Akon Lighting Africa

By Neo Sithole

It’s been just over 5 years since the Senegalese American R&B hip hop recording artist, Aliaune Damala Bouga, popularly known on stage as Akon, launched a mega-solar project has provided electricity to 480 communities over 18 African countries overall connecting some 600 million Africans to electricity. Although it barely received attention from large media houses, the initiative has had significant growth and is making stable and actual development in rural areas. With the world taking on a more mechanized faced daily and Africa at a juncture where it is filled with potential that is stifled by infrastructural gaps perhaps looking at the energy-based start-up will reinvigorate community-based development. 

Named “Akon Lighting Africa” the project that is headquarter in the Malian Capital of Bamako in West Africa is a capacity building, self-sustainable domino effect concept aimed at not just the provision of electricity to areas in Africa that previous had not accessed to it but seeks to generate economic growth as it allows small business, schools, and health care centers that are found in rural areas the benefits of electricity. Along with the provision of employment of youth in these areas as both the installation of the solar equipment and its maintenance done by the youth. The project has generated about 6000 jobs. 

Akon, who is now of the music industry’s largest philanthropists has also ventured into the cryptocurrency industry as several cryptocurrency experts have stressed the importance of building crypto-based economic in countries with a less than the stable national currency. 

Akon’s focus on creating an Africa-specific cryptocurrency couldn’t have come at a better time. Leading crypto publication Coin Telegraph echoes the popular sentiment that has been swirling around crypto communities for years: Bitcoin and blockchain tech are ripe for mainstream adoption in Africa, where the population is well positioned to embrace the innovative technologies as alternatives to the expensive and/or outdated banking systems scattered across the continent.

While the project by itself is now old news, it continues to bring into the spotlight a stark reality. That when dealing with the collective development of Africa only practical solutions geared towards actual needs and issues implemented by a local presence is the key to solving a few problems. 

The project’s success is based not on only on the fact that it is being driven by a local African presence, the idea that ‘charity does not work in Africa’ has played a massive role. Charity not working in Africa is in no way a narrative that fits into pessimistic views of Africa as a monetary black hole, on the contrary, it looks to exploit a reality that the failure of a few charities operates to pacify some communities.

 By making a community dependent on the provision of resources without some effort of that community there is no chance of that community wanting to be actively engaged in that project’s continuity. Akon Lighting Africa as a for-profit venture does two things, leverages on the fact that Africa has a big marker for social entrepreneurship but also that involving communities in is projects makes the communities aware that the growth is dependent entirely on that community. Creating an increased sense of societal confidence by offering people the chance to earn a livelihood by also sparking their own entrepreneurial talents because there now exists the space of hard work and innovation to be relatively rewarded.

 The stark success of ‘Akon Lighting Africa’ as what is a relatively small project in comparison to much larger organizations the Red Cross with much larger coffers that have been unable to effectively implement long-lasting change. 

Unable to bridge the gap between the use of aid for self-sustainability, western charities focus on short term solutions means that once the aid is used up whatever communities were dependent on that aid are forced to revert to their old conditions, thus continuing the cycle of problems. 

Despite the strides made by Akon Lighting Africa, there are still obstacles that hinder the amount of rapid traction required for it to continue to expand at the rate needed for it to assist more Africa’s. Akon notes that while African governments involved are trying to assist the fact that many governments in Africa are not as mature as other coupled with the fact that the governments are not in entire control of themselves is a major problem. One of the largest challenges remains that of financing, that while the project in its start-up received 1$ billion USD from the China Jiangsu International Economic and Technical Cooperative Group these funds have been exhausted. Although there are several financial institutions with more than enough fiscal punching power the supposed risks of projects in Africa are supposedly so high that alternative financing avenues are required. In terms of African governments ability to bargain financially with local resources, the ownership of those resources by Western powers hinders the government’s ability to make simple decisions that would hold mass benefits. 

Ultimately while funding is a must for the expansion of Akon Lighting Africa and the taking off for Akon as it stands now the electricity project is at a stage where it has displayed not only its stability but also growth capability. Social entrepreneurship remains a vital aspect of communal development as it seeks to grow the economy at a steady pace while allowing for innovation to flourish. Sadly, many governments lack the monetary wiggle room and political will to fund promising innovative start-ups that could give huge returns for their respective countries. 


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