Platinum-selling performer and philanthropist Akon wants to build his own city in Senegal and launch his own cryptocurrency as the central form of exchange. Speaking on Monday, June 18th, at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, on a panel titled “Branding Africa: Blockchain, Entrepreneurship and Empowering the Future,” the Grammy-nominated singer of “Don’t Matter” and “I Wanna Love You” discussed his plans for AKoin, a branded form of cryptocurrency.
According to PageSix’s panel report, Akon said blockchain technology and cryptocurrency could be “the savior for Africa in many ways” because of its high security factor. He said the app-based system “allows the people to utilize it in ways where they can advance themselves and not allow government to do those things that are keeping them down.”
An initial information blurb posted by ICO Impact Group lays out a much more ambitious plan: a “100% crypto-based city with AKoin at the center of transactional life,” to be built in Senegal. (Akon was born in St. Louis, Missouri but is of Senegalese descent, and he spent significant parts of his childhood in Senegal.) The planned community would be called Akon Crypto City.
This futuristic city[,] already in development, beginning with 2,000 acres of land gifted to Akon from the President of Senegal, is within 5 minutes of the new international airport, close to the coast and a short drive from Dakar, the capital city of Senegal (Akon’s homeland). Akon Crypto City blends leading Smart City planning designs with a blank canvas for cryptonizing our daily human and business exchanges, towards inventing a radical new way of existence.
An extensive website for AKoin describes Akon Crypto City as “a real-life Wakanda,” referring to the ultra high-tech fictional nation ruled by King T’Challa, aka the superhero Black Panther, in Marvel’s Black Panther movie and comics. It also shows a mock-up image of an app that would handle AKoin withdrawals, deposits, and transfers, along with financial services like micro-loans, and social media outlets and user-generated content. The system sounds something like what’s being planned in the Marshall Islands, where the government signed a law creating its own sovereign cryptocurrency earlier in 2018.
The AKoin site is a clear call for investors and entrepreneurs to get involved both in the cryptocurrency project and in the city itself:
Parallel to AKoin being established as stable currency alternative throughout Africa — and fueling entrepreneurship — Akon Crypto City is in development and has opportunities for crypto experiences to be painted throughout this one of kind city; a never before opportunity [sic] for brands, businesses and high-profile individuals to do amazing things in this closed environment, welcoming anyone looking to step into the future.
There are plenty of reasons to be dubious about the plan, including the blithe overuse of “blockchain” as a buzzword and a panacea to all currency problems. Akon’s response to technical questions asked at the panel wasn’t exactly heartening, either: PageSix reports him as saying, “I come with the concepts and let the geeks figure it out.” But it’s worth noting that Akon’s charity Akon Lighting Africa, which helps arrange financing for solar panels and small-scale lighting projects, is a similarly ambitious project that spread to 17 African nations in its first two years of operation and currently claims operations in 25 countries. The organization has won awards, earned UN recognition, and made news last year by securing a $1 billion credit line from China. A similarly robust set of investments might make Akon Crypto City sound less like a science fictional idea piggybacking on tech fads.
But Akon’s political ambitions might prove distracting as the city design unfolds. PageSix reports that at the same panel, he also expressed an interest in running for president in 2020, hoping to take on both Donald Trump and Kanye West. “It’s gonna be entertaining, it’s gonna be something worth watching,” he said, according to PageSix’s brief. “I’m going to go after Trump, and Kanye will get offended because he likes Trump, and he’s going to go after me. Then I’m going to go after Kanye, and then Trump’s going to get offended because he likes Kanye, and he’s going to go after me. And the debate stage will be set where it’s all about me. It’s perfect, a masterplan.”
The Verge has reached out to Akon and his business partners for further comment.
Correction: a previous version of this story said the Marshall Islands’ cryptocurrency was intended to replace the US dollar. A spokesperson has said the plan is for “a supplemental digital currency, not a ‘digital-only’ system.”