On Monday, Akon, whose real name is Aliaune Thiam, announced alongside the Senegalese Minister of Tourism, Alioune Sarr, that he had laid the first stone of the city of Mbodiène, a coastal village 100 km from the capital, Dakar.
The plans depict sparkling skyscrapers, shopping malls, music studios and eco-friendly tourist resorts. They envision that “Akoin”, a cryptocurrency founded by the R&B star, would be the core currency.
Akon City is not the first major development announced by the singer for Africa. Previous plans and big promises have sparked criticism across the continent and questions about transparency.
Sarr hailed Akon’s launch for coming at a time when private investment in the West African country is scarce and much needed, following the economic pain caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
Akon said the city will provide opportunities for Senegalese and an alternative home for African Americans facing racial discrimination.
“The home system [in the US] treats them unfairly in so many different ways that you can never imagine, ”he said. “And they only cross it because they feel there is no other way. If you are from America, Europe or elsewhere in the Diaspora and fancy visiting Africa, we want Senegal to be your first stop.
Few details about the project have been made public. Investors for the estimated $ 6 billion program could not be named after the signing of nondisclosure agreements, but a third of the funding was secured, Akon said. The singer has in the past avoided questions about the viability of his cryptocurrency in the planned city, saying he would leave it to the “geeks” to do the work.
According to US-based consulting and engineering firm KE International, he was hired to create the city, which “will define a new paradigm of design and architecture for Africa.”
Plans are being considered to franchise the project to other African countries, replicating smart cities, such as the Mwale Medical and Technological City program in Kenya.
The singer, born in the United States of Senegalese parents and raised in Senegal, has been evangelical about the potential of African countries to redevelop themselves and reduce dependence on Western countries.
In 2014, he announced “Light up Africa”, a charity initiative in partnership with the World Bank and governments to subsidize solar power and provide electricity to 600 million people in rural communities, more than the half of the continent’s population at the time. The project claims to have helped more than 32 million people in 25 countries access basic electricity through solar power.
Questions surrounding Akon’s operations in Africa increased when in 2015 he claimed to have manipulated African leaders. “In Africa, you have to manipulate them. You have to do it, ”he said during the celebration of Africa Day at Coca-Cola, describing the challenges in persuading African leaders to co-finance the projects.
In 2018, he declared that his Akoin currency, which relies on the use of a smartphone, would become a “stable monetary alternative across Africa”. Yet it has faced questions regarding its access in low-income countries where data is expensive. Only a third of Senegalese use a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center.
Michael Kimani, the president of the Blockchain Association of Kenya, dismissed Akoin’s plans as “a cake in the sky” because it would take widespread use across Africa to work.
Work on the city is expected to begin early next year, with the completion of the first phase scheduled for 2023. Plans call for the city to initially cover 55 hectares (135 acres) but grow to 500 hectares by the end. of the decade, with plans for man-made islands and a marina that can accommodate cruise ships.
Sarr said he hoped the project would give the lie to “Cassandras… who always sees new projects as pipe dreams” and vowed to help get it completed on time.