For years, Sengalese-American singer Akon only lit up dance floors figuratively. Today, the multinational recording star is using his talents to light up Africa in a very different way.
A year ago, he launched Akon Lighting Africa, an initiative designed to bring electricity to millions of Africans using solar energy. Thus far, they've installed solar street lamps and domestic solar panels in over a million households in 14 African countries. Last month, the company announced a new phase of its initiative: Akon Lighting Africa is going to be building a "Solar Academy" in Bamako, Mali's capital, in order to teach the skills to build and maintaining solar systems to African engineers.
Africa's future may be about to get a lot brighter.
Akon's roots: Akon himself grew up in Kaolack, Senegal, a town without electricity. "I always had a passion for Africa because I am from Africa and I always felt Africa was being taken advantage of," Akon told African Vibes. "As a regular person there's not much you can do, but as a celebrity you can influence millions of people, which makes it a lot easier. Things can happen a lot faster, and I like to take advantage of that and find more ways to bring opportunities to Africa."
Africa's relative lack of electricity has presented serious impediments to economic growth. Over 600 million Africans lack access to electricity. Children struggle to do their homework by candlelight or kerosene, which is expensive and gives off toxic fumes. Shops close early, roads can be hazardous to travel and food and medicine can't be kept cold easily.
By providing electricity to Africans, Akon Lighting Africa is doing far more than just providing modern conveniences, they are presenting Africans with pathways out of poverty. Since the African continent receives sun nearly 320 days a year, solar panels may be the best way to offer sustainable energy solutions.
"We are doing more than just investing in clean energy. We are investing in human capital," Samba Bathily, Akon Lighting Africa's cofounder, explained to the United Nations' Sustainable Energy for All Forum when announcing their new Solar Academy.
Akon's charitable work: Akon Lighting Africa isn't the only way he's taken action for Africa. The singer has been active in promoting peace in the continent, headlining the historic Peace One Day concert that took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year. He's also run his Konfidence Foundation since 2006, which strives to increase public awareness of Africa's conditions and provide educational materials, recreational resources and health services to Africa's youth.
"I think the United States probably may take the value of Africa just a little bit for granted," Akon told Politico in August 2014. "I think with the right partners, the right neighboring allies and the right support, Africa could be dominating. Because it has all the natural resources you can imagine, and if all the other countries actually got together and created unity, the dollar would be humongous."
Akon's impact could be huge. "I think every single country was a little specifically suspicious — because like 'He's a music guy, what's he doing in energy?'" Akon told Al Jazeera about the challenges setting up Akon Lighting Africa's solar systems. But his impact speaks for itself. They've reached over a million homes, with even more to come. By providing locals with the ability to maintain their own systems through the Solar Academy instead of relying on outside aid, the company can create a fully functional and self-sustaining energy system. On the Akon Lighting Africa's site, he writes, "Power to empower people: that is our objective."
h/t The Root