Bed nets don't help street entrepreneur from getting bitten by mosquitos

Bed nets don't help street entrepreneur from getting bitten by mosquitos

So if you haven’t heard, Ashton Kutcher is throwing his trucker hat in the “I can stop malaria” ring of shameless honor. This time using all manner of self-promotion via a pseudo-popularity battle with CNN to see who can amass 1 million followers the fastest. And the gimmick? Kutcher will buy 10,000 bed nets if he reaches 1 million followers before CNN does. Kutcher’s foundation of choice to furnish the bed nets of course is Malaria No More. *Sigh*

Please forgive me for sounding annoyed, but I am. Actually no, I am frustrated beyond belief. There is something very fundamentally wrong with this movement to buy up millions of bed nets to send to Africa. I certainly don’t fault Kutcher for failing to do his homework on the subject. I mean, if I was as busy as he is—waxing my chest and making movies—I shouldn’t be faulted for failing to see the kind of damage my generosity is wreaking. I mean, come on! I am a movie star forgodsake!

The solution to malaria, much like varied solutions to ending our addiction to aid, can be found within Africa. My problem with the strategy of dealing with malaria employed by Malaria No MoreNothing but Nets, et al is that it erodes the ability of local capacity to deal with this problem. It is also not infinitely sustainable, and dare I say it,  smacks of paternalistic ethos. It’s a band-aid on a gashing wound. It’s the “fly-to-Africa-and-adopt-a-brown-baby-instead-of-investing-in-a-sustainable-business-that-can-help-the-entire-family” syndrome. Africa’s capacity to tackle these issues is vastly eroded by a Western celebrity culture of “look at me, look at me, I am saving Africa”-ism, and the misguided notion that Africans can’t do anything for ourselves, therefore it is the West’s right to do things for us.

Sure bed nets keep you from being bitten, but what are we supposed to do when we are not under the nets? But our lives could be that much richer is were earning a living as workers in the non-existent African anti-malarial industry. We could have been growing artemisia and pyrethrum or working at a bed net factory; feeding my family with the proceeds, but alas, I can’t. Ashton Kutcher was feeling unloved and wanted to run a little popularity contest, and we get to be the spectators circus sidekicks victims.

Wouldn’t it be better to invest money into indigenous companies that can make the nets, therefore maintaining a sustainable business selling bed nets? Or investing in the agricultural sector so farmers are more able to meet demand for crops like Artemesia annua and pyrethrum, easily-grown botanical ingredients in  anti-malarial drugs?

These seemingly well-intentioned celebrity stunts of altruism are not killing mosquitos, instead they are killing the livelihoods of the very people that are supposed to benefit from the nets. And this is not symptomatic of celebrity cluelessness as applied to the eradication of malaria. It’s systemic fault in International Development sectors. Even WHO is also implicitly clueless in this regard.

Kenyan, Dr. Macharia Waruingi MD, DHA, best summed up this common knowledge divide as the culprit behind so many failed large-scale development projects in Africa, in his paper,  Tragedy of the Commons in Global Health:

Alienation, which results in separation of things that naturally belong together, breaches processual integrity. For example, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) strategies for fighting malaria produced actions and interactions that inhibited the flow of relevant knowledge from people living in developing countries to the WHO. In this case, the WHO did not have a process to know about the production of pyrethrum by local nationals living in the highlands of East and Central Africa. SC Johnson (SCJ), a multinational corporation, knew about the production of pyrethrum from the highlands, and collected the pyrethrum extract from poor farmers. SCJ did not help the farmers to repackage pyrethrum for malaria control. On the other end, the WHO imported synthetic pyrethroids to help the poor farmers fight malaria.

Although SCJ and WHO were dealing with the same individual—the poor farmer who is struggling with malaria and poverty—they did not communicate with each other. The relevant knowledge about the importance of natural pyrethrins in malaria control did not flow among the three stakeholders: the farmer, the people at SC Johnson, and the members of the WHO. In the effort to help the farmers, the WHO undermined the productivity of the poor farmers by flooding the market with the synthetic molecule.

There needs to be a cultural and system shift in the way the West approaches Africa’s problem. Flooding the market with cheap Asian bed nets impregnated with synthetic anti-malarials is not in itself a self-sustaining solution. If I was to be critical of it, I’d say it’s as counterproductive as slapping a AK-47 toting Somali pirate with a fly swatter while screaming “die, die, die, you stupid pest, die!” You are not addressing the underlying problem, only exascerbating it.

Ashton Kutcher and his pals need to talk to Hugh Jackman about how to properly leverage your popularity. Seriously, Ashton, it’s the first rule of International Development. As for your popularity contest with CNN,Julie Gomoll summed it up best. And neither do I.

Corrected spelling mistakes. My apologies.

