20 Feb 2002
THE RICH NICE PEOPLE
Bill Gates, the richest man on earth has his share of headaches from detractors within the capitalist circles of the U.S. They portray him as an avaricious monopolist bent on annihilating his competitors. Newsweek magazine cover story of 2 February 2002 however, presented to us a different Bill Gates. The Bill Gates we now know is a rather humane, generous and compassionate person. He and wife Melinda have set up a multibillion dollar health foundation that will drastically change for the better the health prospects of billions of poor people.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with assets of over 24 billion dollars is targeting killer diseases in the third world. Bill and wife are not only doling out money but are travelling extensively to see for themselves the squalid conditions under which recipients of their aid live. In an interview with Newsweek, Mrs. Gates said, ‘Africa changed me forever.’ Adding, ‘Seeing the women walking, walking, walking really struck me.’ ‘We would go for miles and miles and see these women walking, and we’d always look to see if any had shoes. They didn’t.’ In that interview, she made similar allusion to the plight of the downtrodden she encountered in India. When you see such a rich person taking note of minute details of the conditions of the very poor, you know that the compassion comes from the heart.
We cannot easily quantify the impact of what the Gates are doing to the world. All that can be said for now is that they are doing enormous service to humankind. The true ramifications of this philanthropy will only become apparent to many people so many years or decades down the road. As a health worker living in the third world, I know for sure that this investment will yield spectacular results. In human terms, the success will certainly surpass that recorded by Microsoft (Bill Gate’s company) so far. Historians will prove me right tomorrow.
Bill Gates, Ted Turner and other wealthy men of goodwill are indirectly indicting their home governments for neglecting the world’s poor. The wretched people of this world have been yearning for life saving assistance from wealthy countries for decades. All they usually get is cosmetic gestures wrapped in politico-economic jargon. The people at the helm of these rich countries see no political dividends attached to aiding the poor. Hence, they will prefer spending hundreds of millions of dollars purchasing arms (to satisfy the domestic arms lobby) to giving a million dollars for AIDS research. Guided by cold and cynical political calculations, leaders of rich nations tend to distance themselves from the real problems of humanity. They usually pay attention only when the situation has gotten out of hand and is directly or indirectly affecting their citizens. The initiative by people like Gates will go a long way to correct this culture of indifference and hopefully spur their governments to step up humanitarian assistance beyond the current paltry level.
It is characteristic of human nature to give aid and expect instant recognition and gratitude. That will not be the case with the Gates package. It is not that aid recipients are ungrateful. Many are illiterate and ignorant and have never heard of Bill Gates. It takes more than commitment and devotion to humanity to pump billions of dollars into a constituency like this. This selflessness demonstrated by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation is praiseworthy. It has a special place in the hearts of some of us that are privileged to understand and appreciate what they are doing. Billions of poor people are sort of saying a prayer for the Gates. I believe the prayer is getting to the right quarters.
Copyright ã2002 by Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah [e-mail]