Macron, who has won plaudits from establishment broadcasters and media outlets by positioning himself as a counter-weight to President Donald Trump’s conservative, populist-leaning administration in the U.S., triggered a furious response when he made the comments at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.
Asked by an Ivory Coast journalist how many G20 members would be willing to commit to an African Marshall Plan – referring to the post-war reconstruction funding programme for Europe – the Frenchman surprised listeners by saying he did not think this would be a viable solution to Africa’s problems.
“The Marshall Plan was a reconstruction plan, a material plan [for a stable region],” he said.
“The problems Africa faces are completely different … and are civilisational,” he went on.
“What are the problems? Failed states, complex democratic transitions, and extremely difficult demographic transitions.”
Macron was uncharacteristically direct in clarifying what these “demographic transitions” might be later on in his remarks, chiding countries which “have seven or eight children per woman”.
It is likely the Frenchman had in mind countries such as Niger, where at least 50 per cent of the population are reported to be 14 or under.
“As of today, spending billions of dollars outright would stabilise nothing,” he concluded, having also cited arms-smuggling, drug- and human-trafficking, and Islamic terrorism as issues beyond simple poverty which might be hobbling Africa.
The denunciation of Macron’s comments by left-liberal commentators was ferocious, with the remarks branded “racist” and familiar talking points centred on colonialism and slavery being advanced.
His assessment was not entirely new, however, with economists such as the Tanzanian-born, Oxford- and Harvard-education Dambisa Moyo arguing that foreign aid has become an industry with its own vested interests which harms rather than helps Africa in tracts like Dead Aid.
“Aid has been, and continues to be, an unmitigated political, economic, and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world,” she claims, pointing out that Africa has already received around a trillion dollars in aid. This is far more than money that was ever expended on war-ravaged Europe by the Marshall Plan, which cost the equivalent of around 150 billion dollars.
Macron was hailed as the new face of the so-called “centre” throughout the West after seeing off a strong challenge from the insurgent nationalist-populist Marine Le Pen, having received the backing of Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, the European Commission, and the outgoing government, as well as the overwhelming majority of French media outlets.
But the 39-year-old, a banker turned Socialist Party economy minister, has proven to be something of an unknown quantity, withdrawing into the Élysée Palace and refusing to do almost any media.
Eyebrows were raised when news emerged that Macron wanted to emulate Jupiter, the Roman king of the gods, in his presidential style, just days after he cancelled a traditional Bastille Day press conference on grounds that his thoughts were “too complex” for journalists.