pg=all)
Marketing of the Ebola Marshall Plan
The MRU presidents are clearly serious-minded people with impressive pre-presidential records. The survival of their governments (or their legacies) depends a lot on massive infusion of funding as propellants for ravaged economies. For their citizenry to take them seriously, for those in the richest countries to listen to their appeals, they have to learn that one or two speeches would never stimulate a Marshall Plan. The three presidents have to do a lot of ‘internal healing’ in polarized political spaces, harness the best and brightest of their citizenry, and do aggressive marketing of the need for a Marshall Plan locally and internationally. The original Marshall plan started out with only 14 per cent of the US public in support. The tide for action was turned by an aggressive information campaign by US business leaders. Lesson for the MRU leaders Koroma, Conde and Johnson-Sirleaf. The opening quote is from the Bible on “faith”. The same Bible teaches that “faith without works is dead”. The MRU leaders would show faith in their Marshall Plan appeal by their “works”. A Marshall Plan for the MRU countries has to be tweaked to face the sub-region’s peculiar socio-economic and political realities. Would it be funds for governments to rebuilt broken down infrastructure – or, can we experiment with funding private sector health and educational business initiatives? What can be done to teach the scary unemployed youth majority in all three countries entrepreneurship, and give them kick-off funding to establish businesses?
Can a Marshall Plan work for the MRU countries like it did for Europe? West Africa today is not the same as Europe in 1947. Despite the ravages of World War II, Europe then was in better shape than West Africa is now. There is need for intense intellectual rigor and assertive imaginative thrust by the three governments. I have faith that the Ebola War can turn out to be a blessing after all – if we can use it as a ‘tool’ to catalyze a Marshall Plan for our countries.