Senegalese-American rapper Akon has added The Gambia and Cape Verde to his Akon Lighting Africa initiative, a fund that has provided solar lighting in 25 African countries where rural populations struggle to connect to the national grid.
The “Smack That” singer has owned a clothing line in New York City, a diamond mine in South Africa, and now an African solar lighting company. He was once listed as the No. 1-selling artist in the world for ringtones. In 2011, Forbes ranked him fifth out of 40 Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa. He says he’s a businessman first and a musician second.
Akon runs Akon Lighting Africa with fellow Senegalese Thione Niang and Malian entrepreneur Samba Bathily. Its goal? To bring clean energy to millions of households in Africa.
Akon Lighting Africa was launched in 2015. By 2016, it had raised about $1 billion to finance projects in Africa, Africa News reported.
A desire to bring electricity to his grandmother’s house back in Senegal eventually grew into something much bigger — supplying solar lighting for Africa — Akon said.
“It was a way of just trying to figure out what solution would be necessary to get electricity there,” Akon said. “In the process, you start to realize how many people are out there lacking electricity, especially in Africa.”
Coming from the entertainment industry, Akon says it was challenging trying to convince some old-fashioned African leaders to support his solar lighting project, Face2Face Africa reported.
“We had to really prove ourselves from one country to the next,” Akon said.
It’s a unique business model that offers solar kits to households and small communities. They’re pre-financed with a $1 billion credit line with international banks and financial partners, Cleveland.com reported.
Who gets a $1 billion line of credit?
The Gambian village of Sareh Pateh, population 4,000, turned on solar street lights for the first time on Sunday night, along with power for a mosque and a pharmacy.
“I want to leave a legacy,” Akon told AFP in the Gambian capital of Banjul. “Africans work harder in everything and they work harder to live and to sustain themselves.”
Akon — his real name is Aliaume Damala Badara Akon Thiam — spent part of his childhood in a Senegalese village without electricity before settling in the U.S.
Best known for his singles “Locked Up” and “Smack That,” Akon has devoted time in recent years to attending renewable energy conferences and visiting schools to provide adequate lighting to study.
In Cape Verde on Saturday the musician met with Economy Minister Jose Goncalves and said he considered the poor but stable island nation to be his next investment prospect.
He has identified investment opportunities and hopes to launch a mini-grid solar project when possible, he told journalists in the capital, Praia.The musician’s visit comes alongside a wider push for solar power on the continent. Several African nations held a renewable energy summit in Guinea on Saturday to raise funds for 19 projects.
The African Renewable Energy Initiative, launched at the Paris COP21 summit in 2015, aims to bring large-scale projects to the continent.
Consumers are increasingly opting for their own off-grid solar solutions like Akon’s to power homes and small businesses, alongside larger but costly government investments.
According to International Energy Agency projections, almost 1 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa will gain access to the grid by 2040, but by that time 530 million will remain off-grid, almost comparable with the 600 million who cannot access power today.