WHAT'S What's in a name? Not much, perhaps, but the frequent references being made to a “Marshall Plan” for Africa are not helpful in understanding what needs to be done to rescue the Dark Continent from its maladministration, poverty, sickness and violence. Gordon Brown, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has been touring Africa has talked about the need for a new Marshall Plan. Now the same name is being given to the recommendations made this week to the United Nations by Professor Jeffrey Sachs of Harvard University and Mark Malloch Brown, the head of the UN Development Programme. Their report is entitled Investment in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals/, which doesn't exactly trip off the tongue. But calling it a new “Marshall Plan” is no help either because it suggests that what was achieved in Europe in the late-1940s and early 1950s could be achieved in Africa a half–century later. The Marshall Plan was one of the finest examples of enlightened self–interest on the part of the United States. After World War Two, Western Europe, including Britain, was in an economic mess and so weakened that it represented a tempting target to the assertive Soviet Union. So the US invested some $20 billion ($200 billion in today's money) in rebuilding Europe's economic infrastructures. The crucial difference between Europe then and Africa today is that in Western Europe the administrative cadre of prewar days remained more or less in place to run Marshall Plan projects efficiently and transparently, whereas such skills are in desperately short supply in Africa. The original Marshall Plan was essentially a “top-down” project run by governments. Africa most needs a “bottom-up” recovery stimulated by help given directly to small farmers and entrepreneurs. By Monitor.

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