US-based rap star Akon, and his two co-founders, Thione Niang, a Sengalese political activist and Samba Bathily, a Malian entrepreneur and CEO of the solar energy company Solektra International, believe that what rural African communities need is not overseas charity but affordable renewable energy delivered by fully trained African professionals managing for-profit projects that bring longevity, generate jobs and build new self-sustaining economies. They think this initiative could mark the beginning of an African energy renaissance in which the continent becomes the focal point of a global solar power industry.
“One thing I’ve realised about Africa is that only the organisations that involve Africans themselves are successful. A lot of corporations that come with their own policies and try and implement them in Africa fail horribly. The advantage we had is that all three founders are African, so we were able to navigate through each country a lot faster.”
Niang and Bathily bring political and economic skills to the project, while Akon admits that his main contribution is his name and the marketing opportunities it brings.
The founders have already made deals with the governments of 16 African states and aim to be operating in 25 by the end of next year. The deals are pre-financed using a $1bn credit line funded by international partners, including China Jiangsu International Group, and distributed by the pan-African bank Ecobank. A Chinese manufacturer supplies the solar panels but, crucially, the workers are predominantly African. The pre-financing set-up means that Solektra International can begin the engineering work straight away, giving villagers immediate electricity. Repayment plans are worked out with individual governments on a case-by-case basis.
The deals are delivering three types of solutions for people without electricity: 100,000 street lamps are being installed in villages; 1,000 solar micro-generators will act as clean energy hubs for communities, replacing old generators that used fossil fuels; and 200,000 household solar electric systems – including devices that store energy to provide LED panel lighting at night and pocket-sized solar gadgets that charge phones and tablets – will be sold at affordable prices to families, subsidised by each African government or local authority. It is a for-profit business, with Solektra negotiating rates with each government to meet affordability targets and with payments structured to ease burdens on national budgets.
“Personally, I don’t think that charities in Africa really work,” says Akon. “I think it just holds the people down longer than it should. I think the only way to build Africa is to build for-profit businesses that create opportunities and jobs for the people locally. That’s why with Akon Lighting Africa we decided to take a for-profit approach. Ultimately, it’s providing empowerment to local people so they can start developing their own economies.”
Akon Lighting Africa focuses on rural areas because that’s where the need is greatest. “If you want to make an impact start there,” Akon says. “My thinking is if you want to build Africa, you start from the rural areas because that is the heartbeat of Africa.”
Aliaume Damala Badara Akon Thiam (born April 16, 1973) (pronounced /ˈeɪkɒn/), better known as Akon, is an American singer, rapper, songwriter, businessman, and record producer. He rose to prominence in 2004 following the release of “Locked Up”, the first single from his debut album Trouble.
He has since founded two successful record labels, Konvict Muzik and Kon Live Distribution. His second album, Konvicted received three nominations for the Grammy Awards in two categories, Best Contemporary R&B Album for Konvicted album and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for “Smack That” and “I Wanna Love You”.
He is the first solo artist to hold both the number one and two spots simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 charts twice. Akon has had four songs certified as 3x platinum, three songs certified as 2x platinum, more than ten songs certified as 1x platinum and more than ten songs certified as gold in digital sales. Akon has sung songs in other languages including Tamil, Hindi, and Spanish. He was listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the #1 selling artist for master ringtones in the world.
Akon often provides vocals as a featured artist and is currently credited with over 300 guest appearances and more than 35 Billboard Hot 100 songs. He has worked with numerous performers such as Michael Jackson, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Whitney Houston, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and Gwen Stefani. He has had five Grammy Awards nominations and has produced songs for artists such as Lady Gaga, Colby O’Donis, Kardinal Offishall, Leona Lewis, and T-Pain.
Forbes ranked Akon 80th (Power Rank) in Forbes Celebrity 100 in 2010 and 5th in 40 Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa list, in 2011. Billboard ranked Akon No. 6 on the list of Top Digital Songs Artists of the decade.
Akon was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and spent much of his childhood in the West African country Senegal, which he describes as his “hometown”. The child of a dancer mother and a percussionist father, Mor Thiam, Akon learned to play five instruments, including drums, guitar and djembe. At age 7, he moved with his family to Union City, New Jersey, splitting his time between the United States and Senegal until settling in Newark, New Jersey. Growing up in New Jersey, Akon had difficulties getting along with other children. When he and his older brother reached high school, his parents left them on their own in Jersey City and moved the rest of the family to Atlanta, Georgia.
In regards to his birth date, Akon is very protective of it, which is the reason many media outlets have reported incorrect dates. However, legal documents released by The Smoking Gun list his date of birth as April 16, 1973.
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