October 9, 2006
@ 05:44 PM

Last week I got an email from someone at Microsoft asking if my dad was the president of Nigeria. I almost deleted the email without responding until I looked at the person's email signature and it said "Executive Assistant to Bill Gates". So I responded and it turned out that Bill Gates was going to be in Nigeria over the weekend to meet with my dad and he wanted to chat before his trip.

We met on Friday and according to my mom he met with my dad over the weekend. After our talk I asked if it was OK if I blogged our meeting and he was fine with it. What follows are my impressions from our meeting and the topics we chatted about.

The last time I talked to Bill Gates in person was five years ago at the annual event for summer interns at Microsoft where we get to meet him at his house. When I was an intern they had to split the event into two seperate trips due to the number of interns. After introductions, I mentioned that we'd met before at the intern event in 2001 and asked if the event continued to this day. It still goes on today and has now grown to four separate rounds of visits. BillG said he appreciates hearing from college students about companies and trends they find interesting before their opinions get influenced by their employer when they get out of school.

BillG asked a couple of questions about me and my family such as how long I'd been at Microsoft, where I want to school, if my mom was Stella Obasanjo (she isn't), what my mom did, if I had any siblings back home and so on. I appreciated talking about myself and was put at ease before being asked about Nigeria or my dad. 

BillG had read my dad's Wikipedia entry and thus was a little familiar with my dad's background story. This is my dad's second time around as president. The first time was between 1976 and 1979 when he became the military president because the sitting military president was killed in a failed coup. He made history by being the first African head of state to voluntarily relinquish power by having elections and stepping down once a winner was announced. He became president this time around after spending three years as a political prisoner. After the military president that jailed him died of natural causes, he was released. A number of others who were jailed at the same time as him were not as lucky and died in prison such as Moshood Abiola and Shehu Musa Yar'Adua before the military president that jailed them passed away. I talked about meeting my dad in Atlanta back in 1998 when he was released and hearing for the first time that he planned to run for president. I thought it was an insane idea given that Nigeria had never had a civilian president finish out their term without there being a miltary takeover of government. I can still remember my dad sitting there and saying "If I don't do it who will?". He won the election and also won a second term. My dad still gives me a hard time today because I never called to congratulate him. I did attend both inauguration ceremonies so that should count for something, I guess.

BillG wondered what my dad would do after he left the presidency. He mentioned that he'd had some angst about leaving Microsoft in two years and also gave an example of a good friend of his, Bill Clinton, who also had similar angst when he left the U.S. presidency. I pointed out that my dad had been a retired head of state for almost two decades before this time around and had found things to do. Besides becoming a large scale farmer, he still did the international statesman thing and once was in the running for the position of UN secretary general which he lost to Boutros Boutros-Ghali back in the early 1990s.

He'd read that my dad was a born again Christian and wondered if that extended to the entire family. It doesn't, I'm not terribly religious and my mom is a devout catholic which it turned out BillG's wife is as well. This segued into a conversation about religion and Nigeria. The country is about half Christian and half Muslim but over the past few years, the division has become more stark. Since I've been in the U.S., a number of states in the northern part of the country have embraced Sharia law which has led to some negative international responses. The religion issue is now divisive enough that questions about religion and ethnicity were removed from this year's census. It wasn't like this when I was growing up. Speaking of ethnicity, BillG asked about the national language and whether there was a major ethnic group in Nigeria. The national language is English since we were colonised by the British and although there were three large ethnic groups (Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo) there are hundreds of indigenous tribes with their own cultures and languages.

The reason BillG was visiting Nigeria was to talk about some of the work that the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation has been doing in Africa. One of the issues he wanted to discuss were the efforts they had been taking to eradicate polio in Nigeria via vaccination. There had recently been some rumors about negative effects of polio vaccines in the northern part of Nigeria which had actually lead to at least one state banning them. The problem with polio, BillG said, is that unlike diseases such as smallpox it may be hard to detect so an outbreak could occur with the authorities being none the wiser until it is too late. He said the tipping point is about 15% of the population being infected while containment is when < 5% are infected. He also mentioned that their foundation was working on vaccines for malaria and sleeping sickness. I mentioned having malaria a few times while growing up and thinking how weird it was when I heard people in the U.S. talking about malaria as if it was ebola. However there was a difference between how I grew up in the city and the average Nigerian who lives in the villages and rural areas. The main problem with malaria that BillG wants combated is preventing it in pregnant women. Not only is the chance of infant mortality increased but also if the child makes it, the baby is usually born having a low birth weight which contributes to a lifetime of problems. He feels they are close to breakthroughs in creating vaccines for these diseases especially since not a lot of research has been done in this area due to big pharma not investing a lot in research for diseases affecting the poor in Africa. BillG acknowledged that he was being an optimist when he says this and it may take a little longer in much the same way that his optimism about the future of Tablet PCs and voice recognition software has taken longer than he expected to become mainstream. 