Update: 4/18/09
Malaria No More posted information about an African Bed net factory today on their blog. It does not say for certain that they are sourcing their nets from this factory. It is implied, but it would be great if that was confirmed. Kudos to the Olysnet folks for a job well done!
Thanks everyone! Tracy

  1. Love this post. Hand me a fly swatter!
    There really does need to be a shift in the way people view the African Continent. The west does not need to but out, but it does need to understand Africa. We are capable, we are educated, we live within our culture.
    We need partnerships.
    Who best understand what Africa needs other than Africans? Who best knows the challenges Africa faces other than the people of Africa?
    People of the world, we welcome your goodwill. We welcome dialogue. We respect your wish to help, and yes we do need help, but please make strides towards understanding us. Work with us. Recognise our worth, our skill, our humanity. Make it relevant.

    • partnerships! empowerment! there ARE better ways to do things in Africa and there are many small orgs that are doing it. It's the big ones that need to learn from the small ones.

  2. The reason for all this 'help' is coz Africans are STUPID (before anyone rants… I am one). Kenyans have elected the same thieves over & over again. The same happens in many African countries. Malaria can be eradicated by simple measures but these require education & dedication from the citizens & government.

    If the malaria prevention funds were not stolen or 'misused' then we can afford to spray insecticides. As for pyrethrum, Kenya killed off the industry because the politicians friends were appointed to the board/authority that had a monopoly over the industry.

    At least Ashton is trying. Can you say the same for the Africans themselves?
    (African citizens to elect good leaders OR overthrow the lousy ones)
    (African 'leaders' to prove they are leaders)

    • coldtusker don't you think that Africa is in this mess because of the current aid/charity model? There are complicated reasons why many African governments are structured the way they are. The debate is not about Governments, but rather about relevant aid. Yes aid passed through some governments does little more than swell that government. Indeed there are cases where government expenditure is maintained through aid money. I agree that it is not always in the interests of certain governments to allow private enterprise to florish, or to educate their people.

      Directing aid so that it builds sustainable businesses in the private sector has to be good for Africa. If the governments are not going to do it why give them the money in the first place? Africa's biggest potential trading partner is itself. Not the west, not the east, but with the people of Africa. As the first world battles its financial crisis, we cannot pretend that its trade with Africa is going to rescue it, at least not as things are structured now. Africa has been trading with the West for 100's of years and look at the state of things.

      Sustainable businesses, leading to employment, leading to trade will lead to further investment, and so it continues. Education and healthcare are never far behind a growing economy. The more that is taken out of governments hands, the more accountable that government has to be to its people.

      If all people see of Africa is starving people, crying babies, slums and corrupt governments how is the continent going to be taken seriously?

      Can you not see that your post is perpetuating the myth that Africans cannot help themselves? You even come right out and say that Africans are stupid. You may have that opinion of yourself, but I happen to think I have some worth. I certainly will not insult my friends and family by calling them stupid either.

      You can sit and pass judgement on your fellow Africans. You can play judge and jury and executioner if you like. I prefer to trust in the people of Africa. I prefer to work with my brothers and sisters to make sure Africa takes its rightful place in the world.

      • "Indeed there are cases where government expenditure is maintained through aid money."

        Maybe CT & I are just too Kenyan on this issue.

        As for TMS' rant: Great!

        Maybe the problem also is that a celebrity like Ashton gets the attention while other projects, such as projectdiaspora, have to fight to be heard. The celeb should forward attention into our direction and not such single incidents of "help".

        Maybe we'll need a manifest, some simple theses like the Cluetrain manifest back in 1999 that compiles the modern wisdom on aid & Africa's future in an Ayittey or Moyo sense and puts it into simple phrases so that those US celebs and other outsiders have a simple guideline to follow ("Helping Africa in the 21st century in Plain English" ? 🙂

      • Alasdair, I was busy most of the day and didn't get to fully read your response. Thanks for taking the time to write a well-thought out response. I really respect people who can communicate cooly and effectively. The only comment I'd make here is that I don't think that Africa is "in this mess because of the current aid/charity model." I think it's part of the reason and part of the reason is a general economic mess and part of it is a generational cycle of dependency (yes charity in part) and part of it is corruption that needs to be solved and that corruption isn't exactly due to charity.

        • Jenn. Thanks for pointing that out. I agree, I phrased that badly. What I meant was that the current charity model does little to alter the current inequalities within Africa. It is not just the model, but the prevailing attitude that is helped perpetuated by the media.
          I would argue that charity has a role in the perpetuation of corruption. Aid through governments gives all the power to those governments. The less citizens are dependent on the state, the more accountable the sate has to be to its citizens. Growth in private investment will go a long way towards addressing this.

          • Yes, you are 100% correct about the prevailing attitude. The paternalistic attitude of "we are here to help you since you can't help yourself" could use some revolution towards "we're here to partner with you b/c you're smart, intelligent and probably know of some solutions we haven't though of."

            I agree with the statement on corruption and aid and how they are inextricably intertwined. However, i think it's up to us to really research, learn, and discover the best practices of what private investment really means for us as a generation and how we can do it best to help break these poverty cycles in so many African countries.

    • Now that is the truth. Africans ( and I am one!) may have 'solutions' but they are surely not exercising them. The reason for not doing so has nothing to do with ability and everything to do with the will to do so. The greed of the leaders and the complacency of the citizens are the culprits. Those are the issues that 'project diaspora' needs to be at war with not the NGOs and 'good-willers'!

