MrBeast builds 100 wells in Africa, attracting praise – and some criticism

American YouTuber MrBeast’s latest video, in which he says he built 100 wells across Africa, has drawn a complex response online since it was published on Saturday.

Some Kenyan activists and journalists said he has spotlighted the failures of the Kenyan government, while MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, anticipates that he will be “canceled” following the reaction.

The new wells will provide clean drinking water for up to 500,000 people in Cameroon, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Zimbabwe, Donaldson said, while an accompanying fundraiser to support local water aid organizations had raised more than $300,000 by Monday morning.

Donaldson’s 10-minute video also showed him donating supplies to Kenyan schools, such as new furniture, soccer balls, computers, whiteboards and projectors; building a bridge across a river to safely connect a village with the local schools and hospital; and donating bikes to a village in Zimbabwe to help children get to school.

Prominent activist Boniface Mwangi contrasted Donaldson’s actions with those of the Kenyan government, saying that “we are a “shameful, horrible country…a begging nation governed by millionaires.”

He added on X, formerly known as Twitter: “Every five years we give newly elected members of parliament, and senators a Sh5 million car grant ($33,000), fuel those cars every month but we have no money to drill boreholes for our people?”

Similarly, freelance journalist Ferdinand Omondi lauded Donaldson’s efforts but said that “it’s embarrassing that a YouTuber jetted into Kenya on a charity tour to perform tasks our taxes should have completed ages ago.”

CNN reached out to a Kenyan government spokesperson for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.

Saran Kaba Jones, founder and CEO of FACE Africa, an organization working to improve water infrastructure and sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa, told CNN: “I’ve been doing this for 15 years, but we’ve been struggling to continue the work because funding, awareness, and advocacy all take work.”

And then, she added, “overnight, this person comes along, who happens to be a white male figure with a huge platform, and all of a sudden, he gets all of the attention. It’s kind of frustrating, but it’s also understanding the nature of how the world is.”

She praised Donaldson for shining the spotlight on the need for clean water supply but warned that “the issue is sustainability. It’s one thing to go in and install the well, it’s another thing for us to go back to three, four, or five years from now, and see if that well is still functional.”

Kaba Jones told CNN that FACE Africa works in areas where “60% of wells are broken, and people go back to drinking from the creek because there was no infrastructure put in place for follow-up for maintenance for repair” and said she hoped Donaldson’s well-building effort included this infrastructure.

While much of the reaction to Donaldson’s video seemed to focus on how it shamed the Kenyan government, its creator anticipated a backlash, saying on X that he “knows I’m gonna get canceled because I uploaded a video helping people, and to be 100% clear, I don’t care.”

Aspiring Kenyan politician Francis Gaitho criticized Donaldson’s video, saying on X that it perpetuated the stereotype that Africa is “dependent on handouts…and philanthropic intervention,” though Gaitho’s comments attracted criticism of their own.

Donaldson is the most popular individual creator on YouTube, with more than 200 million subscribers. He has become known for his philanthropy, posting videos in which he sponsored 1,000 blind people’s cataract surgery and bought prosthetic limbs for 2,000 amputees.

Such videos have helped him build a business empire potentially worth more than $1 billion and garnered him enough recognition that Time magazine named him one of the most influential people in 2023.

Some critics have previously accused Donaldson of exploiting vulnerable people to generate views and revenue but he said on X that “I’m always going to use my channel to help people and try to inspire my audience to do the same.”

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