National Press Club

Philanthropist and hip hop artist Akon discusses outcome of inaugural Africa–oriented conference

August 7, 2014 | By Jennifer Ejim | akunnaya25@yahoo.com

Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Bongo Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam, known as Akon speaks at the National Press Club, August 7, 2014.  The internationally recognized recording artist and producer discussed his interest in electrifying Africa.

Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Bongo Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam, known as Akon speaks at the National Press Club, August 7, 2014. The internationally recognized recording artist and producer discussed his interest in electrifying Africa.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Akon, a five-time Grammy-nominated hip hop artist and philanthropist, discussed the outcome of the first Africa: New Partnership for Models for Growth Conference and his Akon Lighting Africa initiative at an National Press Club Newsmaker Thursday.

“We always wanted to be in a position where our generation in Africa would be completely different from the average,” Akon said, stressing the importance of opening the communication channels between leaders and the people, since a “team effort” is necessary to accomplish goals envisaged for the “next generation of African Leaders.”

The events of the week, where a “surprising” number of African leaders convened in Washington for the U.S.–Africa Summit, have allowed both sides to open up those communication channels, and he said President Barack Obama deserved major credit for taking the initiative to facilitate the gathering.

“This trip has really opened the eyes of the African leaders because they did not even realize how impactful it was to be this close to the people,” Akon said.

The conference, where the leaders of several African countries committed to interacting with youth from various fields, who were also the future leaders, helped both sides learn a lot, said Akon.

“Ultimately, there was a gap in the communication between the elders and the younger generation, and the conference enabled us to speak and to see that we could be of so much help to them,” he said. “We understood how some decisions were made from the standpoint of how they see it, and they were able to see from the standpoint of how we saw it,” noted Akon.

Akon had a different perspective as a “diaspora child” -- an African living outside of Africa -- which enabled him to view things differently than those who only knew one aspect of the equation, he said. “It ultimately created a situation where I was able to view both sides, experience both cultures and understand the differences between America and Africa,” explained Akon.

Speaking on the Akon Lighting Africa initiative, he said the issue of energy “kept popping up” during most of the conversations, and noted the one resource that is abundant in Africa is the sun.

“We created a solar project which would electrify the rural areas and bring energy to those areas, which would also create jobs for the locals, as well as different avenues and opportunities for them to be more productive and move Africa forward,” Akon said.

This effort involved those “in the diaspora” who clearly had the education that “is lacking in certain parts of Africa,” said Akon. “You have children in Africa who understand the value of education, but just don’t have access it,” he added.

The Akon Lighting Africa project aims to bring electricity to 1 million African households in more than 20 countries by the end of 2014.