      • Project Diaspora exists because there is a “will to do so” If you look at our new “Diaspora at Work” series, it's nothing but Africans doing for Africa. Not what the West is doing for us.

        We'll continue to showcase those solutions being developed for Africans by Africans, however small or large. We'll stay out of the political failures and concentrate instead on what we as individuals are doing to change our Africa. Please read our mission statement to see what we are all about.

  3. Absolutely. I've heard stories (directly, from national staff of NGOs, while visiting Africa) of families receiving netting as part of an aid package. Guess what? They used the nets to fish in the lake because they were starving. So much so that the overfished the lake, which is now depleted, and they have malaria because they nets were then, of course, too ripped to be of use.

    For others reading this post and these comments, one can't blame these families; never mistake desperation for stupidity. They will likely get malaria without nets, but they will certainly starve without food. And so it's programs like this that address one issue without concern toward the bigger problems or even the day after.

    Personally, I can't stand celebrity gimmicks, but I can't ignore that it does have some merit for a first world audience. I've seen their work pull in the same financial gain as six months of day-to-day program work, and that can go far. But if it's not at least something within the context of the larger problem then it's not sustainable, and in many cases, it's the last thing too many African families need: false hope.

    • I never knew him before as well. I tell you, he is right now making even much more than what he will spend on Africa because of this foolish self promotion.

  4. Well written article although it's always possible to make a point without personally insulting someone because of their naivity. What's laughable to some is just pathetic to others . . . .

  5. Thank you for writing this. I would love to chat sometime. I talk about this type of thing all day long, as I work for a granting organization that goes deep into discovering the most qualitative national indigenous sustainable movements toward helping folks in developing countries improve their quality of life.

  6. Africans are to blame for their own lot… I live in Africa not in the USA/UK or in some ivory tower. I stand by my comment on the (general) stupidity of Africans (btw, for those coming in late… I am an African).

    Kenya – In protest for cutting off illegal electricity connections, the residents of kibera (in Nairobi) uprooted the ONLY railway connecting Nairobi to Mombasa… If this is not stupidity… what is?

    Nigeria – Exports some of the world's highest quality crude then imports white oils since none of its 3 refineries function… If this is not stupidity… what is?

    I could litter the comments section with examples… Ultimately, Africans need to stop depending on aid. If it is free, accept it… but don't 'die' without it… OR accept it with onerous conditions.

    AND get rid of the lousy politicians… Or try… We tried in Kenya (well, the smart 50%) to lick out kibaki…

    • Indeed, these examples you have "shared" are frustrating and do not seem logical to the Western eye. I would question your use of the word stupid though. Seems a little… patronising and does your argument no good.
      Your comments bring into question the value of racial profiling. There is a healthy debate and quite a bit of uproar about it right now in the US. Putting things into categories according to our worldview is part of what makes us human. It is essential in order for us to make sense of the world and to interpret the huge amount of information that comes at us every second of the day. We need to put things in buckets. We understand the macro world this way.

      Problems arise when we step out of the macro view and look at micro issues. If we bring with us our preconceived ideas and generalisations it limits our understanding and our ability to remain objective and ultimately to be effective.

      Following your logic, we can identify some of a nation's or ethnic groups worse traits and live by those generalisations. Eastern Europeans are scam artist because they send out spam emails. The English are football hooligans and are perpetually drunk. Americans are either fat because the eat fast foods, or they are insular, or, if from the midwest inbred. (Disclaimer: I do not think these things)
      There is no logic to this and there would be an outcry if these perceptions drove our dealings with these ethnic groups or nations. Why then are we allowed to set the way we deal with Africa by ethnic profiling and assumptions fuelled by the media?
      This is a global problem. Africa has problems. The state of Xenophobia in South Africa shows that Africa has much to learn in this regard.
      All Teddy is saying in his post is that we do need to look at the relationship the world has with Africa. He is not pointing fingers and laying blame. What he is doing is asking for dialogue. A shift in perception, and an opportunity to let Africa speak for itself and be included in making decisions about what is best for Africa.

  7. Nana Kwabena Owusu

    When I read about the popularity contest my main reaction was ‘silly men’. Your post has certainly enlightened me about the implications of such misguided ‘aid’.

    Honestly if I hadn’t read your post, my main issue was only 10,000 nets.
    However this raises another issue in my mind? How do we get a critical enough mass of people to ‘get it’ about such issues. I’ve put up a link to your post on my twitter account but it just hit me that people like David Ajao (see comment above) are the same ones who will probably follow me on twitter. Same 10,000 people reading each other.

    GTV, TV3, MetroTV (major TV networks in Ghana) will never pick this up and turn it into a significant enough story for non-tech oriented people.

    Most real information is buried in obscurity (don’t mean your blog).
    We the bloggers, tweeeps, etc have to find a way for mainstream media in Africa to understand there is a goldmine of genuine stories to be told not for them to become ‘parrots’ repeating CNN,BBC.

    I absolutely hate it when a major story about Ghana is broken by BBC and the major Radio and TV networks later ‘read’ it out like its their story.

    How do we get our stories out?

    • Nana, thanks for dropping some wisdom on us.

