Bill Gates and Tony Blair Praise Africa’s Progress

Africa is making visible progress on economic growth as health and governance improve, according to Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“Change is happening,” Blair said at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California. “You can see it.”

Six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa, said Michael Milken, founder of the institute and moderator of a panel called “Investing in African Prosperity” that included Blair, Gates and H.E. Paul Kagame, president of the Republic of Rwanda. The continent’s mortality rate for children under age 5 has fallen to 10 percent, down from 20 percent in the mid-1990s, according to Gates, the world’s second-wealthiest man.

“You can see the progress,” said Gates, whose philanthropy has funded the fight against diseases including malaria and polio. “You can see on a year-by-year basis dramatic things are happening.”

While more than 70 percent of Africans had never heard the sound of a telephone two decades ago, more than 70 percent now have a cell phone, according to Strive Masiyiwa, founder of Harare-based telecommunications company Econet Wireless Ltd. The spread of technology has brought access to information on food prices and health to isolated pockets of the continent, he said.

Transparency, Efficiency

“We put $1 billion into Zimbabwe between 2008 and today,” Masiyiwa, a native of the southern African nation, said. “We went from 14 percent penetration to more than 100 percent.”

After stepping down as Britain’s prime minister from 1997 to 2007, Blair founded the Africa Governance Initiative, which operates in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and South Sudan, where it advises leaders on improving services and fighting poverty. Government transparency and efficiency are foundations for improving prosperity, he said.

“When there’s stability and there’s order, you can get things done,” Blair said.

Milken was head of junk-bond trading at Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. in the 1980s. He served 22 months in prison after pleading guilty to securities fraud in 1990 and was permanently barred from serving as a broker or investment adviser. In 1998, he agreed to pay $47 million to settle SEC claims he had violated the ban; he didn’t admit or deny wrongdoing.

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