In December 2009, Daily Nation reported of a mzungu (white person in Kiswahili) pulling up next to a small chemist shop in Eldoret, an urban center in the rift valley region, in a convoy of three metallic Land Rover Discoveries and a Toyota Regius.
The man, clad in a checked shirt, khaki trousers, brown leather shoes and accompanied by a light foreign security detail in dark sunglasses, walked in to the chemist and inquired about some antimalarial drugs before leaving without buying anything or raising much attention among the largely farmers population.
It was until the next day that Eldoret dweller learnt from local dailies that the world’s richest man, Bill Gates, was among them and even walked past some of them unnoticed.
Gates was visiting the north rift town where he has over the years supported hundreds of people living with HIV access antiretrovirals under his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).
Fast forward in 2016, as the world’s political and economic leaders gather for the annual Davos summit, a pressure group study has accused the $43 billion Gates Foundation, the largest charitable foundation in the world, of exploiting its leverage on the African continent, under the pretext of altruism to finance poor farmers and help the sick.
The report, entitled Gated Development: Is the Gates Foundation Always a Force for Good? released by UK-based Global Justice Now, argues that what may look like altruism on a grand scale may actually mask a sinister reality about how the billionaires of the world insulate their personal fortunes while using their out-sized influence to project their private ideologies and further financial interests.
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While the Gates Foundations has lauded by many as a global force for social good using its massive financial backing to fund social courses across developed regions, Global Justice says that it is “promoting multinational corporate interests at the expense of social and economic justice” since it draw most of its senior staff from “corporate America”.
“Its strategy is deepening – and is intended to deepen – the role of multinational companies in global health and agriculture especially, even though these corporations are responsible for much of the poverty and injustice that already plagues the global south,” Mark Jones, lead researcher and author of the report, explains in the report.
“Indeed, much of the money the BMGF has to spend derives from investments in some of the world’s biggest and most controversial companies; thus the BMGF’s ongoing work significantly depends on the ongoing profitability of corporate America, something which is not easy to square with genuinely realising social and economic justice in the global south.”
Polly Jones, head of campaigns and policy at Global Justice Now said:
“The Gates Foundation has rapidly become the most influential actor in the world of global health and agricultural policies, but there’s no oversight or accountability in how that influence is managed. This concentration of power and influence is even more problematic when you consider that the philanthropic vision of the Gates Foundation seems to be largely based on the values of corporate America. The foundation is relentlessly promoting big business-based initiatives such as industrial agriculture, private health care and education. But these are all potentially exacerbating the problems of poverty and lack of access to basic resources that the foundation is supposed to be alleviating.”