By Adewale Kupoluyi
I was touched by the recent report that Melinda Gates, wife of the richest man in the world, Bill Gates, who was found carrying a bucket of water fetched from a village in Malawi. The billionaire’s spouse was seen with a 20-litre bucket of water on her head alongside two other Malawian women, walking on an untarred road. Despite her status of being married to the richest man, Melinda did not only carry the bucket, she also helped in washing dishes and stayed in the home of a local couple in a village. This act – which has generated many reactions from across the globe – admirably shows simplicity, humility and sensitivity to the plight of the less privileged in the society.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is widely known worldwide to promote better living conditions in several countries as an intervention body through the provision of grants, aids and developmental lifeline for individuals and corporate organisations. Such a rare gesture is uncommon especially in a world where extreme capitalism, materialism, flamboyance and opulence have become the order of the day. We recall that when she was President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, was reported to have similarly led by example by carrying a bucket of water on her head to share the experiences of motherhood and promote water supply and development together with her people.
This visit was said to be the second by Melinda to Malawi on the safe-motherhood mission, as a follow up on the previous one, where she discussed a number of innovative interventions to halt maternal deaths with Banda, who was widely credited for her unprecedented achievements in improving maternal health and safe motherhood. During her tenure, between 2012 and 2014, she went the extra mile to stop avoidable deaths of both mothers and babies during pregnancy and childbirth because Banda believed that the provision of quality maternal and neonatal health care services could put an end to maternal and neonatal deaths in her country.
In her latest trip to Africa, Melinda had also met with the incumbent Malawian President, Peter Mutharika, on how to promote safe motherhood and maternal health in the sense that issues of maternal health and safe motherhood have not received the deserved attention over the past years going by the official statistics, which indicate that between 2009 and 2012, 675 women died per 100,000 live births. Between 2012 and mid-2014, 425 women died per 100,000 live births and since mid-2014, the figures were said to have risen to about 500 deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the United Nations, 90 percent of such maternal deaths are preventable when the necessary support are provided.
According to the UN Millennium Development Goal 5, it was envisaged that between 1990 and 2015, maternal mortality should have been reduced by three quarters. Unfortunately, pregnant women, most especially in Sub-Saharan Africa still face the danger of dying while giving birth. The reality of meeting the MDGs targets and health needs of the people in the midst of abject poverty, is caused by the inability of the state to provide basic necessity of life. This vacuum stimulated the interest of the likes of Melinda to embark on this humanitarian intervention.
Ordinarily, people are bound to insinuate that such generosity could be either a way of looking for an inroad and preparing the ground for massive investment in Africa or just an attempt at getting publicity while identifying with the poor. For me, I feel there’s no basis to hold any of these views. The duo is not known to visit any country based on political considerations. Rather, they are reputed to have brought about workable interventions at various times to lessen the plight of the weak and the disadvantaged.
Another sticking point to note on this rare display of kindness to humanity is that it takes a great deal of discipline, sacrifice and humility for someone of the class, stature and personality of Melinda to leave her luxury, dignity, riches and comfort zone in the God’s Own Country for that matter and come to the African Continent, where the cost of living is out of reach of the common man, to render such humanitarian assistance. For a better understanding and appreciation of the woman we are talking about, I think it’s necessary to take a few minutes to take a look at her outstanding credentials.
The net worth of this family, according to the Forbes magazine’s annual list of the world’s billionaires, stands at over $76 billion! In addition, the couple had received uncountable recognitions such as the annual Jefferson Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged award, the Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year, the Spanish Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation in recognition of their world impact through charitable giving and the Insignia of the Order of the Aztec Eagle, honorary degrees from the University of Cambridge, honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Duke University, honorary Dame of the British Empire, and India’s third highest civilian honour of Padma Bhushan, among others.
The primary aim of the intervention by the Gates is to basically enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty in America and around the world to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology by supporting water, sanitation and cleanliness programmes in developing countries. In mid-2011, the wealthy couple announced in their new “Water, Sanitation, Hygiene Strategy Overview” document that channeled their funding primarily on sanitation, particularly in the Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia because access to improved sanitation appears to be the lowest in those regions.
As a sharp contrast to Melinda, what is common to many of our women in the political and elite class in Africa is the exact opposite (penchant for luxurious living without much consideration for the poor, needy and the common man). Most male African leaders have been accused of engaging in corrupt practices that lead to bad governance. It is widely believed that public resources that are allegedly mismanaged may not have been so, if wives of such leaders had exercised positive influence on their husbands by doing what is expected of them rather using such influence and clout to ascend to glamour and fame.
African women in positions of authority should, therefore, brace up and take a cue from the Malawian episode by making a big difference in the society. Although, some of them are making impact and touching lives in their own way. They should always realise that they have much influence on their men going by the popular saying that behind a successful man is a woman and vice versa. It is only hoped that the authorities in Malawi would take advantage of the Gates’ symbolic visit for a better life for our womenfolk.
Kupoluyi writes from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), firstname.lastname@example.org, @AdewaleKupoluyi