The US will probably maintain its current levels of aid to Africa despite President Donald Trump’s proposals to slash funding, according to Bill Gates, the world’s richest man.
Trump said in May his government would no longer allocate funding for family planning, a move that has the potential to undermine aid programs in the poorest countries in the world. However, with Congress in control of the budget, it’s unlikely that all cuts proposed by the Trump administration will go ahead next year, Gates said in an interview in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s commercial capital.
“It’s quite clear that they won’t make those drastic cuts,” Gates said. “I’m hopeful they won’t make any cuts at all, but that’s still subject to debate.”
Gates said he talks with US “representatives, senators” after he returns from visits to the continent and was left optimistic after meeting Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. “They continue to think long-term and see the US relationship in Africa as being pretty important,” he said.
At the same time, the administration’s focus on domestic issues and challenges in the Middle East make it unlikely that new aid programs will emerge under Trump, he said, referring to examples such as George W. Bush’s anti-AIDS project Pepfar and Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative.
“The chance of some new additional programs coming out of this administration, I wouldn’t want to rule it out, but I don’t think it’s that likely,” Gates said. “So I hope I am surprised and Africa gets more attention than it’s gotten to date.”
The 61-year-old billionaire philanthropist visited Tanzania as co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has given away more than US$34 billion since its creation in 2000 and become an important sponsor of health and anti-poverty programs in Africa. While the charity funds projects ranging from nutrition to curbing neonatal deaths, almost half of its health money goes toward funding the development of vaccines for infectious diseases, most of which could be eradicated in the next 25 years, Gates said.
The foundation is “by far” the biggest funder of developing vaccines for malaria and tuberculosis, and together with the US government is the main provider of HIV vaccine financing. Still, more money is necessary to speed things up, Gates said.
“Europe puts some money into these things but not a huge amount. And the rest of the world, hardly anything,” he said.
“Fortunately, we’ve got science on our side and the understanding of human biology including things like the microbiome, how the immune systems work, is advancing at quite a rate.”
While the foundation is perhaps best known for its work in health, Gates also funds agriculture programs worldwide and is an advocate of genetically-modified seeds to improve productivity on African farms. Another priority is fertilizers, he said.
“We do a lot of soil sampling to understand in all of Africa what types of fertilizers should we do and where,” Gates said. “Getting exactly the right fertilizer for the right place, and getting those at a reasonable price is a huge challenge. Of course it varies from crop to crop. But it’s key to the economy.”