The sand crunches underfoot, goats bleat, the wind rustles the dry leaves of the bushes. The 500-hectare area on the outskirts of the village of Mbodiène – about two hours’ drive south-east of Senegal’s capital Dakar – looks pretty dreary. The ground is too hard and stony for farming. Only Ousmane Sow moved into quarters here with his wife and two children in January. They brought two donkeys and a few goats with them. The herdsman, who lives as a semi-nomad, wants to stay another month and then move on. He’s heard one here a lot. “One wants to build Akon City.”
It is the ambitious project of the American singer Akon, whose parents are from Senegal. What’s behind it can be seen on the Internet: futuristic buildings that look as if they are melting away, wavy bungalows reminiscent of snails, large blocks of flats and plenty of space for leisure activities. In terms of color, white and a light beige dominate. Everything is coordinated down to the last detail.
The design comes from architect Hussein Bakri, whose office is in Dubai. There, an interview request remains unanswered. The model city should unite all areas of life. On the project’s homepage – this interview request also remains unanswered – there is talk of the establishment of hotels, technology companies and educational institutions.
It is not the first time that Akon has pursued projects in Africa. An initiative he co-founded, which also bears his name, ensured that places without access to the grid were equipped with solar energy equipment.
Akon City is to be built near Mbodiène
Akon spent the early years of his life in Senegal until the family went back to the USA. A successful musician himself, Akon has repeatedly worked with world-renowned artists such as Michael Jackson and helped Lady Gaga achieve her breakthrough. His fortune is estimated at around 80 million US dollars on various websites. That cannot be checked.
Young people flee the country
Young people in particular have high hopes for the planned city. Akon will do “everything to ensure that the young people who live here are recruited,” said Yves Thierry Mensah, general secretary of the Mbodiène youth association.
The average age in Senegal is 19 years. The level of education is increasing, which contributes to rural exodus. About four of the estimated almost 18 million inhabitants live in the greater Dakar area. Mensah still describes himself as a student, although he has long since finished his studies. He is trying to establish himself as an entrepreneur. But that’s not easy.
Just a foundation instead of jobs
This is also the great concern of Michel Diome, village chief of Mbodiène. About 5000 people live in the place. Only the thoroughfare is paved. All others are sandy tracks. There is a school, a church, a mosque. Small shops offer groceries and household goods. Life is peaceful, says Diome. But the work is missing: “Even school graduates with a diploma don’t have a job. Today, in many families, the pensioners bear the responsibility.”
Unlike the representatives of the youth association, his enthusiasm for Akon City is limited. “We are waiting for information. No one has spoken to me about it so far.” He doesn’t want to say more about it. Sometimes the criticism is also: You don’t know who is coming and whether the tranquil place is developing into a party area and drugs are being consumed. Nobody wants to say that in front of the microphone.
Another reason for the skepticism is that nothing, at least visibly, has happened since the foundation stone was laid at the end of August 2020. Not far from Sow’s lodging, this is on a block of wood. The information board for this is faded out in front of it. Sometimes it is ridiculed that Akon City is dead before the groundbreaking ceremony.
At the time, Akon announced the start of construction for 2021. There was also talk of an investment sum of around six billion US dollars. Tourism Minister Alioune Sarr also praised the project. He had previously tweeted photos together with Akon.
A continent with potential
In addition to jobs, Senegal urgently needs housing, which MP Marieme Soda Ndiaye is campaigning for. “As a member of parliament, I fight for social housing, but not for luxury accommodation,” she makes clear. A project like Akon City is more interesting for tourism. In any case, it seems to be increasingly forgotten in Dakar. When asked about Akon City, nobody in the capital sounds euphoric.
Nevertheless, the Senegal project made international headlines, and not with one of the clichés from the crisis continent. Because not only the unusual buildings are new, but also the idea that everything can be paid for with the cryptocurrency Akoin. If Akon City is actually built, the project could positively influence the image of an entire continent, estimates Yves Thierry Mensah from the youth association. “We always tend to denigrate Africa,” he says. “Thanks to our brother Akon, today we have the chance to show what undiscovered potential, what undiscovered resources Africa has.”