Exclusive: Bill Gates Candidly Opens Up On Aid, Technology In Africa And Lessons From China
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been hosting today its annual conference on the sidelines of the 72nd United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. In an exclusive interview with the pan-African magazine New African, Bill Gates – whose philanthropic work and aid in Africa are well documented – is unwaveringly candid.
In the wide-ranging interview the billionaire philanthropist who co-founded the Gates Foundation with his wife Melinda, reveals how Africa – where their prime focus is on health and agriculture – constitutes “over half of what we do” in terms of delivery. But he is categorical on the need for aid accountability.
“I wish every election in Africa was about who can run the healthcare system best for everyone; who can run the agriculture systems best for everyone. Democracy, even in the West, is kind of unusual in terms of what priorities voters make choices on. But some governments really place expertise into healthcare and allocate an appropriate amount of finance to the health system,” Gates told New African when the magazine caught up with him during his recent visit to Tanzania.
On the growing debate on GMO seeds for agriculture, and whether his Foundation was a Trojan Horse for big multinationals, he says: “The debate in Africa now is really not about the private sector at all, it’s about publicly-funded seeds that happen to use GMO-type techniques to create disease resistance, to improve productivity and use less water.”
He adds with emphasis: “It is a bit strange for anybody to think we have ulterior motives in giving away tens of billions of dollars… if we are crazy, it must be for some other reason than pure greed.”
Indeed, as one of the richest person in the world and a champion of aid, he sounds convincing when he says investing in healthcare, provides the best return on investment. In their annual letter, Bill and Melinda write that every dollar spent on vaccination creates $44 in economic benefit. And looking into the future, their magic number is Zero. Zero polio; Zero malaria; Zero HIV and other diseases. “Some of what we do is global public good, like making sure a new vaccine gets invented – that benefits everyone.”
No interview with Bill Gates is complete without touching on the issue of youth and technology. He goes on to openly discuss with New African the immense progress that is being achieved technology, the future of job creation and what Africa can learn from China.
On the rising young population in need of jobs in markets that are certain to be overrun with robots and Artificial Intelligence he tells the magazine: “Way off in the future, the robotics will take things over. It does mean the nature of the job market will be shifting somewhat. But in Africa, the need for jobs, for teachers, for business experts, is going to way exceed supply over the next two generations, despite the best advances that AI can throw at us,” adding however that the days of manufacturing making up 30% of GDP are now over.
And what about China? Gates believes Africa can learn about poverty alleviation, health and educating their farmers. But he is quick to point out how China made a few of its own mistakes before getting it right: “Collectivisation, the Great Leap forward, the Cultural Revolution – people should study those and avoid them,” he proffers.
As for Africa, it has been a long and exciting learning journey he says, as well as having had the privilege of working with and meeting some great people. An ‘impatient optimist’ he signs off by saying that “Africa has substantially improved by any metric” in the last 20 years.