      Unfortunately in these times, Mass Media is failing and no longer what it used to be. Social media and citizen journalism are rapidly overtaking them. And that's where our future lies. I don't know about Ghana, but Uganda's media is largely controlled by the government, and by nature, means slow to react!

      All the social media tools are allowing us to empower ourselves. We have to take the fight to the streets. Keep up the good work.

      • Nana Kwabena Owusu

        Well TMSRuge has certainly brought some commentary. It is for people actual doing something that I salute. I read the Aloe Vera post and keep coming back to hear about your projects.

        I do not believe your post intends to offend aid workers here on the ground. It just raises relevant issues on our minds.

        How do we make it all work together!

        As to my comment, I believe social media is the way but just as a mention of twitter on CNN made it a search trend on Google and lead to huge growth, at least in Ghana we still need mass media to help make the social media channels viral.

        Ps. I am in my own way trying to build a network which empowers young people to understand and use these social channels in their daily routine.

        Am I doing something or unless I donate or actual help dig a well I’m part of the problem. One of the criticisizing comments made it sound so, so I’m just to get some comments on that.

  8. Sorry if this is rude, but it's attitudes like this that give int'l dev workers a bad name. Take the celebrity part out of the equation; not everyone can drop everything and move to Africa to immerse themselves in the cultural experience so they have a "real" sense of what the problem is. Not everyone can take the hours a day they would need to know why this is an issue. If you're going to stick your nose up at and insult everyone that's trying to help, then people will turn off the cause altogether. Maybe you can think about how to use the obvious concern "Western" people have about Africa's problems to reach out to them, educate them about underlying issues, and tell them how to make the most impact WITHOUT talking down to them. Coming off as a snob is not helpful.

    • Catherine, thanks for your insightful comments. As noted in my post, this is out of frustration that the ID system all for such charades to self-perpetuate. You may not have time to go to Africa, but I guarantee you on any given day you are within earshot of an African Diasporan. Don't have time, ask Project Diaspora where your efforts would be better spent. I am African, I straddle that divide. And this is 2009… travel is no longer needed. Browse through our sidebar, tons of African-related sites you can tap into for a “real” sense of who we are and what we are talking about.

      Look through our projects, plenty of opportunities. And I am not bashing Int'l Dev. workers at all. Employing thousands of external people to come in to do the same job Africans can do smacks of pertanalism. We are happy aid workers want to come and help. But without capacity development, we are back to where you found us when you leave.

      Please, talk to us. Don't talk AT us. As Alasdair said above, let's be equal partners in this. At least we'll have a vested interest in sustaining whatever solution you provide us.

      I've said as much in my previous post about aid and the lack of capacity building:

      • TMS, i'd love to see this comment of Catherine's "Maybe you can think about how to use the obvious concern "Western" people have about Africa's problems to reach out to them, educate them about underlying issues, and tell them how to make the most impact WITHOUT talking down to them." be taken to the celebrities. Is there not ONE celebrity who will not just raise money at a cause but actually spend time educating the masses on better solutions through partnerships with indigenous sustainable orgs?

    • 'Coming off as a snob'? Are you kidding me, try to see it from the perspective of Africans who have dealt with 500 years of 'snobbery', paternalism and worse from people all over the globe trying to convince them they know what's better for them than they do. The fact is there are companies here who sell bed nets, now they have to compete with the free one's from the star of Punk'd. Great intentions, but it could have been executed better. What you've said here implies that people can't mistakes because they 'meant well'? Sure they can, we all can.

      If it means thinking of solutions for your own problems, challenging authority and being self-reliant, In my opinion there need to be more African 'snobs'.

      Lastly, bad international aid gives int'l dev workers a bad name. To argue this point is to say that all int'l aid is the same, which it clearly isn't.

  9. Nana, we start here. 'Well written story' is definately an understatement for this blog, but that is where movements begin…on scraps of papers in prisons in the 60s to blogs in the 21st century. There are always two kinds of people, those who get involved, those who watch and those who are reading this about to decide which group they fall into (I wonder how many people will actually get that). coldtusker did the rest of the responces on the blog. You have always heard this line "poverty is a state of mind"..well, so is cynicism. And it is much easier too than criticism..and thinking. This is how we will change the be ready when the debate is brought to your doorstep by some cynic..I know TMS Ruge will be and I will be too. Some day, that will be the world conversation…and that is the one we will NEED to win!

  10. So, what are you doing to aid Africa besides condemning the people trying to help? Sitting at home & writing a post about it is a different story than someone living it. Providing nets is better than nothing IMO.

    • I challenge look at the top right hand sidebar of this blog, and donate some money to the Women of Kireka project. All you need is a paypal account. TMSRuge championed that cause and many more.

  11. Hi Christi, I appreciate your sentiment, and I'll assume you haven't looked around on the blog.

    This blog is “what I am doing about it”. The development projects that I fund out of my own pocket are “what I am doing about it” The sacrifices that I make in order to make sure ALL my siblings in Uganda have an education and never beg for a hand out are “what I am doing about it”.

    Did I mention I am African by the way? There are many like me. 165 million of us. Africans doing for ourselves.

