Media claims that Akon Lighting Africa (ALA), the organisation founded by multi-platinum selling singer Akon, will bring access to electricity to 600 million people in Africa are wrong according to ALA themselves.
Social media and media alike were full of praise for the Grammy award nominee – real name Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Bongo Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam – and his partners for their ventures in Africa and solar energy but in an interview with New Africa Analysis, Célia Gremy, who is in charge of communications for ALA, has denied ALA making any such promise.
“I don’t see any such statements from us,” said Gremy. “We said 600 million people still have no access to electricity in Africa and that ALA seeks to provide concrete responses to Africa’s energy crisis by investing in solar power for rural Africa.
“ALA is not a charity, it is business. ALA is a private initiative, a private business led by Africans and for Africans addressing this huge electrification challenge.”
Launched in 2014, by Akon and his partners Thione Niang, who Complex magazine named in 2013 one of the 10 young activists, and entrepreneur Samba Bathily, ALA aims to “bring electricity to African villages by clean and affordable solar energy via a wide range of quality solar solutions, including street lamps, domestic and individual kits,” via a “ground-breaking Private/Public model” according to a brief on their website.
“Our Private/Public model is based on a pre-paid system that we deliver on two levels,” said Gremy. “Firstly Government, in order to help light up community centres, health centres, schools etc.
“With it being pre-paid we then set up a system with Government to pay back what has been pre-paid once everything is in motion.”
The majority of the work done so far by ALA has been on a public level, helping deliver 100,000 street-lamps, 1,000 solar micro-generators and 200,000 household electric systems in 14 African countries, including Sierra Leone.
“In Sierra Leone it consists of a pilot phase in a village,” said Gremy.
“The project’s first focus is on pilots in order to demonstrate the impact to beneficiaries and local/national authorities.
“A focus is also on the duo energy-water. Access to energy is a key enabler to access to clean water. We will develop our activities in this direction as well.”
As impressive as that may be however, in the short year they have been working, ALA have admitted difficulties in transferring these results to a private level.
“The second level is through pre-paid energy cards for individuals that will cost on average $10 a month (TBC),” said Gremy.
“We are in the midst of discussions with various credit agencies in order to see how we can make this sustainable for those who are in need of energy.”
The use of solar energy in Africa can be traced as far back as the 1830’s and since then many attempts have been made by organisations to make use of the 322 days of sunlight Africa receives on average to better the continent. The stumbling block that usually hampers a company’s progress is the cost of solar power.
The costs of the average 4kWp (Kilowatt peak) solar panel system for a home can be as high as £12,000 or more in the UK and ALA themselves have outlined costs of $75,000 to power a single village in Africa.
With the launch of solar academy in Mali where they teach future African entrepreneurs, engineers and technicians to develop the skills and expertise in the field of solar energy in Africa, ALA claim to have “indirectly created 5,500 jobs” in various sectors and hope to create more in the future.
“We want to shift the development paradigm from aid to trade and support African solution led by Africans,” said Gremy. “We have started doing this through our investments, job creations, training sessions as well as the launch of the solar academy.
“In order for Akon Lighting Africa to continue to create jobs, we need people with the right skills and offering trainings are the next logical steps.”
Photo: Akon making a point at a press conference on sustainable energy