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Born Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Bongo Pure Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam on April 16, 1973, Senegalese-American rapper, songwriter and producer popularly known as Akon is no stranger to the average lover of music. The multiple award-winning artiste has delighted music fans with his voice for years now in a career spanning a little over two decades. Now, he has decided to elicit joy across rural parts of Africa by providing them with solar-powered energy with his Akon Lighting Africa initiative.
The star’s new Solar Academy – launched in 2014 – is a collaborative effort with Samba Baithily and Thione Niang to “provide African villages with access to a clean and affordable source of electricity. According to the official website of the academy, over “3.5 million Africans die every year from harmful pollutants or fires in the home produced by costly and toxic solid fuels.” It went further to say that to combat this problem, “Akon Lighting Africa seeks to provide a concrete response at grassroots level to Africa’s energy crisis and lay the foundation for future development.
Even though Akon was born in St. Louis, Missouri in the United States of America, he was briefly raised in Senegal which he has always regarded as his “hometown” and has claimed that he knows what it feels like to be without basic amenities like electricity.
“I was one of those kids you see running with no shoes on and living in straw huts,” said Akon. “I was blessed to be able to come to the U.S with my dad and I’ve seen a better life, but it really hurts a lot knowing that Africa has all these resources and we haven’t taken full advantage of it.”
In less than a year of operation according to the website, “a wide range of quality solar solutions, including street lamps, domestic and individual kits, have been installed in 11 African countries. As a result, a number of households, villages, community houses, schools and health centres located in rural areas have been connected to electricity for the first time ver (sic). Local jobs, primarily for young people, have also been created in these communities, whether for installation of equipment’s (sic) or for maintenance.”
In what many are starting to refer to as a solar revolution, Akon’s noble venture is a heartwarming one that should be applauded and emulated in equal measure. After all, charity, they say, begins at home. However, Akon has objected to that word “charity” being used in the same sentence as his project, “I get tired of hearing that Africa is a charity case. Africa is wide open for business, and we’ve found a good business model. Africa will never run out of sun.”
Indeed, the sun-rich continent is the perfect place to kick off a solar revolution as it is sunny for well over 300 days in a calendar year. Akon is not the first to come up with the idea on a large scale on the continent, but with a credit line of $1 billion received from Jiangsu International, and several lucrative partnerships, Akon Lighting Africa has grown the fastest and is definitely the biggest the continent has yet seen, as it is expected to provide electricity to 600 million Africans
In official recognition of Akon Lighting Africa, the founders were honoured at the second Sustainable Energy 4 All (SE4A) forum organized by the United Nations and the World Bank last month. Speaking at the event, co-founder Samba Baithily said, “Without access to energy, there is no development: no schools, no economic activity beyond a certain time, no communications.”
The initiative is definitely good news for the African continent as Akon’s celebrity status means it has more widespread publicity and support as it has been publicly backed by fellow American artistes Snoop Dogg, Chris Brown and Azealea Banks on social media site Twitter.
Akon is already well loved in his native Senegal and is no stranger to charity work on the continent as he has Konfidence Foundation, a charity organization that caters to underprivileged kids and is “dedicated to empowering youths in Senegal, West Africa and the United States by promoting health and education.”
Akon giving back to the society that bred him and has given him so much is definitely an endeavor that should inspire other well-to-do individuals in their various fields to emulate, to improve the quality of life of their fellow less privileged human beings.
Beneficiaries of Akon Lighting Africa have voiced out about the kind of new light the initiative has beamed into their lives. A mother in Yelimane village, Mali (one of the early beneficiaries of the initiative) said, “Electricity is more than light. This is a true change in our daily life.” Another inhabitant of Thiambokh village in Akon’s native Senegal said “Thanks to solar electricity, we can now forget about kerosene that is harmful and so expensive” Another native of Niger said, “Now I can recharge my phone at home, I do not have to walk for hours or pay for that.”
The initiative has unsurprisingly had huge backing from people on social media especially on Twitter. User Sifa Asani Gowon (@sifushka) tweeted, “IN MORE IMPORTANT NEWS THAT ACTUALLY AFFECTS US: @Akon wants to provide 600 million Africans with electricity! Now THAT should be celebrated!” Another account SOLAR IMPULSE (@solarimpulse) tweeted, “@Akon, welcome to the solar revolution. We wish your solar academy success. #futureisclean.” E Kwame Gapson (@KwameGhana), another user account on the site inquired “@Akon Please how does one enroll into your Solar Academy in Bamako? Btw, I’m a young Ghanaian who wants to join it #AkonLightingAfrica”
Dj Dahi (@DjDahi) tweeted with more concern that people were not talking about it enough, “Akon’s doing something in Africa and no bodies (sic) taking (sic) about it.”
The world is definitely talking about Akon Lighting Africa now, and it is a legacy that deserves to be built upon to further enhance Africa’s progression. Its future probably depends on it.