    Please don't get me wrong. We appreciate the help. If you want to help, work WITH us, don't tell us what's best for us. You've done too much of that already. 60 years and $1 trillion dollars in aid-worth of too much. I think we can take it from here. We've learned to walk now, and I am pretty sure we won't need any help jogging and sprinting.

    Ps… please share what you are doing about it.

  12. Instead of worrying about "helping" the developing world, why not just treat it fairly? Right now, the developed world token amounts of aid money to ease its guilt, then throws up trade and social barriers when the developing world tries to sell what it grows or makes. Real free trade would be a good first step.

  13. Fred Hollows, a fine Australian who set up factories in third world countries to make intra-ocular lens to help reduce blindness in these places (Nepal, Eritrea, Aboriginal Australia and others) once famously said "Buy a man a fish and you feed him a meal, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life". It is one of my favourite expressions and maybe some of what your message is here.

  14. I have certainly ranted against the Western attitudes in aiding Africa — there are many problems, for sure. And I am Western, not African. However, I think ranting against bednets is not one of the areas I would rant. The efficacy of insecticide-treated bednets has been well established in preventing malaria in children an pregnant and lactating women, it has reduced pregnancy-related anemia due to Malaria, and premature births, low birthweight, etc. It has reduced infant and child mortality from Malaria and is an effective Malaria prevention strategy. And yes, sometimes they are used as wedding veils or fishing nets. They are nice nets, after all.

    And I would not be against any celebrity raising money to buy bednets so long as they are produced and sold in African countries. The problem arises when local markets and industries of bednet production are destroyed by importing bednets and then distributing them at no cost. There has been a pitched battle over Jeffrey Sachs, WHO, and other aid organizations' schemes to do just that since at least 2007.

    There is the faction of people how consider ITNs (insectice-treaded nets) a public good that should be provided free of charge by governments or aid agencies. Other argue that this is the wrong approach and instead, local commercial markets should be strengthened while providing subsidies for the groups most at risk, such as children and pregnant women. The 'common good" proponents argue that free distribution has shown a significant community effect in most areas with very high coverage and use of ITNs, and that the reality of many people in Malaria areas is that tey, in fact, are not able to pay for bednets in a free market.

    Those in favor of strengthening markets point to a large social marketing program in rural Tanzania, programs in Asia that are focused on market creation, and point out that external funds for ITN might not be available forever.

    There is actually considerable research on both sides and the verdict is out — both sides really have merit in regard to increasing health outcomes and developing markets. So, it's hard to categorically state here that either side is entirely wrong. Most likely, a combination of market creation and support AND support for pre- and ante-natal support for poor women and children in the form of free or subsidized ITNs is appropriate.

    But in this case I think there is actually a lot of evidence there that we need a mixed approach that will likely still, for some time, rely on donor subsidies or vouchers that can be redeemed in local markets, as has been demonstrated successfully In Tanzania.

  15. I'm also not an African. I work on Papua Province in Indonesia, where malaria rates are some of the highest in the world and the impact is devastating.

    What do you have against LLINs?

    "Sure bed nets keep you from being bitten, but what are we supposed to do when we are not under the nets?"

    As Katrin notes above, bednets have been proven to greatly reduce the incidence of malaria. Surely you know this?

    They can't protect for all of the time, but thus far they've proven one of the best weapons we have. A vaccine is a long way off, if ever possible. But beating the disease is possible with spraying, draining breeding grounds, nets, and other approaches.

    "Wouldn’t it be better"

    Yes treating hunger would be good. But malaria significantly impacts on the ability of those affected to work in the fields, earn money, and do anything at all. It is a yoke around the neck. It is a cause of hunger. And it kills.

    A quick look at the website of shows that despite your blithe assertions, they are indeed concerned to support local infrastructure, manufacture and distribution:

    "Rather than reinvent the wheel with stand-alone mosquito net distribution campaigns, Malaria No More has partnered with the most effective organizations in global health to expand the reach, efficiency and impact of established distributions. Together, these campaigns have protected 30 million people

    Before you can solve a problem you have to define it. Malaria No More and partners including Roll Back Malaria and the Malaria Consortium funded teams to go into each country and determine the actual need for mosquito nets, medicine, spraying and health infrastructure so that the global community can target resources effectively."

    Now, these might be empty words, and if they are they deserve to be held accountable. But do you have any evidence that this is the case? Or are you just shooting at a celebrity with a reputation for ridiculousness, because he's an easy target.

    It might be better if they were all manufactured locally. I'm certain that given the scale of their distribution the organisation is sourcing them from both Africa and abroad. But having them imported is far better than not having them at all – and increased demand is going to increase demand for manufacture in Africa.

    Drastically cutting malaria is going to create more jobs, as Africans can engage in economic activity instead of lying sick, and spending precious time money energy and emotions on their sick and dying children afflicted by this disease.

