Bill Gates Acceptance Speech: Addis Ababa University
Addis Ababa University Honorary Degree
July 24, 2014
Thank you for that introduction, Dr. Admasu Tsegaye [President of Addis Ababa University].
Prime Minister Hailemariam; distinguished guests; faculty and students of Addis Ababa University.
I am deeply grateful for this honorary degree. I never got my real degree. I dropped out to start Microsoft, and never went back. So getting a diploma I can put on the wall and show my father is a relief.
It is a special honor to receive an honorary degree from Addis Ababa University.
This is one of the leading institutions of higher learning in Africa – a continent whose future has been a central interest of my career ever since my wife and I began our foundation nearly 15 years ago.
The first time Melinda and I came to Africa, 20 years ago, we were on vacation. We visited Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. We were awed by the natural beauty. But we were no less awed by the poverty we witnessed. Children were dying from illnesses we'd never even heard of.
This struck us as deeply wrong – and totally unnecessary.
The foundation we started took as its motto "All Lives Have Equal Value" – because it was so obvious to us that the world was clearly not treating all lives as having equal value. If it were, kids wouldn't be dying by the millions from diseases that are preventable and treatable.
In short, coming to Africa inspired us to start our foundation.
Of course, the Africa I'm visiting today is not the Africa we saw back then.
You know the stats: Income per-person in sub-Saharan Africa is up by two-thirds. Seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are on this continent.
I could go on. But I didn't come here to give a speech about economic statistical phenomena – because those figures don't get at the real reason why I'm optimistic about Africa.
The real reason why I'm optimistic about Africa is that this continent is now in an incredible position to shape its own destiny for the better.
Why is this the case?
For one very simple and powerful reason: the countries of Africa are learning from each other.
I know that much of the narrative over the years about Africa has focused on how outside entities can help the people of this continent – whether those entities are foreign governments, or international aid organizations, or non-profits such as our own foundation.
Make no mistake – outside support has made a big difference, and will continue to do so. I spend a lot of my time advocating for donor countries to maintain foreign assistance focused on the needs of the poorest – and such assistance does indeed have an absolutely critical role to play.
That is also why our foundation has such a focus on Africa, investing in research and supporting delivery efforts on the issues of greatest consequence to the people of this continent – from HIV/AIDS to malaria.
In doing so, our priority is to support programs developed by Africans, for Africans, because we understand that the real fuel for development will be the resources of African nations themselves – whether that's in the form of government funding, private-sector investment, or just plain human creativity at all levels of society.
This is where the idea of "African countries learning from each other" becomes so important. If you want to spend your national budgets as effectively as possible, there is now a clear path for doing exactly that – and Africans themselves are defining that path, for others to follow if they choose.
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