[By Miguna Miguna]

Chuck Feeney, the founder of “Duty-Free Shoppers” was once one of the world’s richest persons. The man Forbes refers to as the “James Bond of Philanthropy” has over the years donated nearly all his vast wealth to charitable causes such as education, human rights and health.

In 1997, the CNN founder, Ted Turner, stunned the world when he donated $1 billion to the United Nations. Since then, he has emerged as one of the world’s most generous philanthropists.

However, in terms of the staggering numbers and consistency, the most generous billionaires in the world are Bill Gates, Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

Year after year for more than a decade, the Gates have consistently donated 37 per cent of their fortune to improve healthcare around the world. On his part, Warren Buffett has donated 36 per cent of his fortune. From 2000 to 2019, Buffett alone has donated about $46 billion for the improvement of health care through the Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation.

Both Gates and Buffett have promised to give away their entire wealth to charity by the time they die.

With an estimated networth of $131 billion in 2019, the Amazon.com CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, is ranked the richest person in the world by Forbes Magazine, followed by Bernard Arnaut, a French business magnate, investor and art collector ($97.6 billion); Microsoft’s co-founder, Bill Gates ($96.5 billion); and the legendary investor, founder and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett ($82.5 billion).

Even though Europe’s richest person, Arnault, is not considered generous, he donated $11 million towards the fight against the Amazon fires in 2019. He is known also to have previously donated hundreds of millions of dollars towards environmental causes in the recent past.

Michael Bloomberg donated $100M and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan donated $2 billion to charity in 2018, respectively. Previously, Bloomberg was reported to have donated more than $6 billion. Considering their wealth portfolios, those are not large numbers. But they are still gigantic compared to the disgraceful record of Africa’s billionaires.

When Bezos donated a whopping $2 billion to charitable causes in 2018, The New York Times nicknamed him “Stingy Jeff.” This was an appropriate moniker when comparing his donations with the amounts that Gates, Buffett, Zuckerberg and other wealthy persons in the world had donated vis-à-vis their networth.

I’m not sure what adjective The New York Times would ascribe to Africa’s wealthiest oligarchs. Unlike the majority of the wealthiest individuals in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries who either accumulated their vast portfolios through years of investments, inventions, industry and productivity before venturing out to commendable philanthropy, the richest Africans overwhelmingly accumulated their riches by holding public offices in their countries or being affiliated to those with political power and then stashing most of their plundered wealth in tax havens abroad, out of reach of their impoverished citizens.

African billionaires like Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Isabel dos Santos, Daniel arap Moi, Uhuru Kenyatta and their family members, never invented anything. They were not and have never been genuine entrepreneurs. They are not inventors, innovators or industrialists. The hundreds of billions they have are derived directly from public assets.

Even though the Moi and Kenyatta families have millions of acres of land, own big liquid banks, billion-dollar insurance companies, leading shopping malls, breweries, timber, tea, coffee and milk production plants, Uhuru Kenyatta’s wealth is reported by Forbes to be only $500 million.

According to Forbes, the richest Africans are Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote ($13.8 billion); South African mining magnate Patrice Motsepe ($3.3 billion); Nigerian telecom, bank and mining businessman Mike Adenuga ($2 billion); and Sudanese entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim ($1.8 billion).

Even though Forbes notes that the dos Santos’ combined networth is more than $22.3 billion, they are not listed among “Africa’s richest persons” perhaps in recognition that the sources of their vast wealth are dubious.
By 2011 when Forbes started monitoring the philanthropic activities of Africa’s wealthiest persons, none of the African billionaires had given a pledge to donate to charities. Out of the list of super rich Africans, only Dangote and Mo Ibrahim had been involved in philanthropy previously. Even though Dangote, Motsepe, Mo Ibrahim and Zimbabwe’s Steve Masijiwa ($2.4 billion networth) had pledged to donate at least half of their networth to charitable causes by July 2019, none had actually given away any significant percentage of their wealth to charity.