  16. You criticize Ashton Kutcher for donating netting because you want to make poor Africans PAY for them? Do you really think that those who accept these nets from aid groups would spend money on them if they had to pay for them? It is naive to think that children who are dying from malaria only need a local net company to save them from this scourge. They don't have nets because they can't afford them. I am sure if the NGO's had a source for the nets in Africa they would buy them there. You are there in Africa, and you have known of this problem and the solution the NGO's have used, so why don't you start the company to make the nets? Why don't you stop criticizing people who are trying to help and start making the nets yourself.? Or is it easier just to denounce people with compassion and watch African children die from malaria? What is stopping entrepreneurs in Africa from starting their own net company other than a lack of motivation? Are you also critical of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation? Are they also naive? Because they also promote the distribution of bedding nets. Instead of just feeding his ego by attempting to be the first to 1million followers Kutcher is turning this lively and amusing competition into a way to HELP. Why don't you stop the hate and start helping too? The way you sound you would rather no one help Africans and just leave them to their suffering. Sorry regardless of what you think the aid is needed in Africa. And the people who support your position are just happy to have someone tell them it is ok to ignore suffering and let the children die. How arrogant of those celebs.

    • FR – you just missed the point of the debate. Nobody is suggesting that it's OK to let children suffer and die. What the point is, is that charity erodes the basic infrastructure that any society must have to be sustainable. If anything, rather than flying in nets every few months and "air dropping" them — invest in local industries and local distribution systems — generate income — perhaps the problem is not that "African's cannot afford nets" — its that its just that there are "no market forces to bring the cost of nets low enough" — net selling needs to be a sustainable occupation to really fight malaria OR any ailment in the long run.

  17. Something similar btw applies to Charity Water / Twestival which was nice because of pooling all Twitteritos to donate for a cause, but in the end it's not a matter of missing wells/boreholes, but instead incompetent and corrupt govs that just do not have a proper water management strategy due to many different (political, financial, historical) reasons.

    The problem really is that there are many ppl that "want to do something to help" and only a few that could show them the right direction. This whole discussion isn't about Ashton or Mosq. nets, but instead about "help" that just doesn't help in the long run.

  18. I hear you on your frustration about the "bed net" problem, but I don't think this is Ashton Kutcher's problem- I think this a third sector (i.e., "our") problem. The two threads I'm seeing in your post are (1) Ashton Kutcher should know better; and (2) stop sending bed nets and let us make them ourselves. I don't have a problem with number 2 at all (I too think it's ultimately better for bed nets to be sourced locally) but on that question, I'll refer back to Katrin's and George Darroch's illuminating points on the question of how bed nets are used, by whom, and who manufactures/pays for them (I particularly like George's point about needs inquiry and accountability).

    Taking the other point, I think the difficult question is how do we as a sector start changing people's perceptions of how to solve systemic problems? Criticism is less effective than a good story or a well-crafted argument and the only way to get Ashton Kutcher or anyone else to know what the real issues are and what the effective solutions are, is by advocating for them. At the moment, the megaphone seems to be in the possession of those who use top-down directed strategies to get clear, measurable results. Bed nets certainly fit that– it's a simple and effective measure to address a difficult but soluble problem. And it's easy to sell as a story. I think our challenge is to create the "seismic shift" (as you twittered) in development aid to more ground-level systemic solutions-building by sourcing and telling the "right" stories. (Maybe Ashton Kutcher might be up to produce that movie… you never know.)

  19. So a couple thoughts on this…

    First, I've been kicking around questions about what is the 'ideal' way to deliver services and products in developing countries a lot lately. I can understand your argument for the best case scenario of locally produced bed nets (in my opinion distributed free). But how long are we willing to wait around for that capacity to develop? How many people are we willing to have die of malaria in the mean time? If our second best, and immediate answer, are malaria nets being distributed by well intentioned and well managed organizations – back by frankly I don't care who as long as there is support – isn't it better to do something? Then couldn't that free up resources in developing countries to focus on the long list of other issues to tackle?

    Second, I'm not convinced it would be better to invest in local producers of the nets. If the nets can be produced cheaper in China, and hence distributed to more people, isn't the net benefit to Africans greater (i.e. more lives are saved from malaria but a few net producers are out of business?). I mean, not to be a die hard free trader here but…

    Third, an interesting thing about Nothing but Nets is that they are working with companies who have developed nets that release insecticide over a five year period. This is an example of R&D that likely wouldn't happen if the nets were produced in Africa – at least in the near term – either because they lack the expertise to develop the technology, or the market is unwilling to pay the premium for these types of nets. So Western backed aid is a mechanism to support R&D that might not happen otherwise. (Incentivizing R&D for vaccines for Malaria, TB, and HIV are the most obvious examples of this).

    Finally, I'm not sure why there is so much frustration about celebrities touting development issues. Even if it's driven by their megalomania, I'm happy to see these issues getting visibility. And even if their approach is wrong, there is awareness, and it's up to the rest of us to seize the opportunity to educate on how to think more holistically about these issues.

  20. Noel:
    Please take a look around the site and you will see what we are doing to help. Our entire mission is founded on effective, local solutions to the challenges faced by Africa. Please check out our projects including The Women of Kireka and Project Aloe, along with all the stories we have told of Diasporans at work. The entire project is dedicated to finding a better way. Your statement that it is better to give nets than do nothing is fallacious. There are more and better options than that statement has room for. Firstly the people of Africa deserve more thoughtful solutions than that. Secondly, Africa has all the resources it needs to solve its own problems. Working WITH Africa and Africans rather than just assuming that without the monetary support of the Western world they will fall into chaos will lead to effective, sustainable solutions that lead to REAL change in Africa. Telling people how things should be done NEVER works. I invite YOU to get involved, there are plenty of solid programs that need support.

