Akon Bringing Electricity To Over A Million Homes In Africa [Exclusive Interview]

akon 1Akon is one of the most successful artists in the world but it’s his humanitarian efforts that will make his name live on forever.  The Senegalese rooted singer has initiated a partnership to bring electricity to one million households in Africa by the end of 2014 through solar panels.

Akon has chosen to address the immediate needs of Africans through an effort known as “Akon Lighting Africa.”  This initiative will address the concern that more than two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is without electricity and that more than 85 percent of those living in rural areas lack access.  Akon Corp., in conjunction with GIVE1 PROJECT and Solektra International, member of ADS Group (Africa Development Solutions Group), has assembled a dynamic group of strategic partners in order to create replicable, scalable and cost-effective energy solutions.

“By invitation” meetings were arranged with a select group of heads of state in the following African countries: Senegal, Mali, Guinea Conakry, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo and the Ivory Coast and on February 10, 2014, Akon and his delegation, which included Samba Bathily, Solektra International, Thione Niang, Give 1 Project, Wang Lin, CJI, Khadidiatou Thiam, Akon Corp. and Dr. Julius W. Garvey, Akon Corp. began an ambitious tour of nine (9) African nations to engage in dialogue about the project. The purpose of this tour was to engage leaders and key stakeholders in doable dialogue to immediately begin addressing Africa’s energy issue.

Akon speaking with President Macky Sall of Senegal.

Akon speaking with President Macky Sall of Senegal.

To date, Akon and his delegation have met with President Macky Sall of Senegal, Prime Minister Aminata Tourè of Senegal, President Alpha Condè of Republic de Guinea, President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso, President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone and President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon.

With so many artists bragging on their wealth which is really limited on a global scale, it’s great to see Akon invest in his people and help uplift The Motherland.  Check out the exclusive interview as Akon sheds more light on his humanitarian efforts including his involvement with Peace One Day, a global initiative expected to reach 3 billion people in hopes of having a cease fire day with no conflicts around the globe every year on September 21st.

solar lights

Hip-Hop Enquirer:  First of all, I’d like to commend you for taking on this huge humanitarian effort.  What prompted you to launch “Akon Lighting Africa?”

Akon:  I came to the United States when I was younger so I grew up under that same environment.  I came up under kerosene lamps and candles so years after I became successful you know how you go back to your old neighborhood and in my case I went back to my old village and there was no progress.  It was like the same way when I left.  It was like time stood still. There was still no electricity grid in that area and that raised awareness for me.  So I pulled together partners, thinking more on a business level but then you realize how much of a philanthropist  strength I would have doing that because it was empowering our people literally.

So it kinds of open it up and what I realized as far as Africa itself, the infrastructure just hasn’t progressed.  It’s so many years behind as far as technology and that’s only because there has never been any infrastructure in place but the main reason there was no infrastructure was because there was no electricity in a lot of areas…Like 85% of Africa.

Hip-Hop Enquirer:  When it comes to the perception of Africa in the United States, we’re often taught that it’s very under developed and that there are no cities and modern amenities but I know that’s far from the truth.  You never see a flourishing Africa so what is your true depiction of the Mother Land?

Akon:  That’s the biggest misconception because there are a lot cities in Africa but of course the majority of Africa is dominated by the Sub-Saharan areas, the rural areas.  But the actual areas that are developed are modern and beautiful and that’s why a lot of people who actually go to Africa wind up staying or find a way to migrate there somehow ultimately.  

A lot of that has to do with history as well too because a lot of African-Americans are scared to go to Africa because of the way they are taught how Africa is but you know if African-Americans were to take their money and invest there, the (U.S.) economy would completely demolish.  So I think a lot of that (propaganda) has more to do with tradition of kind of maintaining the U.S.’s strength because the U.S. strength is the African-American.

african city

Hip-Hop Enquirer:  Many parts of Africa have warring tribes but at times you’ve been a peace maker and diplomat who can bring sides together for talks and unity.  How did that role manifest?

Akon:  Definitely.  I was blessed to be in a position like that where I can go into conflicted areas and actually be in a position where my voice makes a difference and the rebels communicating with me and things like that.  So now I can definitely be used as a tool to bring about peace in areas like with what we’re doing in the Congo now with Peace One Day starting September 21st …where we have a whole day of cease fire and non-violence.  So those things actually play a big difference and benefit us.

Hip-Hop Enquirer:  Have you seen and differences and changes so far since “Akon Lighting Africa” was established and started supplying regions with electricity? 

Akon:  Absolutely!  I’m 100-thousand percent hands on.  Like everything is happening because of “Akon Lightening Africa” project is led all by self and two other partners that are actually on the ground so from the moment we ship lights out, I’m the one given that order.  So we actually go and do a celebration in every village we light up as well too. 

We also went on a 9 country/9 city/9 days tour where 3 of those countries we actually already had put lights in those villages.  We did a nice little celebration there and ultimately as we go along, we see the response and the reaction and the excitement of the people once those lights were up.

Akon and Prime Minister    Aminata  Toure of Senegal

Akon and Prime Minister Aminata Toure of Senegal

Hip-Hop Enquirer:  What was the selection process to determine which 9 countries would be the first ones to benefit from “Akon Lightning Africa?”

Akon:  I started with the west side of Africa and also the decision came about because of the leaders of those countries and how innovative they are as far wanting to bring Africa to the forefront and how important it is to the leaders themselves to create and build infrastructure… because they were also worried about big programs that come in on those behalves and I wanted to extend my arm out to them and give them a helping hand as far as what they were doing.  Of course it has to be people who see the vision as well too and they can help influence the other leaders as we go.

