According to experts, the continent of Africa enjoys approximately 320 days of sunshine per year. This is a fact that has mostly served as an incentive for tourism to the continents 54 countries. However, recently, Senegalese-American R & B singer Akon has launched an initiative, called Akon Lighting Africa, which seeks to harness the continent’s continuous influx of sunlight in order to deliver solar power to the 600 million people living in rural Africa who lack complete access to electricity.
The initiative, which has received a credit line of up to $1 billion from China Jiangsu International, a construction giant, is predicted to see a great deal of success as solar energy is increasingly being conceptualized as a viable and safer alternative energy source compared to fossil fuels and as a valuable global business opportunity.
The organization’s operational model and aims are founded on the notion that while Africa boasts a great deal of potential for solar power, it lacks the technical expertise necessary to take advantage of it. One of the core portions of the initiative is therefore to launch a Solar Academy in Bamako, the capital city of Mali, where pupils will be trained by European specialists and provided with equipment to generate increased solar power capacity. Students at the Academy will be taught to build and maintain solar panels and small power systems, known as “micro-grids” which generate enough electricity for small regions of land.
Akon Lighting Africa was co-founded by Samba Bathily, the CEO of ADS Global Corporation S.A., a major force in creating and driving growth in West Africa, Thione Niang, the founder of the GIVE1 Project, a nonprofit organization that works to create economic and social development among youth in countries around the world including France, Japan, Ghana and Gabon and Akon, whose musical career has garnered him the titles of the 6th Top Digital Songs Artist of the Decade, according to Billboard, and the 5th most powerful celebrity in Africa (out of 40) in 2011 according to Forbes.
However, Akon’s involvement in Akon Lighting Africa is also preceded by his past philanthropic initiatives, which include his 2007 launch of the Konfidence Foundation, an organization that sought to raise literacy rates among underserved African and American conditions and to additionally improve health conditions for impoverished families in Senegal, the United States and West Africa in general.
Akon Lighting Africa has thus far established projects in countries such as Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Namibia and the Republic of the Congo. The initiative focuses on targeting the most resource-poor and remote regions in order to provide them with the electricity they lack due to infrastructural weaknesses and failures. Through the Academy, the initiative is also aiming to generate employment opportunities, therefore seeking to cater to the needs of the 70 percent of the African population who are currently under 35 years old and searching for employment.
As Samba Bathily outlined at the second United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Forum in May, “we are doing more than just investing in clean energy. We are investing in human capital. We can achieve great milestones and accelerate the African transformation process on condition that we start training a new generation of highly qualified African engineers, technicians and entrepreneurs now.”
As the global solar revolution continues to flourish with increasing investments from international financial institutions and private sector actors, Akon Lighting Africa holds significant potential. With the combined leadership of Akon, Bathily and Naing, as well as a focused and nuanced understanding of relevant issues and major obstacles, the initiative can go far, and succeed in bringing electricity to the hundreds of millions of Africans currently lacking it.