  21. How come when I say these same things I receive hate mail from 'well intentioned' donor aid types?

    I'm of the opinion that people who use the celebrity -delivered nets to make wedding dresses and to trap edible white ants for food during the rainy season are right on the money.

    But what do I know anyway …

  22. In this post Dead Aid era, we (Africa) need to be incredibly careful how we go about instructing the rest of the world how to help. A lambaste against people trying to do some good, even if naively or paternalistically is not going to make them necessarily channel their efforts into more self-sustainable solutions, it's going to turn their eyes from this continent completely.
    While I definitely enjoyed this post, it was too emotional to effectively communicate the point that it is trying to make, a very good point too.

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  25. Hold on. The centre of your premise seems to be that Ashton Kutcher's an asshat for promoting donations for bednets through Malaria No More. But from what I see on their site, MalariaNoMore get their (treated!) nets via a factory in … Arusha, Tanzania:

    So how is the current drive in any way bad? It's Western money, sure, but all manufacture and distribution via that particular charity puts money right back into African pockets via the local economy. Are you seriously saying that getting the malaria issue under control is a detriment to Africa, despite the drug-resistant malarial strains that have been popping up? It seems to me, local nets to local people as fast as possible is the way to go.

    At the very least, you should correct your article, which currently implies that the very organization Kutcher is partnering with is importing Asian nets. That's just wrong, misleading, and if it dissuades people from giving based on your poorly-researched assertion, it's a shame.

    • Grace, perhaps you are the one who needs to get your facts straight!!! Where is the raw material coming from for this nets? why cann't WHO encourage local farmers to grow natural pyrthrum, as opposed to using synthetic pyrthrin…….and F.Y.I the pollen from naturally grown pyrthrum, the will also act as a mosquito repellent, ………..Think about it if Africa grew pyrethrum and the pollen kills the parasite, WHO and sumitomo will be out of business!!!!!!!

      The Arusha net factory is a 50/50 joint venture between Sumitomo Chemical, a multi-national Japanese company headquartered in Tokyo, and A to Z Textile Mills, a locally-based Tanzanian company. ….

      • Sheeroh, feel free to fix the gears of the machine until everything's perfect. It's a noble cause. But right now, you're apparently rejecting locally-produced, treated, 5-year guarantee nets that are available IMMEDIATELY because they're not 100% perfect in your eyes.

        I have a hard time with that.

    • Nice job promoting the facts and keeping a level head, Grace. I tweeted @malarianomore to check whether this mega-donation will be produced by Olyset Nets in Tanzania, and they responded in less than a day.… "Thanks for asking! Sumitomo (Olyset) is in fact one of our main net partners. Many of their nets are produced in Tanzania!"
      So, it's clear not ALL the nets are produced in Africa, but I'd bet that that's due to limitations in A to Z Textile Mills' production capacity and not due to some Westerner plot to keep the money at at home.
      I agree with you that this article jumps to conclusions biased by negativity, without than checking facts first. It's irresponsible and a shame that so many other sites have linked to it, just seeking more fuel for their anti-celebrity negativity.

  26. Grace, I'm looking for the information regarding where they manufacture their nets on their site and am not finding it. Can you share a link? If they are making nets in Africa they are to be commended. I have asked them directly as well and hope to get a response soon… but if you have a link, we most certainly will share it. We are not interested in tearing down good programs, but pushing for better more thoughtful solutions… Bed nets are PART of a malaria prevention/eradication program. In order to REALLY eradicate Malaria there has to be a layered approach, and Ashton had an opportunity to let people know about that and he did not take it. He was more focused on his own fame and PR than using the chance to its fullest potential. Just like so many other celebrities before him, he is using the very real and complex issues of Africa to his own benefit. I am sure the nets will do some short term good but what is needed is long term solutions and 10,000 bed nets are not going to cut it.

    Correction: You did share the link… Thanks

    • Tracy, I'd guess they're inundated with calls at the moment — I wasn't aware Ashton had any involvement with malaria before this Twitter thing, so they're probably getting a lot of questions.

      This is the organization they link to on the site:

      To be honest, I'm not sure that Ashton's goal in his Twitter war thing was primarily bednets; if you watch the Larry King interview he did last night, Ashton seems a lot more evangelical about the benefits of collective content through things like Twitter.

      Then again, I'm not ready to knock Ashton for involving a malaria charity either — it's timely, what with Malaria Awareness Day coming up, and this is the most chatter I've heard about malaria in a very long time. There are plenty of people out there better-suited to explain the intricacies of malaria (and who I'm sure are ready and willing), but there aren't many who could drive so much attention towards a donation page.

      In the long run, how will this damage things? I understand the position of disliking celebrities who attach themselves to causes for their own gain, but I don't think most people knew there was a malaria element to this when they heard of the feud — I certainly didn't know there was a bet involved, I thought it was just a silly little contest. So where's the harm?

