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Within days of Paul Theroux's misguided complaining about Bono and Bill Gates (see The Novelist's Burden), they and Melinda Gates were named TIME Magazine Persons of the Year. To be sure, Theroux struck home on some points, particularly regarding the poor showing of the aid industry, a set of problems that I describe (in a paper and accompanying slides) as Seven Deadly Sins: Reflections on Donor Failings. Even so, as Steve argued in his Novelist's Burden post, Theroux was wrong to give up altogether on how the outside world can help Africa.
He was also wrong about Bono and Bill Gates.
Bono is a savvy policy wonk (despite the glasses and the cowboy hat). He understands perfectly well the twin challenges of rich countries first doing no harm (he urges rich countries to open their agricultural markets for example, and put trade into the name of his organization, DATA: Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa, and of poor countries being more accountable to their own citizens. Bill Gates, moreover, probably agrees with Theroux's skepticism about aid flows improving governments' behavior. His foundation supports programs, such as the development of vaccines against AIDS and malaria, that save lives even where governments – like Malawi's – aren't working well.
The Gates Foundation supported CGD's analysis of how to use advance market commitments to spark private sector R&D into vaccines for developing countries. The resulting study, Making Markets for Vaccines: Ideas to Action, lays the groundwork for an entirely new way of using aid outside Africa that could save millions of Africans lives.
Several years ago, Bill Gates said putting computers in villages would be a silly idea. Oddly, Theroux claims that Gates has called for just such a program. If he has, I never heard of it. I'm more inclined to believe that this assertion shows Theroux's readiness to be cute as opposed to being right.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.