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Screenshot from MrBeast's video

Photo: youtube.com / @MrBeast

The most dangerous trap in the world!

The deadliest laser maze in the world!

I've hired a real killer to kill me.

YouTuber James Stephen Donaldson, better known as MrBeast, makes his money from such videos. A lot of money. According to Forbes, the videos bring him 50 million US dollars a year through advertising and sponsorship deals. This makes him the highest-paid YouTuber in the world. The 25-year-old is also quite busy in analogue life: He owns a chain of burger restaurants (MrBeast Burger) and a snack company (MrBeast Feastables), among other things.

If you have that much money, you're of course happy to share – especially if this non-profit also brings a lot of clicks for your own YouTube channel. The American has just succeeded in such an action again. "I've built 100 wells in Africa," says the video, published last weekend. The number is a real hit, about 80 million views, as of Friday morning. The clip is about... That's right: MrBeast, who builds 100 wells in Africa.

If you don't want to watch the ten-minute video in full length, here are a few typical sentences (illustrated with MrBeast in overalls, bubbling water and either sad-looking or cheering black children):

»They were really happy to see us.«

»We have laid pipes so that people all over Africa have access to clean drinking water.«

»We knew we had to help.«

»Nobody else does it.«

»All worries are soon gone.«

In Kenya, MrBeast's action has sparked a debate. In all channels of digital life (and at the supermarket checkout), the three big questions are now being discussed: Is it all true? Why doesn't our government do that, we pay taxes after all? Do we need a white savior?

Of course, question one can be answered quickly with a few clicks, after that it gets more difficult. DER SPIEGEL went in search of answers on site.

Is all this true?

A resounding yes. First of all, the title: MrBeast can be seen in pretty much every sequence of the video, he pushes buttons, carries jerry cans, pumps and even rides a bike (which he supposedly can't do). Of course, he didn't build the wells himself, but local aid organizations such as Hope Water Africa or United Mission for Relief, which have been doing this for a very long time and very professionally. MrBeast, or rather his charitable foundation, has given them money. In the end, the celebrity and his (white) team flew to Africa for a few days to shoot some crisp scenes.

Also, some figures and statements in the video are at least quite exaggerated. MrBeast claims that the 100 wells can feed 500,000 people. This would border on a hydrological miracle, the actual number is likely to be much lower. And there will certainly not be access to water everywhere in Africa due to the pipes laid, the continent consists of 54 countries and is almost three times the size of Europe.

In interviews with SPIEGEL, both the organizations involved and the local communities confirm that wells have indeed been drilled. However, contrary to what the video suggests, only a part of it is really operational. Many wells still have work to be done, towers for water tanks are missing or pipes need to be laid. A school principal in Eldoret, Kenya, told SPIEGEL: "We are very grateful. But it's not all finished yet."

James Origa, Kenyan water expert, said: "I congratulate MrBeast on this project! But drilling is just the beginning. Up to 40 percent of these wells are broken after three years. The real challenge is professional maintenance, and that's yet to come." But according to Hope Water Africa, after six months, the residents will be able to take care of MrBeast's well themselves. Saving Africa is an arduous business – the hard work comes after the beautiful pictures.

Why doesn't our government do that, after all, we pay taxes?

Fair question. Since President William Ruto took over in Kenya last year, pretty much all taxes and fees have been significantly increased. But locally, especially in rural areas, hardly any of the state revenues arrive. Spiteful memes are circulating on social media, showing never-finished bridges or politicians ceremoniously inaugurating hastily assembled wooden walkways.

In a village in western Kenya, MrBeast had a concrete bridge built over a river that the residents had previously had to cross in a makeshift manner. Such a bridge had been announced by the local government for a long time. "They only ever promise and never deliver. In the end, they say: Sorry, there was no money," complains village elder Christopher Kipsang. The rich American delivered much faster.

In the YouTube video, MrBeast says, "You'd think such projects would require the resources of a government. But that's not true." Many Kenyans are now asking uncomfortable questions of their president and his cabinet. "My government is exposed. They are ashamed that a stranger can do such a thing. They prefer to spend their money on travel, fancy cars and houses," says well-known activist and government critic Boniface Mwangi.

Do we need a white savior?

An old and heated debate on the continent, even DER SPIEGEL has already written about it. MrBeast's video has pretty much all the ingredients of classic white savior you can imagine: poor kids, dirty rivers, sad music. He calls the landscape in western Kenya, with its meticulously short grass and planted trees, "the jungle." Then the white rescuers arrive, the children hang glittering gold chains around their necks and shout: "We love you MrBeast team!"

The Ugandan organisation No White Saviors is dealing with exactly this phenomenon – and is trying to combat it. Watching the video sparked horror among the activists: "The Kenyans themselves should be the heroes of this story. But all the time, only the white people appear in the video. Were the local people even able to have a say?" asks Olivia Alaso, co-founder of No White Saviors. In fact, the locals are just accessories in the clip. They were allowed to describe their tragic problems or wave gratefully, but never solve their problems. After all, MrBeast was responsible for that.

By the way, the video ends with the following sentence from MrBeast:

»I know it's weird that a YouTuber has to do all that. But someone has to do it, and if no one else does it, then we'll do it.«

The Kenyan water expert James Origa has himself been involved in village water projects and drilled wells. The video gives him hope: "It was always very difficult to get money for such projects. I hope that will change now, because at least the attention to the topic is there."

Collaborators: Tom Juma, Eldoret (Kenya)

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