Across the African continent, more than 600 million African people still live without access to electricity, and 3.5 million people die each year from inhaling toxic fuels or house fires caused while trying to light their homes.
Realizing that access to electricity is one of the key components to increasing the quality of life, rap superstar, and Senegal transplant, Akon decided to take action last year.
As the Guardian reported at the launch of their project last year, Akon and his two co-founders — Thione Niang, a Senegalese political activist, and Samba Bathily, a Malian entrepreneur and CEO of the solar energy company Solektra International — believe that what rural African communities need is not overseas charity but affordable renewable energy delivered by fully trained African professionals, managing for-profit projects that bring longevity, generate jobs and build new self-sustaining economies. They think this initiative could mark the beginning of an African energy renaissance in which the continent becomes the focal point of a global solar power industry.
They were right.
In less than one year, according to the charity group Akon Lighting Africa, a wide range of quality solar solutions, including street lamps, domestic and individual kits, have been installed in 14 African countries — thanks to a private-public partnership model and a well-established network of partners (including SOLEKTRA INT, SUMEC and NARI).
As a result, a number of households, villages, community houses, schools and health centers located in rural areas have been connected to electricity for the first time ever. Local jobs, primarily for young people, have also been created in these communities, for installation of equipment’s and for maintenance.
“Now I can recharge my phone at home, I do not have to walk for hours or to pay for that”,Inhabitant, Village, Niger
The highly positive results observed since the start of the project show that a local presence and practical solutions are key to resolving energy issues in Africa. Akon Lighting Africa’s roadmap fully reflects its founding members’ vision for Africa: to deliver concrete results to populations.
The transformative effects that a single group has had in the region are nothing short of astonishing, and it also brings into question — just what exactly these other groups, who’ve been there for decades, have been doing?
For starters, the majority of charitable organizations operating in Africa are not from Africa; they are primarily backed by western religious organizations or mega charities that have become so bureaucratic they fail to accomplish a single goal.
“One thing I’ve realised about Africa is that only the organisations that involve Africans themselves are successful. A lot of corporations that come with their own policies and try and implement them in Africa fail horribly. The advantage we had is that all three founders are African, so we were able to navigate through each country a lot faster,” said Akon of the work he started.
Aside from having no clue what they are doing in Africa, many of these charities are more concerned with self-sustainability than they are with aid. Or, if they actually deliver aid, it is in the form of food drives, vaccinations, temporary medical help, or proselytization. The effects of such temporary relief are like putting a band-aid on a hemorrhaging artery.
This is not an attempt to demonize the good people who travel across the world to help others. These people most assuredly have their hearts in the right place.
That being said, however, the bureaucratic nature of these larger charities, like the Red Cross, sets them up for failure before they even begin. One example of this can be found in the Red Cross response to a Haitian earthquake.
An investigation by NPR and ProPublica gained access to “confidential memos, emails from worried top officers, and accounts of a dozen frustrated and disappointed insiders” familiar with how the NGO broke its promises, misspent millions of dollars, and then issued self-congratulatory progress statements.
Several years later, more than 100,000 victims who were promised a helping hand, have still never received anything — in spite of the charity taking in over $500 million.
Compare that horrid failure and subsequent cover up to Akon’s model, and the Red Cross looks like inept con artists.
To fund his program, Akon and his partners took on the debt and responsibility themselves. The venture was pre-financed using a $1bn credit line funded by international partners, including China Jiangsu International Group, and distributed by the pan-African bank Ecobank.
As the installations continue, the investors are now able to see a return on their investments. Instead of a unidirectional monetary flow, like the bureaucratic charities, Akon’s model establishes a circular model of commerce, paving the way for renewable energy growth and success in the future.