Akon Says His Senegalese Smart-City Will Be a Safe Haven for African Americans. Some Locals Wonder If There’s Room for Them, Too

Illustration for article titled Akon Says His Senegalese Smart-City Will Be a Safe Haven for African Americans. Some Locals Wonder If There’s Room for Them, Too
Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for UNDP (Getty Images)

Akon is plowing ahead with his plans to build the Pan-African, high-tech “Akon City” in Senegal, announcing at a press conference Monday that he had laid down the first stone in the coastal village of Mbodiene.


The singer appeared in the capital city of Dakar, some 62 miles away from his proposed city, next to Senegal minister for tourism Alioune Sarr. At the event, Akon also shared digital renderings of what the city was expected to look like. What Akon, née Aliaune Thiam, unveiled was a 2,000-acre, solar-powered city filled with eco-friendly tourist resorts and curvaceous, chrome-colored skyscrapers crowded among more conventional towers. The unconventional buildings were modeled after “real African sculptures they make in the villages,” the Senegalese-American musician told the crowd. “Akoin,” his brand of cryptocurrency, would be the city’s central currency.

Akon City would provide opportunities to Senegalese people, he said, but he also wanted to create a futuristic, upscale retreat for African Americans looking to connect with their roots, or perhaps repatriate to escape America’s racism.

“The system back home [in the US] treats them unfairly in so many different ways that you can never imagine,” Akon said on Monday, according to the Guardian. “And they only go through it because they feel that there is no other way. If you’re coming from America or Europe or elsewhere in the diaspora and you feel that you want to visit Africa, we want Senegal to be your first stop.”

Akon’s vision has been compared to Wakanda, the fictional kingdom of Marvel’s Black Panther character. And the point of a development like Akon City is to reduce the continent’s dependence on Western countries. But as the Washington Post reports, some Senegalese have raised concerns about how much the city will actually reflect them.


So far, there are no Senegalese architects or city planners attached to the project, though the city has the support of the Senegalese government, which gave Akon the land on which to build the development. Construction of the city is expected to cost $6 billion, and Akon has secured about $4 billion of his goal, but he did not disclose who his business partners were. The Post reports that the investors signed nondisclosure agreements.

Senegalese architect Nzinga Mboup, after taking a look at the Akon City blueprints, told the Post there was no real specificity to the architectural look—“These shapes could be anywhere: Phoenix, Dubai.” Others online questioned the practicality of the designs. The buildings appeared to be made out of concrete, glass, and other metals—all surfaces that seem incompatible with Senegal’s hot climate.


But tourism minister Sarr didn’t seem mired by the details on Monday.

“We can show to the rest of the world that Senegal is a destination despite the impact of COVID-19,” Sarr said. “That Africa is a land of opportunity.”


Officials from Mbodiene also said they welcomed the change, which would dramatically change the rural area.

Akon promised that, although farmland would be lost, agricultural jobs would be replaced with better jobs, reports the Post. He pledged job training for locals, and that he would pay them “as much as I can.”


But even if the benefits and functionality of the city for locals seem murky, Akon appears to already be thinking beyond Senegal. The Guardian spoke to the U.S.-based consulting and engineering firm KE international, which says it has been contracted to create Akon City. According to the company, plans are already being considered to franchise the smart-city development to other countries in Africa.

Staff writer, The Root.



I may be cynical, but I predict that rich Black American expatriates will find themselves about as welcome as White Europeans were. And probably for many of the same reasons too, I don’t see this as the start of some pan-African Utopia here. I’d bet that it is about being able to treat the locals as servants, only without having white people looking down on them while doing so. That is if the whole thing doesn’t turn out to be an expensive boondoggle or scam first.