Riaz Gardee: Bill Gates – The emperor has no clothes | Fin24

Riaz Gardee: Bill Gates – The emperor has no clothes

Jul 22 2016 19:33

By Riaz Gardee*

Microsoft co-founder and the richest man on the planet delivered a lacklustre 14th annual Nelson Mandela lecture on Sunday 17th July to a packed audience in Mamelodi, one of the poor townships in South Africa.

The theme was ‘living together’ and Bill Gates followed on from the previous year’s lecture by Professor Thomas Piketty who focussed on wealth and economic inequality. Professor Piketty provided concrete solutions and ideas based on his research but the same level of practical suggestions and new ideas were less evident in Mr Gate’s speech.


Bill Gates founded the ubiquitous Microsoft in 1975 when he was barely 20 years old and subsequently transformed it into the world’s largest corporation. It still ranks amongst the largest companies in the world with a market value of $423bn reaching an all-time ‘Y2K’ peak during December 1999 of $618bn.

The company is also no stranger to controversy facing numerous anti-competitive suits in the US, Europe and elsewhere resulting in payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in fines with Mr Gates even personally having to testify. Critics attest that they used predatory pricing and other tactics to keep competitors at bay.

In 2000 the husband and wife team formed the world’s largest foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The focus is on poverty alleviation, education and health with almost $40bn of assets at their disposal. The foundation has also been criticised as some of its investments such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Exxon Mobil, Shell and British Petroleum seem to be incongruent to the foundations objectives.


Ironically the computer systems eventually ‘crashed’ at the registration desks but perhaps they were not running Windows software. Attendees were subsequently ushered into a packed indoor arena without any identification scrutiny while the visitors were told ‘the systems are down’.

The non-functioning traffic lights at a major intersection close to the venue did not aid in the free flow of traffic but the atmosphere in the arena was pleasant with many high-profile guests in attendance eagerly awaiting pearls of wisdom from the pharaoh of the age. Unfortunately these were flowing at the same pace as the traffic.

The brilliant Mr Gates started his professionally scripted speech by reminding the audience how he helped fund South Africa’s 1994 election saying ‘I did what I could to help’.

The term ‘Africa’ was used generically, typical of Americans who often refer to it as a single place, and accompanied by data and statistics referring to sub-Saharan Africa as a whole making it difficult to understand regional problems or their causes. Nevertheless the point that Africa was far behind the rest of the world in health, education and economic prosperity was made abundantly clear.

Read also: In Pretoria, Bill Gates urges SA to build future Nelson Mandela dreamed of

The theme of his talk centred on youth, health and nutrition, education, productivity and governance.

Many vague phrases accompanied these themes such as ‘every person should lead a healthy and productive life’, ‘people could make the future better than the past’, ‘Africa needs to do it faster and make sure everybody benefits’, ‘the most important thing about young people is the way their minds work’, ‘we must clear away obstacles that are standing in young people’s way’, ‘the effects of climate change are already being felt among farmers’ and ‘I get angry when I see that Africa is suffering the worse effects of climate change although Africans had nothing to do with causing it’.

He however made no mention of who the main culprits of this climate change were and what exactly needs to be done about it.

Many excellent points on all of the above themes were covered, albeit well-known to all, but he hardly mentioned any creative methods in addressing them. Some of the key points for ‘Africa’ from the software master were:

• Eliminating poverty and malnutrition;

• Climate change is affecting farmers;

• Youth need to be educated with quality education;

• Greater focus on health and primary health-care is required;

• Greater access to vaccines;

• Treat Aids-infected Africans with antiretroviral drugs;

• Government managing electrical grids better including people paying their bills;

• Fiscal governance accountability and digital transformation by governments;

• Need for improved nutrition in Africa; and

• Increased agricultural productivity through innovation and productive seeds.

It was not clear if he was suggesting that Africa should use seeds sold by the likes of Monsanto in attaining these higher yields or rather look at the overall agricultural processes to make these improvements.

Attendees were also expecting at least some definitive ideas on improving the economic condition of the poor and inequality in particular as they were being addressed by the wealthiest man on earth. American professor Thomas Sowell in his ‘Wealth, Poverty and Politics’ provides an insightful analysis on the root causes of poverty and inequality and how they should be addressed.

Amongst others he says ‘without cultural prerequisites for developing natural resources into real wealth, the raw physical resources themselves are of little or no value. Culture includes not only customs, values and attitudes but skills and talents that directly affect economic outcomes.’ Perhaps Professor Sowell should be invited to address the 15th annual lecture.

Mr Gates is certainly able to influence the world and lead social and economic changes if he selflessly has the interests of those less fortunate in mind. The staggering amounts he has spent and intends spending will certainly have an outcome on the intended recipients.

However in his speech he did not clearly outline these outputs or create new ways for people to implement and address the well-known challenges. Hopefully they will become clearer during the course of his visit in South Africa.

• Riaz Gardee is a chartered accountant, financial writer and contributor to various media platforms including print, online, radio and television.

* For more in-depth business news, visit biznews.com or simply sign up for the daily newsletter.

biznews  |  nelson mandela  |  bill gates  |  education  |  wealth


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