Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates is to invest $5 billion in Africa over the next five years.
Delivering the 14th annual Nelson Mandela Foundation lecture, in Pretoria, on Sunday, Gates said over the last 15 years, his foundation had invested more than $9 billion in Africa.
“We’ve put a lot of this money into discovering and developing new and better vaccines and drugs to help prevent and treat the diseases of poverty.
“We’ve also invested in global partnerships that work closely with countries across the continent to get these solutions to the people who need them most,” Gates said.
He said he is optimistic about the future of this continent because he believes its youth can be the source of a special dynamism.
Invest in young people
He encouraged leaders on the continent to invest in the lives of young people so that life in Africa will improve and the inequalities can be erased.
“Our duty is to invest in young people, to put in place the basic building blocks so that they can build the future. And our duty is to do it now, because the innovations of tomorrow depend on the opportunities available to children today.
“Young people are better than old people at driving innovation, because they are not locked in by the limits of the past,” Gates said.
He said Africa can achieve the future it aspires to and that future depended on the people of Africa working together, across economic and social strata and across national borders, to lay a foundation so that Africa’s young people have the opportunities they deserve.
“We must clear away the obstacles that are standing in young people’s way so they can seize all of their potential,” Gates said.
He said if young people are sick and malnourished, their bodies and their brains will never fully develop.
“If they are not educated well, their minds will lie dormant. If they do not have access to economic opportunities, they will not be able to achieve their goals,” Gates said.
When the basic needs of the youth are taken care of they will have the physical, cognitive, and emotional resources they need to change the future, he said.
“In Africa, as in the US, we need new thinking and new educational tools to make sure that a high-quality education is available to every single child.
“At the post-secondary level, we not only need to broaden access – we also have to ensure that governments are investing in high-quality public universities to launch the next generation of scientists, entrepreneurs, educators, and government leaders,” Gates said.
He said South Africa had some of the best universities in Africa but noted that maintaining the quality of the country’s higher education system while expanding access to more students will not be easy.
Gates said maintaining the quality of education at tertiary level would be critical to South Africa’s future.
“Other countries in the region will do well to follow South Africa’s example and provide the highest level university education to the largest number of qualified students,” he said.
Africa needs power now. And so there are many pragmatic steps we need to take even in advance of these new inventions.
In parts of Africa, there’s hydro and geothermal sources which are both reliable and renewable that can be exploited. There’s been a lot of work on small-scale grids and the use if micro solar. This approach can provide individuals with electricity for basic purposes, but we also need large-scale power including well-managed electrical grids.
It means organizing the power system so that it’s economic, so that the electronic bills are paid for, and so that the network is reliable 100 percent of the time.
Once we get economic viability for these utilities, then it bootstraps the economy. It allows investments that are job creating.
Nelson Mandela said, “Young people are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom.” But our duty is not merely to arouse, our duty is to invest in these young people, to put in place the basic building blocks so they can build the future.
Read the full speech on Gates Notes.
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