In a shake-up of an institution named for one of the world’s wealthiest and most influential oligarchs, Zimbabwean billionaire Strive Masiyiwa was appointed to the Gates Foundation’s board of trustees this January. He will be joined on the board by a seemingly diverse cast of corporate elites known for their embrace of technocratic and neoliberal policies.
Back in 2007, Masiryiwa helped orchestrate a failed attempt to overthrow the government of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe alongside the US and the Zimbabwean opposition party it was backing, the Movement for Democratic Transition.
Both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency were made aware of the regime change plans by the Zimbabwean telecom magnate Masiyiwa, and were advised by the US embassy in Pretoria, South Africa to share “elements” of the US government’s “strategy” with him.
Masiyiwa was listed in US diplomatic cables at the time as “strictly protect,” meaning he was an intelligence asset and/or confidential source.
Fifteen years since the plot fizzled out, Masiyiwa has materialized at the center of another global intrigue as tech billionaire Bill Gates rearranges his foundation.
Few figures have benefited as much from the pandemic as Bill Gates. Throughout 2020, legacy media described the former Microsoft CEO and Harvard dropout in near-messianic terms, characterizing him as a “champion of science-backed solutions,” and “the most interesting man in the world.”
While the global 99% has seen its economic power eviscerated under the weight of lockdowns and other Covid restrictions, Gates has doubled his wealth since a pandemic was declared in March 2020 by the World Health Organization that counts him as a top funder. Having boasted that his investments in vaccines routinely generated financial gains exceeding 2000 percent, Gates now has the opportunity to turn the entire global population into a profit center.
The world’s fourth richest man has suffered several PR blows over the past year, however. Bad press over his divorce from Melinda French Gates and “questionable behavior” like his friendship with sex trafficking financier Jeffrey Epstein, as well as consternation over his refusal to share the intellectual property rights of vaccines with poor nations, appears to have inspired the Gates Foundation to announce the formation of a new board of trustees “to enhance representation across gender, geography, and expertise.”
On Wednesday, Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman announced the foundation would be governed by a board of trustees beyond the trio of Gates, his ex-wife, Melinda, and 91-year-old billionaire Warren Buffet, who resigned in June 2021. Suzman, who aims to vaccinate 100 percent of the world’s population – ostensibly with products Gates is invested in – also plans to join the board.
The move “represents an explicit recognition by Gates and [Melinda] French Gates, especially in the wake of their recent divorce, that the foundation will be well served by the addition of independent voices to help shape its work in the future,” the organization stated in a press release.
Though the foundation has flaunted its new trustees’ “diverse” backgrounds, the appointees represent a united front in support of traditional Gates goals like privatization and imperialist strong-arming behind the guise of public health.
The first trustee named by the foundation, Strive Masiyiwa, is the perfect example of the kind of activist-oligarch Gates has been drawn to; a professed “global citizen” spouting altruistic bromides while raking in astonishing profits.
As the founder of Africa’s Econet empire, self-exiled Zimbabwean telecom tycoon and new Gates board member Strive Masiyiwa has used his wealth to advance the cause of neoliberalism across southern Africa.
Masiyiwa is a close ally of British billionaire and “green” capitalist Richard Branson of Virgin, having collaborated with him on several projects, including the “Carbon War Room” that was founded as “a mission to stimulate business-led market interventions that advance a low-carbon economy.”
As Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal and this writer have documented, Branson sought to launch “Enterprise Zimbabwe” in partnership with fellow billionaire Pierre Omidyar’s Humanity United at the Clinton Global Initiative.
Enterprise Zimbabwe sought to “catalyze investments from philanthropic and commercial donors to fund… social development initiatives,” and “help” Mugabe rival “Morgan Tsvangirai and the coalition government to get Zimbabwe back on its feet.” The shady initiative prompted then-president Mugabe to slam Branson as a “vulture disguised as an angel.”
As Masiyiwa noted when Branson was first launched into space, the British billionaire once invited him to meet with an organization called “The Elders.” This coterie of international elites would serve as a base for organizing the regime change plot in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe has long been a target for regime change by the West, with its former colonial ruler, the United Kingdom, taking the lead in undermining Mugabe’s government. The compulsory land reforms that Mugabe presided over during the 1990s, through which farmland was seized from white Afrikaners without compensation and redistributed to landless black Zimbabweans, prompted an escalation of Western aggression against Zimbabwe.
Former South African PM Thabo Mbeki recalled being pushed during the early 2000s by then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair to accede to a military intervention in Zimbabwe. “Tony Blair…was saying to the chief of the British armed forces, ‘You must work out a military plan so that we can physically remove Robert Mugabe,’” Mbeki told Al Jazeera. “We knew that because we had come under the same pressure that we need to cooperate in some scheme. It was a regime change scheme, even to the point of using military force and we were saying ‘no.’”
In 2007, as the Zimbabwean economy sank into crisis under the weight of British and US sanctions, Branson offered to bankroll an “Elders” initiative to “convince Zimbabwean President Mugabe to step down,” according to a cable sent from the US embassy in Pretoria, South Africa to a number of governments and government agencies, including the CIA.
