- - Monday, July 16, 2012

Through the dust kicked up by passing cars on a remote road in southern Rwanda, a striking image became clear as we approached: Four men carrying on their shoulders a man on a stretcher. The hospital in Nyakibanda was still miles away.

It was not only the determination of the four strong men that struck me, but also the fact that a herculean effort was required to get care for their friend or brother.

Unfortunately, examples of such extraordinary efforts to secure basic needs are quite ordinary in many parts of Africa. My travels have taken me to the outback of many nations, and I have been humbled by how people live with hope despite lacking what many consider essential goods, services and freedoms.

When I read American and European media reports on Africa, I sometimes wonder if I am, in fact, reading about my home continent.

This disconnect is reflected in the aid that many in the West think they owe to Africa. The most recent and most concerning example of this disconnect is the recently launched No Controversy campaign led by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the British government. Mrs. Gates and her partners, which include the world’s largest abortion providers, have launched an enormous campaign to provide contraceptives for women in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Mrs. Gates’ efforts are a concern because apparently the only thing she and her partners intend to cure with this campaign is pregnancy, which is not a disease. One can’t help but wonder what the $4.6 billion they already have raised could do to bring effective medical care closer to those who need it rather than simply preventing our children from being born.

While Mrs. Gates’ desire to help women in the developing world is admirable, it also is sadly misguided — perhaps even dangerously so.

Four billion dollars could build many medical facilities, train numerous medical professionals, supply remote villages with lifesaving medications and buy ambulances. Instead, Mrs. Gates and her partners want to buy our women hormonal contraceptives that, a recent study has shown, may double the risk of spreading HIV/AIDS, which is already devastating many African nations. Because this particular study was funded by the Gates Foundation, it is unlikely that Mrs. Gates is unaware of its findings.

There are several noncontroversial issues that need to be addressed for those truly concerned with helping Africans rise out of poverty. A primary obstacle is bad governance. Nothing saps countries of their capacity to provide opportunities for economic development more than corruption in political leaders, many of whom have gotten quite wealthy on misguided “aid” from the West. One can only imagine the pressure for reform that could be put on corrupt leaders by a large coalition of powerful partners led by the wealthiest woman in the world.

It is stunning to see that countries so endowed with natural resources and fertile lands require food aid to survive. The answer to this problem is closely related to corruption in national leadership across the continent, as wealthy investors who could help Africans capitalize on their natural wealth are understandably wary of the political instability in many African nations.

The greatest means of liberating a people from the yoke of economic dependence is good education. Yet it is dispiriting that an organization that has done so much in the area of education, as the Gates Foundation has, apparently sees only an obstacle to economic progress in Africa’s children, rather than human beings with potential, which is how we see our own children.

Finally, when health care systems are largely dependent on donor funding, the “beneficiaries” of this aid are subject to the whims of the donors. This becomes a problem when donors’ priorities are disconnected from the real needs of the recipients of the aid. As we see with the No Controversy campaign, an increasing shift in emphasis from preventing and treating HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis to massive efforts to prevent the birth of children is something to fear.

It may be that Mrs. Gates’ private security detail and local government agencies working with Gates Foundation-funded nongovernmental organizations make sure that she sees and hears only what will yield more funding from the foundation. If this is the case, it is little wonder that her encounters with African women leave her with the false impression that Africans can’t help but reproduce like animals, and our most urgent need is contraception.

Misplaced compassion from those who are well-intentioned has consequences, one of which is that many who would like to see Africa and her people flourish will end up sending their support to the wrong places. If Mrs. Gates truly wants to help Africans out of poverty, she should begin by lending her vast wealth and megaphone to efforts that would truly help, not to programs that simply prevent Africans from being born.

George Wirnkar resides in Cameroon and is the regional director for French-speaking Africa with Human Life International (hli.org).