ROAD TO RECOVERY

Raila: The US and Europe cannot abandon their leadership roles

Co-operation, solidarity should guide the search for vaccines and cures for Covid-19.

In Summary

• The US, in tandem with Europe, can once again bring the world to one table and lead it in recovery and reconstruction.

• Collectively, they have the experience, the technology and the institutions to lead this process, if they can summon the will and a sense of debt to the world.

ODM leader Raila Odinga during a funeral service in Muran'a County on February 24, 2020.
ODM leader Raila Odinga during a funeral service in Muran'a County on February 24, 2020.
Image: COURTESY

When I arrived in Germany for my studies in 1962, West Germany and virtually all of Europe were in the middle of a major reconstruction to repair the damage of World War II.

The determination to keep fascism out of Europe, and the fear of a third world war, jolted the free world into action to save Europe from destitution.

So much help got pumped into West Germany that, about a decade after the war, one would have been forgiven for believing that it was Germany that had won World War II.

It was not European money that repaired Europe. It was leadership from the United States, through the famous Marshall Plan, that got Europe back on its feet again.

Today, the whole world stands where Europe was in 1945. The globe finds itself in the middle of a grim and disruptive pandemic.

Strangely though, although humanity learnt from the 20th-century wars and crafted an international system to deal with their consequences — and to avoid similar devastation in the future — we have responded to Covid-19 as if there has been no precedent.

After the initial shock, countries are weighing up reopening their operations, including international travel and tourism.

This move needs to be accompanied by a new resolve: that the international system that emerged from the devastation of World War II should be strengthened, not undermined.

The world has no alternative to the United Nations and its support bodies like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Health Organisation; and to ideals like international security, free markets and democracy.

Co-operation, co-ordination and solidarity should guide the search for vaccines and cures for Covid-19. 

At the end of World War II, the role of saving Europe and, by extension, the world, passed on to the US, who — together with the Soviet Union — liberated West Germany.

The US then went ahead to provide the money to rebuild Europe and proceeded to craft an alliance — the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) — to help to defend Europe. The US at that stage showed what is possible when countries co-operate in a spirit of enlightened self-interest.

Recovery and reconstruction

The US, in tandem with Europe, can once again bring the world to one table and lead it in recovery and reconstruction.

Collectively, they have the experience, the technology and the institutions to lead this process, if they can summon the will and a sense of debt to the world.

Now, more than at any time since World War II, an alliance is needed that brings the entire world to one table to address the health and economic consequences of Covid-19 and to chart a path for tackling similar crises in the future.

With leadership at the global level, the post Covid-19 reconstruction period could be the beginning of something interesting, just like the Marshall Plan led to the formation of Nato and the institutionalisation of support for liberation from colonialism.

The US offer of help for Europe came with the requirement that countries get their act together. In Africa, that is a debate already under way.

The idea that this continent must act in unison to strengthen its systems with regard to food security, healthcare, infrastructure development, intra-Africa trade and governance is taking root.

For instance, the third African Sovereign Wealth and Pension Fund Leaders Forum Covid-19 roundtable just agreed to redouble efforts to facilitate infrastructure co-investment partnerships with African governments and development-finance partners.

The group has its focus on industrial infrastructure related to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, as well as healthcare and agriculture sectors.

In other words, Africa is already organising itself for a post-Covid reality, just like the rest of the world.

But Africa has more issues to be put on the table. It’s going to be extremely problematic for Africa to service its debt and finance reconstruction and recovery at the same time.

There is, therefore, a need for bilateral and multilateral discussions about debt write-offs and rescheduling for Africa.

These efforts require financial, political and diplomatic backing on a global scale. More importantly, they need broad global agreement on how countries are going to relate and transact business post-Covid-19.

This op-ed appeared in the Mail & Guardian.