Bill Gates: ‘Trump could be persuaded’ on US foreign aid spending

By Rebecca Ratcliffe and Polly Toynbee

Donald Trump is “open-minded” about policies and might be persuaded on foreign aid, Bill Gates has said in an exclusive interview with the Guardian.

The billionaire philanthropist said President Trump does not have a fixed ideology in most areas and is open to new ideas, “particularly if it’s doing things in a different way than was done before”.

He added that Trump had already been influenced by arguments put forward by US defence secretary Jim Mattis, who emphasised the importance of soft power.

Gates was speaking ahead of Tuesday’s launch of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual Goalkeepers report, which warns that decades of progress in the fight against poverty and disease is at risk of stalling.

The report, which analysed progress made towards the UN’s sustainable development goals, said populations were growing fastest in the poorest parts of the world. Africa’s birthrate could prove an asset, but only if the world invested in the continent’s young people, it said.

“If current trends continue, the number of poor people in the world will stop falling – and could even start to rise,” the report said.

Gates warned that the west should not ignore Africa. Its stability makes “a huge difference to the entire world”, he told the Guardian.

“A pandemic like Ebola can spread very fast,” he said, while other diseases spread even faster without local health services.

Syria is a small country, he said, yet its civil war exodus has “challenged the asylum system”. He added: “Africa is another order of magnitude.”

Gates has repeatedly argued against cuts to the US aid budget. Last year Trump stopped funding family-planning organisations that also offer abortions, stalling access to contraception where women need it most.

But Gates said he believed Trump was open to persuasion about the value of foreign aid. “One of the things you can say, a plus or minus, is that in very few areas does he have a fixed ideology. If there’s something where he feels he can look smart … particularly if it’s doing things in a different way than was done before, then yes, I think he’s open-minded.”

Gates added: “We have to work with Trump himself and the whole administration on ‘What is your vision for Africa?’ And as a human being who cares about human beings, as a country who doesn’t want to go fight foreign wars or deal with pandemics that are out of control …”

The president had been influenced by arguments put forward by Mattis that soft power – state department diplomacy and aid – prevented the need for hard power, Gates added. Mattis had previously warned: “If you don’t fully fund the state department then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Gates said dramatic progress has been made in fighting poverty and disease. Since 2000 more than a billion people had come out of extreme poverty, defined as living on $1.90 (£1.45) or less a day.

The UK, which meets the UN’s aid target of 0.7% of national income, has contributed towards this success, he said. “The UK has been very generous to the vaccine fund, for two miraculous vaccines, one for pneumonia, one for diarrhoea.” Both are now preventable at extremely low cost. “The UK led that effort and saved over 10 million lives,” said Gates.

People should know this message of hope, Gates said, adding that there had been a failure to convey such success stories. “We’re talking about uplifting the human condition in a fairly dramatic way,” he said.

The Goalkeepers report, which tracks progress towards the 17 sustainable development goals, in areas such as HIV prevention and education, found improvements in most areas. But there is a marked variation in the future trajectory, and the report warned that progress depends on future investment.

This article provided by NewsEdge.