      • The harm is that band-aid solutions can only take you so far. Short sighted solutions that don't consider all the multiple layers that are needed to solve a problem for good are the norm. Ashton's stunt is more of the same and the same is not getting the job done. I don't think his goal has anything at all to do with Malaria either… it is just something he used to get attention. Which is bad enough in and of itself, but he also had a chance to tell a better bigger story. I did watch him a bit on Larry King… and the fact that he said outright that if we get enough nets out there Malaria can be eradicated shows how little he has educated himself on the matter. It is completely irresponsible to say something like this. Bed nets do help and they need to be out there… I think they are a good thing. They however are not the only thing. Women and children are bitten by malaria carrying mosquitos at dusk around cooking fires, nets cannot protect them there. A layered solution is needed. So YAY for more bed nets, but shame on Ashton for using the suffering of others to build his own ego. I hope that people take the time to find out more but we all know that they will just remember the silly contest and something about malaria and Africa.

      • Grace, the rant is not specifically about "the locally-produced, treated, 5-year guarantee nets that are available" It is more on the use of synthetic (man-made) pyrethroid as opposed to natural grown pyrethroid that can be extracted from the pyrthrum flowers….

        The use of bed nets is a perfect option in your eyes, however are you aware that synthetic pyrethroid is known to be a potent neurotoxic agent in mammalsm (barnes 72,74), the same one used in the in the bed nets.

        This is especially quite detrimental to kids under five and pregnant women, Why? the kids immune system is not as developed as you and I and the syn Py, is lodged in the kids brain. Please note, the syn P is not biodegradable and once in a kids system, cannot be broken down using the body's natural processes…….and by the way, the U.S government recommends only the use of natural pyth products for the army….

      • There were lots of retweets such as KillCreek: RT @kevinrose Help @aplusk reach 1M followers, he’s buying 10,000 anti-malaria mosquito nets if he beats CNN to 1M (great cause). I know a few people who followed Kutcher simply because of these retweets and I am sure there are many out there. Unfortunately, the Twitter system prevented them from unfollowing him.

    • Tracy, following up on your query about implication versus action, I found this:

      That at least shows one instance where MNM used 1.4 million Olyset nets: "Through the support of Idol Gives Back and The Charity Projects Entertainment Fund, Malaria No More is funding education, distribution, and logistical support associated with the nets. Additional partners in the campaign include the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative, UNICEF, and Red Cross of America and Canada."

  27. At first when I read this I thought wow…… but with further thought I began to reject the tone and the unfair nature in which Westerners are judged……there are millions of africans living in the Western World who have done nothing to represent Africa except for wearing their traditional garments once in a while and scoffing at long lost African descendants…they are to share some of the blame for the ignorance that envelopes the western societies….how typical! It is everybody's fault but your own…. In my part of the world being a beggar and a chooser is frowned upon….if their help is so damaging refuse it and do it on your own…have some pride!

  28. Having travelled a lot, I couldn't agree more. This doesn't just apply to Africa … that continent is perhaps its most telling example. African entrepreneurs are the ones who will make a difference; aid is largely just a bandaid (and this comes from someone involved in it). Here is a much better example of the market making the difference from India:

  29. Brian Bunyan Ngwiri

    Celebrity intentions might be good, but it is depressing at times to have to watch aid and charity issues being driven or fronted by a celebrity. It would appear that an issue requires a celebrity to direct it, ie: the maltreatment of the Gurkhas veterans and the focus on Joanna Lumley, who admittedly does a personal involvement as her father served, but we hear little of the actual veterans.
    Malaria has become the big bugbear of late as new vaccines are being developed. Having caught numerous times, I hope that a vaccine/cure can be found, but watching people get involved and send donations, because a celebrity has decided to do so or has made a statement, just makes a mockery of the whole process. Unfortunately, becoming a celebrity is now a job: book, tour, tv show, marathon, perfume, twitter, patron…..Activities and thoughts that would otherwise be treated with respect are now transformed into little more than 'job skills' and comparing oneself to others.
    But we must acknowledge the perception that society has of fame/celebrity, and how it should be seen but not heard. We do not think that intelligence and care can also be there.

  30. Great post!!! Thanks for shaming the publicity stunts the West continues to cloak with meaningless compassion and do-goodery. The only thing I would change about the post is in the title. Celebrities, et al are wrecking havoc not because of their altruism but due to their messianic complex. If we help out of a need to be a hero, then we are not helping.

    Let me also thank you for giving a nod to Artemisia. The world needs to be learning about this plant that African farmers can have in their own backyards…either for selling to pharmaceutical companies or (even better) creating local, indigenous pharmaceutical co-ops where the plant is used organically to fight malaria. I live in Mozambique. I heard the uproar when Madonna stole that baby boy. I hear over and over new projects the west can initiate to save Africa. Please, let's empower those who suffer from malaria with tools to resist. Western development can so easily turn into a new form of colonialism. Can I shamelessly plug Artemisia? For more information on using Artemisia in a local-sustainable way check out these two sites: and (go to the MGK Resources tab and check out the Artemisia page) there is good information on both sites.

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