Hip-Hop Enquirer:   You spoke about having other African leaders speak to one another about recruiting countries for “Akon Lighting Africa.”  Have you encountered any road blocks from leaders who are now distrustful because so many outside countries have come in with big plans and exploited Africa but have done nothing for the people in the process? 

Akon:  Absolutely!  Because the biggest road block was convincing them that this was the real deal and not just another company or another person coming in to try and gain a particular contract and then there’s no progress.   Africa deals with that a lot because you have a lot of European countries who come in and gain contracts and promise resources and never deliver.  So when we started out, I invested my own capital just to put lights around the home of whatever leader we were going to see just so they could see we were real and willing to invest our own money and bring money into their country.  Being exploited for their resources for so long, the leaders are like, ‘Give me a second, let me think about it.’

Akon with President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso

Akon with President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso

Hip-Hop Enquirer:   So African nations feel they can trust you to help bring light when this type of corruption is going on with outside governments.

Akon:  Absolutely, we point them out.  Because a lot of existing contracts are now forced to deliver because we came in literally and within 90-days we’re making things happen and they were holding contracts for like 4-5 years and no progress.  We kind of forced people’s hands at the same time too.

Hip-Hop Enquirer:  Are you employing locals to help build the equipment to set up “Akon Lighting Africa?”

Akon:  That’s one of the main reasons I took on this project is because it provides jobs for the locals.  The key was how do we bring light in and business in and at the same time the people benefit from the things being made from it.  The development of Africa now is a huge big business but the people aren’t benefiting from it.  No jobs are being created and that was my biggest conflict. 

I was like, hold up, if we’re going to do anything, we got to bring home some of these jobs and sustain the economy in that area.  So ultimately what we’re doing as we bring these panels and grids in and set up shop, we’re training all the locals to be able to maintain it.  So the maintenance contracts actually go to the people to where when it’s up and running and money is actually being made from it, there’s also a budget there to employ the people there so they can maintain the product and it’ll last longer as well too.

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Hip-Hop Enquirer:  Chicago’s murder rate is out of control and with the wars going on in the Congo,  are those any reasons that made you become involved with Peace One Day. 

Akon:  As far as the Peace One Day, everywhere you go in the world, there are all kinds of disagreements, conflicts and wars and these peace talks aren’t even working because they are talking with people who don’t make any difference and they are just spokespeople for a mass group of people.  So what Peace One Day does is it actually involves the masses of the people.  We pledge for a day because I think it starts with one day, because one day of just making peace with one enemy, can make a huge difference for a nation in the long run.

With that one day, you say “who can I make peace with today?” And that one day every year, September 21, becomes nationalized and you start taking it seriously like a Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day except globally and I don’t see why peace can’t be celebrated, period.

Mourners say goodbye to Joseph Briggs during a funeral service at New Zion Grove Missionary Baptist Church on June 20, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Briggs, who turned 16 in April, was shot in the head during a drive-by shooting while he was sitting on his front porch with his sister on June 9. Briggs was one of nine people killed and 46 wounded by gunfire in Chicago during that June weekend.

Mourners say goodbye to Joseph Briggs during a funeral service at New Zion Grove Missionary Baptist Church on June 20, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Briggs, who turned 16 in April, was shot in the head during a drive-by shooting while he was sitting on his front porch with his sister on June 9. Briggs was one of nine people killed and 46 wounded by gunfire in Chicago during that June weekend.

Hip-Hop Enquirer:   You have personally lost people to the streets, is that something that makes this project so personal for you as well. 

Akon:  This actually applies to a lot of them (and kids killing each other) because coming from the environment we come from, and with situations and age you start to mature and we start to understand what’s really important.  The things that once seemed important are not important in the real scope of life and how you want to leave your legacy at the end of the day and a lot of times it’s just us being immature and playing up for the public or your neighborhood.

We have a certain rep or want to be looked at a certain way and be respected and with that ignorance alone, you could use that energy to become a bigger player in life and society.  There’s a lot of cats that I came up with that had a certain representation of themselves, have now turned out to become leaders in their own lives and philanthropists where they can help their communities in better ways than just being that (gang leader) when you got problems or issues to deal with.

Hip-Hop Enquirer:  You’re following in the footsteps of Michael Jackson and u2’s Bono as far as giving back to humanity on a global scale, do you think that’s a responsibility more artists and people should take on?

Akon:  To me it’s more of an honor to be in a position to be able to help and make a difference because I feel like if you get into a position where God has blessed you to be who you are, and be successful and open up all these doors, for you not to be able to give back, not only more from a spiritual standpoint but more from a humanity standpoint, honestly that’s a shame in itself.  And I think when you don’t do  things like that, he’s quick to take that strength…that legacy and that fame or what you call success away from you.  But when you utilize it to help others and put them in a better position before you met them and touched their life, you’ll continue to be blessed.

Akon and activist  Thione Niang, Founder and President of GIVE1 PROJECT, laughing with President Alpha Conde of Guinea.

Akon and activist Thione Niang, Founder and President of GIVE1 PROJECT, laughing with President Alpha Conde of Guinea.

For more information on “Akon Lighting Africa” and “Peace One Day,” click here:  

                                                           www.akonlightingafrica.com |  www.give1project.org | www.peaceoneday.org 

Follow us on Twitter@HipHopEnquirer and Michael “Ice-Blue” Harris @IceBlueVA

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