The Elders is an elite, pro-Western outfit that leverages financial support from an uber-wealthy “advisory council” to influence politics in the Global South. The 2020 advisory council included Branson and Jean Oelwang of Branson’s Virgin Unite, Srik Gopal of Pierre Omidyar’s Humanity United, Randy Newcomb of the Omidyar Group, and Shannon Sedgwick Davis. Additional support was provided directly by Humanity United.
The Elders’ plan appeared to be part of an initiative presented by Masiyiwa to the US government and detailed in a January 30, 2007 diplomatic cable. According to the US embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, “Exiled Zimbabwean businessman Strive Masiyiwa is quietly floating an idea to shift executive power from President Mugabe to a ‘technocratic’ Prime Minister.’”
The US embassy labeled Masiyiwa “strictly protect,” a designation typically applied to an intelligence source or asset.
A US diplomatic cable dispatched on July 16 – five days after the Elders’ plan was detailed – revealed new regime change activities involving Masiyiwa.
“A group of exiled Zimbabwean economists and businessmen is developing plans for Zimbabwe’s economic recovery once an internationally-acceptable government takes office, according to South African-based businessman Strive Masiyiwa,” the cable reads, adding that Masiyiwa “wants to keep the initiative – particularly his involvement – confidential.”
“Masiyiwa believes ‘change will come’ to Zimbabwe by December, likely as soon as August, although it is not clear what the change will look like,” the cable stated.
Following Mugabe’s planned removal, the cable outlined “plans focusing both on stabilizing the macroeconomic environment” — code for neoliberalizing public institutions and implementation of economic austerity measures.
In the diplomatic cable, Masiyiwa is said to have observed that “it would be potentially impossible to return to the days of large commercial farms,” and that “land will be one of the most difficult topics” under a new government.
But clearly something still needed to be done, as Mugabe was “attempting to repeat with business what he did with the farms.”
“We understand the USG has developed its own plans for Zimbabwe’s economic recovery phase. If appropriate, it may be useful to share elements of that strategy with Masiyiwa or members of his team to inform their thinking – and ours – in advance of the political change in Zimbabwe,” the cable concluded.
Another cable describes Masiyiwa as an “unofficial MDC advisor.” The MDC, or Movement for Democratic Change, is the main opposition party in the country challenging the ruling socialist party.
MDC was formed as an offshoot of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Solidarity Center. The National Endowment for Democracy is an US-government funded NGO spun out of the Central Intelligence Agency which provides grants to political, media and civil society groups abroad as long as they further US foreign policy objectives.
Morgan Tsvangirai, an opposition figure once accused by the Zimbabwean government of plotting with the CIA to have Mugabe assassinated, left the ZCTU to lead the MDC.
The initial goal of the MDC was to use economic deprivation as a means of stirring up resentment against the ruling party and sparking a revolution. There was a small problem, though.
“Policies that are formulated on the basis of a Western conception that sanctions would work in predominantly agrarian countries such as Zimbabwe in the same way they would work in East Europe is misplaced,” Arthur Gwagwa of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Unlike in urbanized societies, where sanctions might cajole people to protest and push for reforms, conditions are different in a country such as Zimbabwe where rural based populations have other livelihood means aside from bread, therefore the absence of bread in the shops will not prompt them to stage street protests,” Gwagwa said. “This was the MDC’s original plan that they are now backtracking on as they have realized that it doesn’t work.”
The Western plots to dislodge Mugabe’s ZANU-PF ultimately failed, and Masiyiwa wound up calling for an end to Western sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2018, several months before Mugabe’s death, commenting that “Zimbabwe has served its prison time.”
In the meantime, his influence flourished thanks to relationships with tycoons like Branson and Gates.
The second appointee listed by the Gates Foundation to its board of trustees is Baroness Minouche Shafik.
Shafik attended the oldest school of the United States in Africa, the Schulz American School in Alexandria, Egypt. Shafik moved to United States and United Kingdom to continue her studies and eventually graduated with a doctorate in economics from Oxford.
After leaving the university, the baroness passed through the revolving door of international financial institutions, starting with the World Bank, where she “designed reform programmes for transition countries in Eastern Europe, and developed proposals for economic integration in support of the Oslo peace process in the Middle East.”
Following a 15-year stint at the World Bank, during which she became its youngest vice-president, Shafik returned to the UK to work at the Department for International Development, the UK’s version of the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID. She eventually became the Permanent Secretary of the agency before joining the International Monetary Fund as Deputy Managing Director.
In 2014 Shafik rose to Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, where she was “responsible for a balance sheet” of almost $638.9 billion and served on both the Monetary Policy Committee and the Financial Policy Committee.
She left the Bank of England in 2016 to become the Director of the UK’s main progenitor of neoliberal thought, the London School of Economics (LSE). A year later, she delivered an address on behalf of the Bank of England defending the role of technocratic experts in government, and arguing that elite institutions needed to restore the public’s trust in them through initiatives like fact-checking websites.
