Gates, one of the world’s richest individuals and a philanthropist who has pumped billions of dollars into projects aimed at improving lives and livelihoods across the world, lands in Kenya today for a series of meetings with government and private sector officials. In this interview with Bernard Mwizi, he talks about his mission to a country he last visited 12 years ago, and why this visit means so much to him now.
Welcome to Kenya, and we hope you will enjoy your stay here. This is your first time back in Kenya, I understand in 12 years, and to Africa since the pandemic. Why are you making this trip? What are you planning to do and see while you are here?
Thank you. I’m very excited to be back in Kenya. A lot has changed since I was last in the country—both here and across Africa. It is incredible to see the dramatic progress that’s been made in the last decade.
While the pandemic has made the last few years really tough, on the whole health outcomes in Kenya have improved dramatically. I’m excited to meet people leading the work—to hear about what’s going well, where there’s opportunity for even greater progress, and what other countries can learn from what’s happening here, especially in the areas of health and climate adaptation.
I’ll be visiting with doctors and nurses in primary health clinics and maternity wards, and I’ll go to the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) to learn about some of the cutting-edge research taking place in Kenya that’s having an impact around the world.
I’ll visit smallholder farmers outside of Nairobi to better understand the challenges they’re facing. I’ll be listening to understand whether new innovations are meeting their needs, and what they’re doing to adapt and generate new sources of income.
I’ll also meet with government leaders and hear from students to learn about what’s happening in their communities.
You’ve previously written about the five reasons why you’re hopeful about Africa, where you said that Africa is one of your favourite places to go for a fresh perspective on how the world is improving. What are you looking forward to, as a fresh perspective this time?
I’m eager to learn more about how Kenya has been able to make such progress in expanding access to basic health services. I’ll be visiting a county where just five years ago, half of babies were born without a skilled attendant. Now, 90 per cent are born under the care of a trained health professional. They’re making a life-saving difference for mothers and babies.
I’m also really looking forward to meeting with young people from across the continent and students at the University of Nairobi. Africa’s population is the youngest and fastest growing on the planet—that presents enormous opportunity. They’re already driving innovation in health and tech and climate. I can’t wait to meet some of Kenya’s young innovators!
The continent is facing overlapping challenges that threaten to set back progress in health, food security and gender equality, and put millions of lives at risk. What gives you hope that we can continue to make progress despite the obstacles we face today? What are some of the examples that inspire your optimism for the future?
In the last decade, I’ve seen people from the continent overcome challenges that had seemed overwhelming and complex. Africans have delivered heath care to confront Ebola, lessen the impact of Covid-19, and reduce the threats of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. African innovators have expanded digital financial platforms that make it easier for more people to unlock economic opportunities, especially for women.
In Kenya, child mortality is about half of what it was 20 years ago. That’s amazing—and it’s thanks to the dedication of hard-working health workers. Now, building on that foundation, I’m hopeful that the new generation can drive progress even further and faster, creating conditions for more people to live healthy lives.
Your visit comes at a time when the Horn of Africa is experiencing the driest conditions and hottest temperatures linked to climate change. What do you think the world should do to help Africa tackle food security issues, particularly the effects of climate change? What should Africa itself do?
The climate crisis has become a food and nutrition emergency, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. It is an injustice that Africans, who have done the least to create these challenges, are suffering the most severe consequences.
I’m encouraged that many countries and institutions are stepping up food aid. That’s necessary to confront the immediate crisis. But we also need a massive infusion of resources into climate adaptation. That’s why last week, our foundation announced $1.4 billion to help ensure smallholder farmers have more options even as climate change intensifies. But even more is needed.
At COP 27, African leaders called on rich nations to deliver on their pledge to double investments for climate adaptation by 2025. I agree with them. Meeting this moment requires investment in both proven and new ways of thinking, new technologies and strong collaborations.
What is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation doing to help Africa progress? And what, in your view, is the role that other organisations outside of Africa—governments, companies, philanthropies, non-profits—should play to help support progress on the continent?
Our foundation focuses on the biggest barriers to health and well-being around the world, and funds solutions to address them. The most important thing we, or any other organisation, can do is listen to African leaders and communities about the most effective ways to apply our resources. Guided by their expertise, we can invest more in Africa’s people and the systems they’re building to improve resilience, health, food security, and gender equality. That’s not solely an investment in Africa—the entire world will benefit.
On a lighter note, do you plan on exploring Kenya for leisure, outside of, I imagine, a series of work-related engagements?
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Kenya a few times in the past and have really enjoyed visiting the Maasai Mara and meeting people in towns like Eldoret and Kabiyet. Unfortunately, this time I won’t be able to explore this wonderful country beyond the work visits we’ve planned.
The foundation’s programmes and grants will continue to prioritise work in Kenya and across the continent. I always enjoy my time here and I’m grateful to be back in Kenya to see and support the people who are making their country and the world a better place.