It is estimated that 622 million Africans are living without electricity. And while much of Africa still lacks access to basic services, particularly in rural areas, the growth of Africa’s largest economies have also been restricted, to an increasing extent, by electricity and fuel shortages in urban areas. Some of the most publicized cases in recent times are the ‘Dumsor’ in Ghana, ‘load shedding’ in South Africa and ongoing petrol shortages in Nigeria.
Instead of sitting back and complaining to authorities, Senegalese-American musician Akon is working hard to rectify the situation himself. Akon is the performing name of the Senegalese-American singer Aliaune Thiam, the son of percussionist Mor Thiam. Born in the US, the five-time Grammy nominee spent much of his childhood in Senegal – often without electricity.
This week he launched a Solar Academy, scheduled to open later this year in Bamako, the capital of Mali. It is aimed at giving African engineers, technicians and entrepreneurs the skills needed to develop solar power. The Solar Academy could help to establish a viable platform to power homes that previously lacked electricity or that suffer from chronic power outages. Experts from Europe will help to supply training equipment and programmes.
With its 320 days sunshine a year, Africa is perfectly suited to the development of solar power. "We have the sun and innovative technologies to bring electricity to homes and communities," said Samba Baithily, who founded Akon Lighting Africa with Akon and Thione Niang. "We now need to consolidate African expertise. The academy will aim to teach people how to install and maintain solar-powered electricity systems as well as micro-grids, which are really taking off in rural Africa."
The academy is the latest in a series of steps taken by Akon to improve access to electricity in Africa. In 2014 the star previously launched the Akon Lighting Africa initiative aimed at bringing electricity to some 600 million Africans throughout the continent by installing in rural communities off-grid solar solutions suited to home and collective use. Elevent countries - Mali, Senegal, Guinea, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea and Kenya - have already received this innovative equipment over the past year.
Akon Lighting Africa initiative and its founders - Akon, Thione Niang and Samba Bathily - were this month honoured at the second Sustainable Energy for 4 All (SE4A) forum, organized by the United Nations and the World Bank in New York, USA.
The success of Akon Lighting Africa is based on a unique business model. Solar kits offered to households and small communities are pre-financed in order to be immediately available. According to the founders, this new approach will help democratizing access to energy on the continent more quickly. Thione Niang explained at the forum in New York: “Development aid is important. However, now we must move to an economic logic if we really want address the challenge. Without access to energy, there is no development: no schools, no economic activity beyond a certain time, no communications. We came to New York to stress that if such situation persists, then the world continues to be deprived of all the amazing potential of Africa and Africans.”
Speaking about the new Solar Academy, Samba Bathily explained: “We have the sun and innovative technologies to bring electricity to homes and communities. We now need to consolidate African expertise and that is our objective. We are doing more than just investing in clean energy. We are investing in human capital. We can achieve great milestones and accelerate the African transformation process on condition that we start training a new generation of highly qualified African engineers, technicians and entrepreneurs now.”
“We expect the Africans who graduate from this center to devise new, innovative, technical solutions,” added Thione Niang. “With this Academy, we can capitalize on Akon Lighting Africa and go further.”
For more details see the Akon Lighting Africa website and the video below: