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African Philanthropy – It is about time

By Matunda Nyanchama
Toronto Ontario
July 4, 2006

Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, recently announced plans to retire from the company he built to become the world’s largest information technology company. His plans: to focus on philanthropy through his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As of June 2006 Bill Gates and his wife Melinda had donated a staggering $26 billion into the foundation.

Recently, the second richest man in the world, Warren Buffet, announced plans to give more than half of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This donation from the Oracle of Omaha, as Warren Buffet is commonly referred to, makes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation the largest of its kind in the world.

Some people wondered why Warren Buffet could not leave the money to his family. He is quoted as saying that: “a very rich person would leave his kids enough to do anything, but not enough to do nothing.”This is in line with Andrew Carnegie’s view that: “huge fortunes that flow in large part from society should in large part be returned to society.'”

Philanthropy in the western world plays a major role in development. Moneys from such donations find causes that benefit many people that would otherwise be left out of the mainstream government and corporate processes.

Philanthropy is also motivated by causes dear to the benefactors, which otherwise would go unattended.

For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation focuses on global health, agriculture and education, causes at the core of development. In health, the foundation may become instrumental to solutions to common diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and others that needlessly claim millions of lives annually.

In Canada, universities and research institutions are major beneficiaries of donations from well-to-do individuals, who in turn, get their names associated with schools, libraries, buildings, dormitories, scholarships, and more associated with universities. Thus one hears of Ivey, Rothman, DeGroot and Schulich business schools that have benefited from donations from families of the associated names. Libraries, research labs and entire school wings with such family names are a common occurrence.

In a way, these donations ‘immortalize’ the donors by associating their names to such worthy causes. Rhodes, Ford and Carnegie remain with us long after the benefactors departed this world.

Despite rampant poverty in Africa, there are many rich people who have accumulated wealth from their societies over time. Many of them hand their wealth to their children, much of which ends up squandered and lost even within a generation. Wouldn’t it be good to have some of this wealth returned to society in the philosophy of Andrew Carnegie?

In Kenya, we have our well-to-do, people who have benefited from the system, directly or indirectly. They own companies, real estate, farm lands, cash in the bank and more. They are the Mois, Kenyattas, Nyachaes, Kibakis, Odingas, Karumes, Kirubis, Macharias, Matibas, Rubias, Leakeys, Aworis and more. Surely, they have more wealth than can support their families long after they are dead. They have a lesson or more to learn from their counterparts in the west and start giving back to the society from whence they made their wealth.

For example imagine that Njenga Karume could donate money to support an entrepreneurial programme at one of the colleges or universities, which would be in line with the man’s rags-to-riches story. We could also have a Matiba-supported corporate governance education programme at some institution or a Moi-sponsored political science programme. It could also be an Odinga-sponsored semi-arid agriculture project or a Kariuki agroforestry programme. How about Mary Okello (say) women in business programme? Or a Moody Awori information technology innovation centre?

The benefits from such programmes will be immense if run properly; they will create new knowledge useful for advancing solutions to local problems. They will offer new opportunities such as employment and spread the wealth to others that would not have had a chance for direct benefit. And there is more: they will redeem some of these souls in the face of many Kenyans, some of who believe that much of these individuals’ wealth was ill-acquired.

My people, the Abagusii of Nyanza province say that “ebinto n’ebiontigera, n’ontigera agatigera onde” literary saying that: things we have were passed on to us by others; we should also leave them to others. It is even better if they are left in hands that would assure contribution to advancement of society to which all things belong.

© July 4th, 2006 Matunda Nyanchama
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Matunda Nyanchama, a Canadian-based information security professional, is a past President of the Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA). He can be reached at mnyanchama@aganoconsulting.com

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