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Energy and education is not an expense – it is an African investment

Akon featured with the beneficiaries of the solar powered streetlights in Senegal.

At the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) forum in Washington, the Akon Lighting Africa Initiative announced the launch of a solar academy based in Mali, West Africa, aimed at giving young African engineers and entrepreneurs the skills needed to develop solar power.

The solar academy is the brainchild of internationally recognised Senegalese-American musician Akon, together with co-founders, Thione Niang and Samba Bathily, to deliver solar generated power to over 600 million Africans living in rural communities. Bathily spoke on the business and personal aspects of the initiative in an exclusive ESI Africa interview.

ESI: How did the Akon Lighting Africa (ALA) initiative start?

SB: The idea of launching the Akon Lighting Africa initiative came up at the end of 2013. We started discussing what we could do to actively help drive Africa’s transformation. We agreed that the top priority was to invest in energy, particularly in rural and semiurban areas, because this was the essential foundation for everything else – education, health and economic development.

ESI: How were the three partners vetted for the ALA initiative?

SB: We built the ALA initiative by combining our strengths and experience: I could bring onboard some of my business partners to supply solar expert solutions, Akon could mobilise and influence the project’s international network and Thione could innovate an approach to leverage energy as an enabler for job creation and inclusive growth.

ESI: What are the criteria used for selecting the countries in which ALA is involved?

SB: We invest where we can make a tangible impact on people and economies. The initiative is already making an impact in 14 African countries through the provision of solar street lamps and solar kits.

The 14 countries are Mali, Republic of Guinea, Benin, Senegal, Niger, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Congo-Brazzaville, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso and more recently Nigeria, Namibia and Madagascar.

The initiative has created a virtuous circle, extending far beyond energy – to technical innovation, tailored financing and new jobs. So far, the project has created 1,500 direct jobs where local young people are trained to market, install and repair solar kits within their communities.

With job creation and skills development a top priority, each of our projects has gone through the same process:

• A review of needs on the ground, conducted in partnerships with local governments and authorities
• A definition of priority areas
• An inventory of requirements to select the most relevant products (street lamps, domestics kits or community kits and training programmes for local youth)

ESI: You have been setting your sights high with this initiative, which is the type of drive that Africa needs. Besides the solar academy, what is next on ALA’s agenda?

SB: We have a long-term approach with the ability to deliver fast. We have tangible results to show that we can power up Africa.

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