YouTube sensation, MrBeast, often ruffles feathers every time he posts videos of his philanthropy. Whether it’s paying for medical procedures for people who cannot afford them or providing renewable energy and clean water for remote communities in Asia or Africa, he gets a lot of flak for it. I suppose that comes with the territory when you are the biggest content creator in the world. Whatever you do, no matter how well-intentioned, automatically becomes polarising.
His critics often accuse him of being insensitive for sensationalising people’s misfortunes for ad revenue. I remember how he was heavily criticised for the video he titled 1,000 Blind People See For The First Time. Perhaps it’s the way he came across by presenting himself as some sort of Jesus with the way he touched the young boy in the thumbnail. But for his measured critics, they were not specifically pissed at MrBeast. Rather, they saw the video as an indictment on the US government that a YouTuber provided a life-changing procedure for over 1000 people which amazingly didn’t cost a small fortune. It’s hard not to agree with that assessment.
Though he splurges money in his viral videos, he doesn’t live a materialistic lifestyle. I listened to his appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast last year and I was pleased with his perspective on life. He said he lives in his studio and the most expensive thing he owns is a Tesla. But even that was for the functional purpose of fighting climate change. Again, at his age, it is very impressive how committed he is to philanthropy instead of giving into materialism.
Earlier this month, he did a video on how he built 100 wells in Africa. For me, it was an emotional but embarrassing video. I posted on X, formerly Twitter how embarrassed I was that it took an American flying thousands of miles to Africa to build wells. Like MrBeast’s measured critics, I wasn’t mad at him. I was mad at African governments that have impoverished their people for decades since independence. I was ashamed not because it perpetuated the stereotype of Africa as an underdeveloped continent. I was embarrassed because a foreigner felt more responsible for our well-being than our elected leaders.
The comments were overwhelmingly positive from Africans. But as you’d expect, there were a few who took umbrage at MrBeast. They seemed to be more concerned about Africa’s image and how it made African governments look bad. In a now-viral Yahoo News article, it was reported that a certain Saran Kaba Jones who founded FACE Africa, an NGO working to improve access to clean water in sub-Saharan Africa expressed frustration at how a “white male figure” came to Africa and overnight got more attention than all the 15 years of work she has put in her advocacy work.
A self-styled parliamentary aspirant in Kenya, Francis Gaitho, posted a 10-minute response video to MrBeast on X. His thoughts were all over the place. But chiefly, he blamed MrBeast for perpetuating the stereotype of Africa as a dark continent. He claims Africa is wealthy and if anyone is to blame for anything, it’s Western powers who milk the continent dry of its resources while they continue to give handouts. He even took offence at how MrBeast couldn’t pronounce Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, correctly. Though he acknowledged African leaders are corrupt, he somehow held America responsible. I guess it’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. America is responsible for Africa’s poverty and America is also wrong for giving aid to tackle Africa’s poverty.
The neo-colonialist strawman often employed by African activists and scholars to deflect criticisms from the political class is not just disingenuous, but tiring at this point. And to hell with fighting and countering stereotypes. Why should it matter that foreigners may think of Africa as a dark continent if we truly have communities without access to clean water? Should the primary concern be protecting an image or providing help regardless of where it comes from? Do these defenders of Africa’s image think the communities benefitting from MrBeast’s philanthropy spend sleepless nights thinking about stereotypes? It’s okay to be embarrassed. I am embarrassed. But that embarrassment should be directed to what I like to call the corruption industrial complex in Africa.
African leadership is unbelievably corrupt. Anyone is free to blame that on colonialism or neo-colonialism if they want. But the facts are the facts. There is an ongoing debate in Nigeria on how the Bola Ahmed Tinubu presidency spent N160 billion to purchase SUVs for senators and members of the House of Representatives. The president has displayed the same level of insensitivity with his many superfluous appointments. In a supplementary budget released last month, N1.5 billion was earmarked to purchase vehicles for the First Lady’s office (an unconstitutional office by the way). The president’s son has been caught flying the presidential jet to attend a polo event. All this amidst rising poverty and unsustainable debt. Despite the hue and cry from the public, our leaders couldn’t care less what the everyday Nigerian is going through at a time we are experiencing the worst economic crisis since 1999.
You’ll find the same story of institutional corruption across Africa whether it’s in so-called democracies or dictatorships, or whether it’s in capitalist or quasi-socialist economies. It shouldn’t then surprise anyone why Africa still has a lot of communities without access to clean water and other social infrastructure.
Speaking of narratives, Africans are beginning to take pride in their cultural exports, especially in music. Afrobeats stars like Burna Boy, Rema, and Asake tour the world throughout the year selling out venues like the O2 Arena in London or Madison Square in New York. Somehow, the success of Afrobeats is thought to give Africa equal footing with the West. But that’s wishful thinking. Cultural success does not transmute into economic success. It doesn’t matter how many Grammy Awards a Burna Boy wins, that doesn’t change the reality that Africa is the poorest continent in the world. As long as Africans continue to capsize in the Mediterranean Sea in their daredevil attempt to migrate illegally to Europe, that stereotype will never go away, our cultural exports notwithstanding. The only way to change the image of Africa as a dark continent is to attain economic prosperity. And that starts with having the right kind of leadership.
But in the interim, Africa needs a lot more MrBeast to do what our governments have failed to do. As embarrassing as that sounds, it is the truth.
Olayemi is the publisher of The Disaffected Magazine. He also hosts the Disaffected Nigerian Podcast. He enjoys everything from Evolutionary Psychology to the syncopations of Apala music to Fela’s discography. He fancies himself as an Amala enthusiast. His dream is to be a travel writer someday.