Hip hop singer Akon has criticized foreign aid organizations who operate relief projects in Africa. Akon, who is of Senegalese descent, said outside projects usually fail, while locally-run projects stand a better chance of succeeding.
“One thing I’ve realized about Africa is that only the organizations that involve Africans themselves are successful,” said Akon in a Guardian interview. “A lot of corporations that come with their own policies and try and implement them in Africa fail horribly.”
Akon is currently involved in an ambitious project called Akon Lighting Africa, which brings solar-powered electricity to rural African villages. Akon has partnered with Thione Niang, a Senegalese political activist, and Samba Bathily, a Malian entrepreneur and CEO of the solar energy company, Solektra International. The project aims to train Africans to manage and maintain renewable energy installations. While people in America might take regular power for granted, it’s a luxury in many parts of Africa. According to The Guardian, 600 million Africans don’t have access to electricity.
“The advantage we had is that all three founders are African, so we were able to navigate through each country a lot faster,” Akon said.
Akon Lighting Africa is currently operating in 16 countries and plans to increase the number to 25 by the end of next year, according to The Guardian. The project has a $1 billion line of credit which is funded by international partners and distributed by Ecobank. A Chinese company supplies the solar panels, but African technicians are trained to maintain them. Since the projects are pre-financed, Solektra International quickly begins the engineering work, giving the villagers immediate access to electricity. Payment plans are worked out with each country on a case-by-case basis, The Guardian reports.
Niang said many foreign aid projects fail because the designers don’t think long term.
“What happens usually is that when people come to do business in Africa, they bring the expertise with them but they also bring the workers, and once they’re done they’re gone,” Niang told The Guardian. “That’s why many cities in Africa have a lot of solar lights but after three years none of them work and nobody is there to maintain them. So we thought it was important to train the young Africans in the local areas. And it’s important to give jobs to young people.”
Akon Lighting Africa is currently setting up an academy in Bamako, Mali to train young people in construction, engineering, clerical work and project management.