Significantly, none of the extremely wealthy former or current African leaders has contributed towards any worthy cause. None is reported to have donated towards scholarships for African students, medical or scientific research, and absolutely nothing towards alleviating the problems of high youth unemployment, homelessness, poverty, or in search for treatment for HIV/AIDS pandemic, malaria or Ebola.

The Swedish billionaire inventor, Alfred Nobel (1833-1896), established the Nobel Foundation that has supported the developments of world peace; academic and scholastic excellence; research in science and medicine; and promoted inventions, innovations, creativity and technological research as well as many other humanitarian commitments in the world because he did not want to be remembered as a “Merchant of Death” for having invented the dynamite.

Yet, no wealthy African billionaire – regardless of his or her source of wealth – has founded, established or supported any worthy causes.

Although there are numerous universities, colleges, schools, hospitals, airports and stadia named after famous and rich Africans, their names were not inscribed on those institutions due to their generosity towards the construction, funding or equipment; their names adorn those institutions as benevolent homages to their power. For instance, the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Kenyatta International Conference Centre and Moi Forces Academy are public facilities that were named by Presidents Kenyatta and Moi, respectively, during their reign.

Unlike in North America and Europe where major professional schools, faculties, scholarships and hospitals are named after wealthy businesspersons, entrepreneurs, inventors and innovators who have generously donated in support of those institutions or research endeavours, I have not encountered the same concerning African billionaires.

In 2019, the University of Toronto received $100M from Heather Reisman and Gerald Schwartz for “a deeper examination on how technology shapes our daily lives” – an Artificial Intelligence initiative, which will be based at the newly established Schwartz Reisman Centre in Toronto, Canada.

George Soros, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and billionaire investor who moved to the UK decades ago to study before making his fortune has funnelled billions of dollars of his wealth into his Open Society Foundations, which promotes democratic practice in more than 100 countries globally. Soros gave thousands of scholarships to bright South African students during apartheid.

If African billionaires had not stashed most of their people’s wealth in Switzerland and other jurisdictions outside Africa and had utilised it to educate millions of deserving children, built hospitals, the much-needed housing and provided other basic necessities of life for their citizens, Africa would have had millions of healthy, highly educated and skilled citizens who would have in turn placed their efforts in working to make their societies food secure, productive and prosperous.

According to the latest World Health Organisation, 8.8 million Africans died from communicable diseases in 2016 with the leading causes attributed to lower respiratory tract infections (10 per cent), HIV/AIDS (8.1 per cent), diarrhoea (7.4 per cent) and both malaria and tuberculosis (4.6 per cent). Apart from these diseases, the second highest cause of death in Africa is conflicts and wars over resources, territory and/or arising from contestations of power.

Has the refusal or failure of African billionaires to donate towards worthy causes contributed to the current state of poverty, homelessness and oppression by most African regimes? I would answer that question in the affirmative.

African billionaires understand that poverty dehumanises and weakens the people resulting in their subjugation. A subjugated populace is unable to demand accountability from their rulers and the billionaires who thrive in such environments.

With limited education, high unemployment, lack of basic necessities of life, ravaging diseases and unaccountable governments presiding over the plunder of natural resources, most African countries experience fraudulent elections and authoritarianism.

It is arguable that African billionaires don’t donate as much as their counterparts from Europe, Asia and North America for selfish reasons – their failure to donate weakens the majority of the people and make plunder possible.

African billionaires understand that a weakened, ill-educated, poverty-stricken, exploited and disease-ravaged populace is much easier to manipulate, oppress and exploit than a highly educated, healthy, well-informed and empowered one.

In other words, the failure by African billionaires to donate is deliberate and planned. They know that significant donations to scholarships, research institutions and towards poverty reduction, alleviation of ignorance and improvement of health and food security, for instance, would result in major structural transformations and empowerment of the people, which they deem inimical to their financial interests.

Miguna Miguna is a Kenyan writer, lawyer and founder of the Kenya Revolutionary Front (KRF) who was forced into exile twice in 2018 by the Uhuru Kenyatta regime. [email protected]

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