Shafik is “making no apology for her technocratic outlook,” a Guardian profile noted in 2021.
For Shafik, neoliberal economics is not just a professional obsession; it’s personal. In a 2008 interview granted while she served as the Vice President of the World Bank, Shafik remarked that the “particular angle that I have on development comes from the fact that my family was nationalized.”
“That experience of nationalization and struggling with the role of the state trying to take resources, to redistribute them, but at the same time not being very successful at it was a part of my childhood,” she said.
In April 2021, Shafik was named to the steering group of the UK government’s Pandemic Preparedness Partnership (PPP) alongside Gates Foundation Scientific Advisory Committee Sir John Bell, Aurelia Nguyen, a representative of COVAX with the Gates-backed GAVI, and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) CEO Richard Hatchett, an organization co-founded and funded by the Gates Foundation, among other pharmaceutical and financial elites.
COVAX, or COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, is a 184-country initiative which coordinates resources to send vaccines off to countries that couldn’t typically afford them. Claiming to have delivered one billion doses to 144 countries, COVAX is co-led by CEPI, the Gates-funded World Health Organization, UNICEF, which is funded by the Gates Foundation, and Gavi, or the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.
On Gavi’s about page, it states that “The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a group of founding partners brought to life an elegant solution to encourage manufacturers to lower vaccine prices for the poorest countries in return for long-term, high-volume and predictable demand from those countries.” That idea became Gavi.
Of the PPP partnership, which brought this constellation of Gates-supported organizations together to advise G7 governments, Melinda French Gates said in a statement published by the UK government: “This partnership will enable G7 governments to create a roadmap for building a safe, secure, and equitable future for everyone.” She would later deliver closing remarks at the first meeting of the organization.
Under the “Recommendations” section of the PPP’s report to the G7, the organization suggests that governments and international organizations should “also consider expanding mass adult vaccination campaigns for common diseases – both to respond to very real and pressing public health needs and to create regular demand for expanded capacity.”
With grants to media outfits pushing the one-size-fits-all, vaccine-only solution and to non-governmental organizations coordinating the manufacturing of vaccines, to the Gates Foundation’s ownership of stock in companies that do the manufacturing, including Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, Gates has established an international Mighty Wurlitzer cranking out his preferred biomedical narrative and a vaccine manufacturing empire jabbing billions of humans for record profits.
Even prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Gates said that his investments in global health organizations pushing vaccines have resulted in $200 billion for every $10 billion he has invested. “We feel there’s been over a 20-to-1 return,” Gates told a reporter during the July 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “So if you just look at the economic benefits, that’s a pretty strong number compared to anything else.”
PPP recommended that the Gates-funded, WHO-founded COVAX take on the task of coordinating industry and G7 governments in order to “keep warm” vaccine manufacturing facilities.
The final listed appointee to the Gates Foundation board is Thomas J. Tierney. Like Shafik, Tierney studied economics, graduating with a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School in 1980.
That same year, he joined one of the “Big Three” management consulting firms, Bain & Company, where his roles would eventually come to include Partner, San Francisco Office Head, President, CEO and Worldwide Managing Director.
“Tom assumed full leadership responsibilities as Bain’s first worldwide managing director. Under his leadership, Bain grew its revenues six-fold while significantly expanding its global operations,” Tierney’s bio states.
“Notoriously secretive about itself and its work for clients, Bain has over the years been labeled the ‘KGB of Consulting,’” Fortune editors wrote in a 1987 profile of the company. “Like religious zealots, they single-mindedly dedicate themselves to improving their customer’s competitive position. Business is a holy war that the client must win and the competition must lose.”
Besides consulting for private companies, Bain also “works with national and regional governments, city municipalities, quasi-government agencies such as development funds and trade associations as well as government-owned companies to realize their economic and social goals,” according to its website.
Just what services they provide should come as no surprise to readers of this article: “economic development and sector strategies,” “privatization,” “change management,” etc.
Tierney joined the board of eBay in 2003, eventually taking over as Chairman following the departure of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar in 2015.
Tierney left Bain & Company in 2000, going on to found the Gates-funded Bridgespan Group, a non-profit management consulting firm that provides services to other non-profit organizations and NGOs.
Bridgespan is not only funded by the Gates Foundation, it provides the foundation with “philanthropy consulting” services. And it does the same for some of the most prominent institutions guiding the global pandemic response, from the CDC Foundation to the Ford Foundation to the Omidyar Network to The Rockefeller Foundation and the United Nations Foundation.
Additional clients under the category of “strategy consulting” include the Omidyar-funded pro-Israel pressure group known as the Anti-Defamation League, the Inter-American Development Bank, the CIA-linked International Rescue Committee, and the United Nations Foundation (again).
As the pandemic moves into its third year, and Gates racks up record profits, his new board of trustees will provide him the patina of racial and international diversity his foundation needs to push back on negative PR. But with their records of neocolonial plotting and technocratic zealotry, Gates’ board members are all but certain to stay the course of profiteering in the name of public health.
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