In the past 10 years rapper and activist Akon has been doing astounding work to showcase Africa's overshadowed potential. Here, he sat down with Luke Scerri to talk about his latest developments in our BLOCK magazine.
Can you describe your vision of Africa? What makes it unique in your opinion?
It’s all about the youth, they’re born entrepreneurs who now have the ability to leapfrog past technologies and old financial systems and move straight into blockchain, cryptocurrency and other digital innovations that are super charging their potential and futures forward, bringing them into the global economy in a powerful way.
Africa has the youngest population in the world, and by 2045 the African workforce is predicted to be the world’s largest, giving the continent an enviable and deep spread of talent which is soon set to be thrust onto the world stage.
As this talent pool blooms across Africa, the world is starting to take note. Combined with the revolutionary power blockchain provides we are entering a golden age of African development.
The benefits to Africa of embracing cryptocurrency will be huge. Large-scale adoption and use of crypto on the continent has the potential to demonstrate to countries around the world the creativity and ingenuity of young African business leaders and entrepreneurs, which will lead to an increase in African countries’ GDPs, while at the same time allowing the untapped talent in the upwardly mobile and young African workforce to flourish and grow.
How would digital currencies help the people in Africa?
The future of finance lies in digital currency and digital transactions. You can see how many countries are working on developing digital versions of their currencies, it is only a matter of time before all transactions are digitized and paper money is in the history books. The countries that grasp this reality before anyone else will be the ones at an advantage.
Money is going to be entirely digital, it’s all going to be computerized and moved in and controlled by apps and developers. Even with music, while everyone was selling CDs and vinyl from little specialty shops and singles, I was more focused on ringtones, which was the digital aspect of the music business.
As it happened in the music industry with the evolution from vinyl to cassette tapes to CDs and now to digital music, it’s happening now with money too.
Akon pictured above at the AIBC Summit, November2019.
Blockchain technology and cryptocurrency means that people in rising economies such as Africa are closer than ever to becoming ‘banked’, and having self-sovereignty of their own finances, and being able to use, through blockchain, financial services that are taken for granted in western nations.
In sub-Saharan Africa alone there are about 350 million unbanked adults, which accounts for 17 percent of the global unbanked population of two billion people.
Africa is already at the point where mobile phones and mobile phone minutes are used for transactions, it is only a few steps away from moving into an economy based on cryptocurrencies versus having to rely on current traditional paper money and historic financial models, which leads to their having the tools needed for financial independence and empowerment, reaching the same goals of being essentially ‘banked’.
This is why we are getting in front of the curve now and embracing what we believe is going to represent the dominant model young business leaders and entrepreneurs in Africa, and eventually, the whole continent embrace.
Blockchain and cryptocurrency represents a method for them to create and earn value determined by themselves and which doesn’t rely on an outdated system powered by a countries local currency which Africans have no control over.
Would you say COVID-19 is accelerating the speed of the adoption of more alternative and digital financial methods in the continent?
COVID-19 has absolutely accelerated the need and speed of adoption for alternative and digital financial methods. With millions of people likely to lose their jobs and forced into extreme poverty due to the virus, this forces the world and the people of Africa to get more creative, and seek other models for economic sustainability.
Countries such as Kenya are even moving forward with limiting the user of paper currencies in order to reduce the spread of the virus, which further moves people and countries into seeking out alternative and digital financial methods such as blockchain and cryptocurrency.
We’re seeing this in our current Akoin deployment in Mwale Medical and Technology City, where the city embraces an entirely futuristic and digital existence when it comes to financial transactions, which supports the move of Kenya more broadly to move from paper to digital.
Watch Akon speak at the AIBC summit 2019 here:
How has the virus affected Senegal, did it hinder any progress for Akoin city in Dakar?
Sengal is one of countries in Africa setting a great example of how to keep the numbers down, BBC did a great spotlight on Senegal and the smart containment and reduction methods they’re taking, it’s really impressive.
I’m proud to say that all of our massive efforts to bring Akon City to life in Senegal have not slowed either. We’re taking all of the right precautions when travelling and conducting a lot of our activities digitally, like everyone else in the world, but we’ve got an amazing team behind this venture and it’s full steam ahead.
We want Akon City to be the first of several more Akon-branded blockchain enabled smart cities, with Akoin at the center, throughout Africa, we can’t slow down, and everything we’re doing building up to that, including our deployment happening now in Mwale Technology and Medical City, pave that pathway.
Over the years, Africa has often been portrayed in a very distorted light, and you talk about this very passionately. How are you addressing the matter, and how will your vision of the continent help in presenting a true image of what it is?
Unfortunately, often the perception of Africa from those living outside it is of a scary and dangerous place. For example, the way they depict Africa in the United States is just so sad because it many times makes it unattractive and plays on all of its problems, without touching on the positives.
I really want to change that perception and get people seeing it as not just a viable place to vacation, work and do business, but a destination you don’t want to leave. That’s what we’re building in Senegal with Akon City, and futuristic city leveraging all of the best technologies, smart city designs and blockchain elements, attracting people and businesses alike.
Then, with our Akoin cryptocurrency and platform, which will be the central currency of both Akon City and Mwale Medical and Technology Center we’re setting the stage on how innovative blockchain and cryptocurrency solutions can launch Africa far into the 21st century as leaders in this space.
In terms of innovation, you describe Africa almost as being a blank slate in comparison to other continents and countries. How is this an advantage?
Africa is one of the only places in the world that can start from zero and really implement and utilize every single new development and invention that's existing today without breaking down existing infrastructure.
Africa is known for making technological leaps ahead of the rest of the world led as seen with their usage of mobile technology, their usage of mobile phone minutes as currency and adoption of blockchain and cryptocurrency innovations.
This characteristic of taking leaps forward in technology is what will continue to drive the growth and success of digital assets on the continent, and we believe Africa will lead in this area as the rest of the world will be watching closely to see the developments it makes.
While western countries and the rest of the world wrestle at unpicking years of tradition, red tape and regulation to make digital assets fit; African countries -- if their leaders choose -- are able to embrace change and foster implementation much more quickly.
When you look at all the major countries, from America to European countries to China, all of these nations are in a position where they can't conform as quickly to the latest technologies without having to rebuild everything that's already built, whereas African nations can start from the beginning and lead that charge forward.
Your work ethic and the vision of your homeland are inherently inspiring statements in themselves, but if you could, what would you tell young entrepreneurs that, like you, want to invest time to see change in the world?
The youth of Africa want to build their own destinies and are ready and able to adopt the latest technology innovations and financial structures to make that possible.
We want Africans who have amazing entrepreneurial ideas, to have the tools and services to bring those ideas to life, and not only create and build that business, but bring it to the global economy, and help their regions grow in the process. That’s the power of what blockchain and cryptocurrency can enable, and that’s what we’re enabling at Akoin.
There are people who have the means but don’t have the tools. There are people who have the tools but don’t have the means. For this to work, we all have to work together. The key to success has always been unity and I feel you can cover the world when you unite and bring yourselves together for one common cause. Join us. -Akon
SiGMA's own Head of Sales Hamza Afifi with Akon before the AIBC summit 2019.
To view more interviews like this, read the latest issue of BLOCK magazine here.
About SiGMA's revamped website:
SiGMA Group is excited to announce the launch of its newly revamped website. The website is currently available in 5 languages, English, Russian, Mandarin, Portuguese, and Spanish with plans to add another 5 languages over the coming months - namely French, Thai, Korean, Japanese, and Hindi.