When you hear the name “Akon,” the first thing that likely comes to your mind is the uber-talented musician responsible for a number of hit singles during the 2000s.
Unless you did your research, you likely didn’t know that Akon is also responsible for creating and spearheading “Akon Lighting Africa,” a project aimed at providing the continent of Africa with low-cost, sustainable solar-powered electricity.
Akon, whose real name is Aliaune Thiam, spent a significant portion of his childhood in a town in Senegal that lacked electricity. He experienced firsthand the struggles of living without grid electricity, including having his educational and economic opportunities limited while also dealing with quality of life and health issues.
Out of this experience, Akon launched Akon Lighting Africa in 2014 with the help of a billion-dollar credit line with Chinese manufacturers of solar-powered products. Interestingly, Akon and his partners originally wanted to power the continent through gasoline and fossil fuels but soon realized the cost-effectiveness of solar power and how the affordability would enable them to provide electricity to more Africans.
In just one year, Akon’s initiative was a smashing success by providing 14 African nations, including Guinea, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, with sustainable, solar-powered electricity via street lamps and solar panels.
Benefits that came with setting up such a significant portion of Africa’s population with solar power included allowing outdoor vendors to stay open longer, children being able to study longer without having to use harmful kerosene lamps, and crime rates getting reduced due to once-dark African villages now being illuminated via solar power.
But, that was just the beginning.
By 2016, Akon Lighting Africa touted a long list of accomplishments, including 100,000 solar-powered street lamps installed in 480 African communities throughout 16 nations, 1,200 solar micro-grids, and 5,500 jobs created.
Fast-forward to today, and Akon Lighting Africa is now responsible for providing solar-powered electricity to 25 different countries and roughly 28.8 million people who can now enjoy the same benefits of electricity that much of the world has enjoyed for decades.
And on top of all this, Akon and his partners at Akon Lighting Africa also launched the Solektra Solar Academy in Africa, a school with the aim of teaching young Africans about solar power and how to install and maintain expensive solar equipment.
Akon and his partners deserve a resounding round of applause for their efforts with Akon Lighting Africa. They came to the aid of Africa and its people, who have been neglected by the international community for far too long.
What others saw as an impossible task not worth tackling, Akon saw a challenge that he conquered with tremendous success thanks to the affordability and efficiency of solar power that provided life-changing electricity to countless people.
But, that’s not to say Akon Lighting Africa was without challenges.
Challenges faced by Akon lighting Africa
In a 2018 interview with CNBC, Akon spoke on how his first challenge with the project was dealing with African governments, which are not as established, powerful, or independent as national governments on other continents.
For example, he said it was difficult to initially get things done because African governments were not able to finance or control any parts of the project because they are not really in control of their own countries and resources, rather indebted to more powerful countries or institutions that are actually pulling the strings.
Akon then said the second challenge was finding financing for the project from legitimate financial institutions because those institutions have always deemed Africa as risky and did not want to get involved in seemingly volatile, large-scale investments. He worked around this by finally establishing a credit line with China, who has been heavily investing in the African continent as of late.
Finally, Akon described the third challenge as not wanting to appear too charitable to the African countries and their people. This is because he wanted to keep African people motivated to work and find solutions on their own, rather than just relying on charitable donations that don’t require any effort.
Because of this, he established Akon Lighting Africa as a for-profit company, not a non-profit charity, and it’s also why he created the Solektra Solar Academy so that Africans can learn about solar power to become self-sufficient and not require charitable donations.
As we continue on through the new decade, the ultimate goal of Akon Lighting Africa is to provide solar-powered electricity to 250 million people on the African continent by 2030.
Additionally, Akon made the news recently for his newest project for Africa, “Akon City.”
Akon City is a 10-year project to build a futuristic city in Senegal that will be entirely powered by solar power and will use its own form of cryptocurrency, AKoin.Further, Akon City will have an airport, hotels, schools, homes, and a “billion-dollar” hospital with 5,000 beds.
And if you think this sounds like a pie-in-the-sky idea that will never happen, it’d probably be wise to wait and see before passing judgment. Because remember, Akon Lighting Africa seemed crazy until it happened.
On top of that, at least someone is coming to Africa with ambitious ideas to better the continent and its people so for that reason alone, Akon deserves our respect and confidence.
As Director of Communications at LendEDU, Mike Brown uses data, usually from surveys and publicly available resources, to identify emerging personal finance trends and tell unique stories. His work for LendEDU, which has been featured in outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, provides consumers with a personal finance measuring stick and can help them make informed finance decisions.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.
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