The mere fact that a boatload of eligible American voters found enough reason to queue behind an intemperate, race-baiting shambolic schmuck, tells the story of a world that is shockingly different from yesteryears. Who knew that sounding off boorish, roughhewn and braggadocious would become new virtues to be rewarded while many of us like prisoners of the past, are still trapped in the old order that gravitated toward the bore of decency and civility. That said, a post-mortem on the yet to be conceded American presidential election is not the subject of this essay. We plan to revisit America and Trumpism in no time.
On 23 September 2019, at an event called The Future Africa Forum held at the African center in Harlem, New York, Mo Ibrahim mouthed what he called a controversial prescription that could help Africa develop, namely: Family planning. In that august gathering, the Sudanese billionaire argued that major societal challenges such as violence and extremism are byproducts of population growth outpacing job growth.
Flanked on one side by Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, and on the other by the legendary deep pocket, Bill Gates, Mo could sense his American friend’s unease with the subject of discussion. It’s no secret that a Caucasian talking about limiting family size in Africa is like walking on an egg shell, knowing fully well that a single slip condemns one to summary execution by the guillotine. Yet according to the United Nations, Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050 and an estimated 50% of all newborns worldwide will be born in Africa by the end of the century.
In a continent where many of her citizens live under less than a dollar a day, you can’t help but worry about what is to come. So yes, we can no longer afford to shy away from addressing the big elephant in the room. “If you have two kids, you can educate them. But if you have seven to eight kids and no jobs, you have Boko Haram”, Mr. Ibrahim was quoted to have said. Africa cannot continue on the path of a planless future in the hope that in the fullness of time a benevolent spirit will come down from heaven to the rescue.
No sooner had the meeting ended than the spin doctors turned everything on its head. They labeled the summit Bill Gates’s African population controls strategy. They purposely refused to mention that Mo Ibrahim, himself an African was the one that brought up the issue or even acknowledged that Aliko Dangote, another influential African figure was also there. The far-right media was only interested in Bill Gates and aggressively sponsored fake news articles and social media campaign to discredit him. They called him a racist and eugenicist, launching a barrage of scathing ad hominem attacks that made him out a human monster. As is always the case, many in Africa and the African diaspora bought into this massive misinformation campaign. They swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
Forbes listed William Henry Gates III’s net worth at a whopping $104.1billion. From 1995 to 2017, he held the title of the richest man in the world all but four of those years. As I write this piece, he is easily the most recognisable name brand alive in terms of wealth and riches. Granted that even billionaires are not immune to the lure of greed, it’s hard to imagine what more is left for this 65-year-old icon to achieve in terms of material acquisition. Perhaps coming to such a realisation informed his decision to set up a foundation in the year 2000. Today, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is reported to be the largest private foundation in the world, holding $46.8 billion in assets. Among other things, his charity focuses heavily on public health worldwide and has committed large sums of money in areas of vaccine development for different kinds of diseases especially in the developing world.
In 2009, Gates and his longtime friend, Warren Buffet, founded “The Giving Pledge”. They encouraged other billionaires to give at least half of their wealth to charity. Gates went further and pledged to give 99.5% of his fortune away and will leave behind only $30 million to be divided among his three children. Like Buffet, Gates has also been in favour of the rich paying more in taxes which to the American far-right makes them liberal and are therefore sworn enemies to be singled out and utterly destroyed.
Whether it’s making a personal donation for Alzheimer’s research, partnering with Swiss tennis legend, Roger Federer in the Match for Africa or helping through his ubiquitous charity, the story is the same. He has continued to deploy his legendary fortune to better countless lives in the poorest of the poor countries of the world. Till date, the Gates have given over $28 billion to charity, a big chunk of which was spent in helping the African poor.
Not too long ago, as the coronavirus pandemic continued to ravage the US and the rest of the world, Gates who has been leading efforts in finding a vaccine participated in a Reddit Q&A where he suggested a national tracking system for coronavirus. Per report, he suggested a digital certificate to show who has recovered, been tested recently or who has received a vaccine when it becomes available. Following this, a video surfaced online suggesting that Gates’s statement was a grand plan to implant everyone with a global ID in fulfillment of the end-time biblical mark of the Beast. The video quickly went viral with more than 100k views. People forgot that Mr. Gates is still that computer nerd and IT pioneer who founded Microsoft and so it’s not unexpected that his background will influence the way he approaches problems and proffers solutions. That said, it would have been easy to dismiss such as a gross misrepresentation of facts except that Infowars, a known conspiracy theory and alternative fact platform with a few others picked up the theory and gave it a life of its own. They were openly spreading misinformation in both Facebook, Instagram and other social media handles.
Few years ago, an old friend of mine called, visibly angry and palpably distraught. A cousin whom he had pinched pennies to see through college turned around and accused him of witchcraft. An omniscient ”Prophet of God” was able to convince the young man that the reason why his family struggled to make ends meet had to do with my friend’s diabolical ways that placed him in a position to steal someone else’s destiny, whatever that means.
Replace that cousin with poor countries of Asia and Africa and you will not be too far from the current negative portrayal of Bill Gates. The psychic in this case are the right-wing media establishments who for own selfish reasons are no fan of the billionaire. Unlike Mr. Gates, these lowlifes have no interest in doing any good but no one understands the power of the instrument of religion as the most effective weapon to control African minds more than they do. And so, you bring up family planning (which they prefer to call population control), 5G and throw in End-time and you have assembled a perfect recipe to cook a thriving conspiracy.
Ours is a society where everything is viewed through the prism of religion and all you need to do is mention God or Jesus in one sentence and many would have no need to query what else you have to say. This explains why Mr. Donald Trump, a President whose actions and utterances have been consistently anti-African is still popular among some Nigerians. The same people that demonise Bill Gates as anti-Christ, packaged and sold Trump to us as a defender of Christianity.
The fear of this destructive campaign is that if it continues, Mr. Gates may likely pull back on the activities of his life-saving charity. The effect will be nothing short of a disaster, impacting mostly poor nations that desperately need his help. In those places, most of his beneficiaries are oftentimes the poorest in the society who had already been abandoned by their own government and with no one else to turn to. Which is why those at the centre of this ignominy will surely have blood in their hands.
We don’t always have to agree with all the actions of one man or follow his prescriptions. It’s definitely within our right to disagree. But truth is that certain sins are harder to forgive even when committed out of ignorance. The sin of ingratitude is on top of that list. Africa should be rolling out the red carpet for a true hero and not be used as a tool to further America’s far-right nefarious agenda.
•Dr. Agbo, a public affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Centre for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: email@example.com