My comment about the differences growing up in the city versus the life in the villages reminded BillG of a similar contrast in another African country, South Africa. The life in places like Sun City [where most Americans go when they say they are going to South Africa] is radically different than the life in various South African townships. BillG took his children to some townships when they were in South Africa so they could see how the other half lived, his children were resistant to the idea but he thought that it would be a good idea to see what life is like in these places. We also talked about how widespread AIDs is in South Africa (affecting 30% of the population by some estimates) while it seems relatively contained in countries like Nigeria. I mentioned seeing the billboards for the ABC campaign (Abstain, Be faithful, use Condoms) while in Nigeria and he agreed that the campaigns seemed to have been working. Using condoms has seemed to be very effective but unfortunately there are some religious and social objections to the idea. Their foundation is working on creams and gels that can be applied just like spermicidal creams and gels which can be used to prevent AIDs and will be more acceptable to social norms [his exact words were "eliminate the negotiation during encounters"].  BillG also said that there seemed to be a strong correlation between improving healthcare and the number of children people had. This means that there is the double benefit of having healthy children and being able to afford to have them since you don't have that many. In addition to healthcare, BillG was also going to talk to my dad about their efforts around improving agricultural practices to improve crop yield and some of their suggestions for improving education. 

We did talk about Microsoft a little. When I mentioned I work for the Windows Live platform group he mentioned that this would be an interesting area to be in over the next few years and commented on a number of Windows Live services such as Windows Live Spaces, Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Mail. He also talked about some of the leadership changes we've had across Windows and Windows Live. I asked if he'd continue with his biannual Think Weeks where employees from all over the company get to write him papers about ideas they have. He said he'd continue until he stepped down in 2008 and after that it would be up to Ray Ozzie [who will be replacing him as Chief Software Architect] to decide if he'd continue with the tradition or not. I did mention that I'd submitted a Thinkweek paper which he'd writen a response to, he hoped that he wasn't too harsh in his criticism and I replied that his feedback was quite favorable and has led to some good things happening in Windows Live.

The meeting ran over by 15 minutes and I felt bad for taking up so much of his time. As I was leaving the building I overheard the following exchange between the receptionist of the building and a visitor

Visitor: Where is Bill Gates's office?
Receptionist: I'm not at liberty to divulge that information.
Visitor: I need to see him, I just downloaded Windows Vista and I have a number of complaints.
I wonder how often that happens. :)


Categories: Personal
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Monday, October 9, 2006 6:47:50 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

I've just finished a degree in Politics doing a lot of study on Africa. As a geek as well, there was always something at the back of my mind reading this blog - what was it about that name that I'd seen before?! No way this guy was the son of the Nigerian president..! What a surpise.

All the best - Tom
Monday, October 9, 2006 6:51:58 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Very interesting! Thanks for sharing! By the way, the next time you see Bill, my workstation freezes up every now and then and I don't know why. Could you ask him to help a brotha out? ;)
Monday, October 9, 2006 7:59:30 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Did Bill G. see the religious conflict as a significant obstacle to his goals in Nigeria?

Even putting religion aside, with a nation under 2 different sets of laws, one so strict that it limits outside aid/willingness to risk aid...furthering suffering and resentment...fueling conflict...limiting aid further still...you see my point I'm sure.

Did he have any comments on overcoming the division?
Mike Padula
Monday, October 9, 2006 10:27:07 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Excellent post, Dare! Thanks for teaching us all a little bit about modern Nigeria and your roots. Personally, I think anecdotes like this are fascinating to read. [Did you show him your watch?] When he mentioned leaving in 2 years, you should have said "me too" just for the shock value. :-)
Tuesday, October 10, 2006 12:21:23 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wow. Very cool post Dare. Thanks for sharing information about Africa as well as your conversation with Mr. Gates -- both are experiences I think a large number of us will never have.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006 1:13:38 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I accidentally found Bill's office (and Ray's) trying to retrieve some ball game tickets in the same building. It made my day.
Keith J. Farmer
Tuesday, October 10, 2006 1:22:38 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
ditto on the excellent post.

