African development pioneers Bill and Melinda Gates to divorce

The Microsoft founder and his wife, whose foundation pours billions into African development, education and health, are to separate after 27 years of marriage.


Image : Alexander Joe/AFP

Bill and Melinda Gates, the billionaire philanthropists whose foundation has put African health, education and development at the heart of global policy debates over the past two decades, have announced that they are to divorce after 27 years of marriage.  

In a Twitter statement, the couple said that they “no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives” but confirmed that they would continue to work together at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the multi-billion dollar organisation at the heart of their philanthropic efforts in Africa, the developing world and the United States.  

The Seattle-based foundation says it has spent $53.8bn since 2000, including funding pioneering AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis research and treatment. Led by CEO Mark Suzman under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and fellow billionaire investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett, the organisation has African offices in Addis Ababa, Abuja, and Johannesburg. 

In the last year and a half, the foundation says it has committed more than $1.75bn to support the global response to Covid-19, including more than $680m in newly allocated funding to help slow transmission, support responses in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and fund the development and procurement of new tests, treatments, and vaccines. In response to the news of the divorce, African development workers have tweeted their support for the couple.  

The foundation is a multi-billion dollar donor to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, which is co-leading COVAX, the global effort to secure vaccines for developing countries which has begun to deliver millions of doses to poor African countries. In early February 2020, the Foundation provided a grant to help the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (AfricaCDC) scale up testing capacity across sub-Saharan Africa. The organisation is also a multi-billion dollar funder of the World Health Organization and its regional offices. 

Beyond Covid-19, the foundation has focused on agricultural development, financial services for the poor, education, water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives in Africa and elsewhere. In recent months, Bill Gates has turned his attention towards the battle against climate change, publishing How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, a book which offers his response to the global crisis. 

Microsoft founder Gates, 65, is the fourth wealthiest person in the world, according to Forbes, with a fortune estimated at $124bn. The Gates and Warren Buffett established the Giving Pledge, a commitment by billionaires to give away the majority of their wealth.   

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