Nigeria is less of a mystery, and I/we now know more of humans on the otherside of the ocean.

We read a little more on the human side of BillG makeing the person more approachable.

Thanks for the post.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006 2:18:13 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Tremendous post. Funny I've been following your writings for many years, and in the last couple years I occassionally wondered if you were related to the leader of Nigeria because of your name, but assumed you were not because I don't recall you ever mentioning it. Again I wondered when you posted the links to the rap videos thinking they seemed like upper class Nigerian youths, and too coincidental, but still I thought Obasanjo must just be a common name from there and it is a very populous country. So I am very surprised!
Tuesday, October 10, 2006 9:16:41 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Great blog entry Dare!
Thanks a lot for sharing. :-)

I already know much about Nigeria including your relationship with the President, but I did enjoy reading about your interaction with BillG.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006 9:54:53 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I've been reading this blog for a while and also thought last name was just a coincidence. Apparently I’ve not been reading it well enough because you mentioned it before. My girlfriend will also be surprised that I ‘know’ the son the President of Nigeria ;-). She was born in Benin City, Edo State and I was fortunate enough to visit Nigeria at the beginning of this year to meet her family.

Hopefully the 2007 elections will be peaceful. I am getting a bit worried with the talk of a third term a while ago and the recent issues around Atiku Abubakar
Herold van der Vegt
Tuesday, October 10, 2006 10:32:11 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Great post, Dare. And wow -- I thought you were most notable for RSS Bandit :)
Tuesday, October 10, 2006 7:24:25 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I guess Microsoft gets to chalk up another 'child star' to its ranks. You and Stephen Hawking's kid :)

Great post.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006 10:28:31 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare, thanks so much for sharing this. I find Bill's philanthropic work fascinating and quite inspiring. They are really doing some good and it's nice to hear a bit more of the personal side of what is going on. I also find it very heartening that he sometimes takes his kids to see some of the poverty and need in the world, I could easily see them grow up as privileged spoiled kids otherwise and this seems like a great remedy for that.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006 5:34:26 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I wrote about and have used RSS Bandit, and thought the name seemed familiar but... nah, couldn't be. But it was!

Small world indeed. Nice post.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006 6:46:08 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wow, I've been following your blog for months now, I'm very interested in your posts about Windows Live and the direction its going in, etc. I'm impressed that you have kept yourself under the radar in regards to your family - I'm sure most people in your situation would try to take advantage of that to the fullest extent possible...

In anycase, thanks for your thoughts on your BillG meeting - it's always blows my mind as to the background information that BillG has in regards to what he is trying to achieve with his foundation. He does not just throw money at things, and hope it works out, he takes the time to research the subject, and get to the root cause of the issue. I cant imagine the pressure that he has to distribute his wealth, and warren buffetts wealth without it going to needless or worthless causes.

Best wishes to BillG!
Andrew Calvo
Friday, October 13, 2006 1:35:37 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Well, that's interesting knowing. I knew you were from Nigeria, but I had thought the one time previously you mentioned about your father having something to do with the Nigerian presidency, that you were joking. (I mean, FWIW, I was a school kid when I saw Michael Somare in Wewak in 73, the Year of Self Government. And with 700-800 hundred separable languages and only one hundred years separating the coastal people from the Stone Age, PNG's got as many problems as Nigeria. ;)

The Gates Foundation is perhaps the best thing he could have done with his money, and having had my fill of chloroquine and mosquito nets as a youngster in PNG, I fully support him in that endeavour.
Friday, October 13, 2006 9:40:04 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare, So now the secret about your family roots is out. :) This post was very interesting to read, thanks for sharing! It is a once in a lifetime experience to meet BillG in person, and you got a 1:1 chance. Very cool. I remember being an intern in the summar of 2000, going to BillG's house was the most exciting day of my internship.
Sunday, October 15, 2006 8:04:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I've been following your blog for quite a while and I must say I'm impressed.

One of my friends went to Georgia Tech and he met you once during one of those Microsoft events. He said the first thing that struck him was your humility and I find that to be true.

It's people like you who make me proud to be a Nigerian. Keep the flag flying!
Monday, October 16, 2006 9:49:54 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

It's great to see the son of a Nigerian president eeking out a hard day's living rather than live off ill-gotten wealth like the Abacha and IBB kids.

Excellent post, your meeting with Bill Gates. I am sure your meeting enlightened him somewhat.

Keep it real my boy and great things will come your way.

Comments are closed.