Singer, producer, and philanthropist-entrepreneur Akon will be attending AIBC Europe from November 16-18, participating in the AIBC conference as well as the SiGMA Night event on November 17, where he’s lined up for a live performance at Sky Club.
How did you come across the idea of using Crypto to push for the economic development of Africa? What inspired you? And in what ways do you think that blockchain as disruptive fintech could be used to improve Africa’s place in the world?
I’ve known about crypto for a long time – friends and business partners of mine introduced it to me several years ago when it was still pretty unknown. I thought it was interesting at the time, but when it really ‘clicked’ for me was when I was travelling from my home country of Senegal to France on a layover while headed back to the United States. I’d forgotten to exchange some of my CFA Franc currency from Senegal and as I arrived in France I figured I’d just exchange it there at the airport into US dollars. The crazy thing though is that the foreign exchange service there wouldn’t accept CFA Francs, which seemed nonsensical since this currency came from France, and you’d expect that at the very least they would also accept it there.
That was the lightbulb moment and suddenly it was very clear to me: Africa, with its 54+ countries each with their own currency, needed its own currency, free from the geographical and political restraints of what’s currently available on the continent. And it needed to be truly owned by the people of Africa – this could be achieved through blockchain technology. That’s how the idea of Akoin was born. We’re uniting people by putting the power in their hands. Akoin provides them the tools and services they need to drive positive change in their communities, countries and across the entire continent.
The Akoin whitepaper elaborated that the goal is not just the creation of a cryptocurrency token but rather that of an ecosystem of tools and services designed for entrepreneurs. What are the tools that you believe would be the most influential and what type of entrepreneurs would benefit the most from Akoin’s adoption? Are there any specific sectors in mind?
There will be many tools and services available in the Akoin Wallet and ecosystem – everything from education to commerce, savings and even entertainment. And we’ll be focusing on most of the major industry sectors such as agriculture, finance and technology. We are partnering directly and onboarding a multitude of innovative DApps (decentralized Apps) and Apps each wanting to provide their solutions to Africa and willing to trade in and out of Akoin to do so.
What I’m most excited about is the finance space, specifically micro-loans enabled by crypto. The benefit of making credit and capital available in local communities can bring real change and allow individuals and businesses to prosper where they might not have without access to micro-loans. People in Africa have some of the highest loan repayment rates for these types of loans – above 90 per cent – so this is attractive for so many reasons.
I envision a future where Akoin is a hub of economic opportunity, digitally and in the real world
We’re also executing really interesting solutions in the meshed WiFi space, creating hubs of opportunity simply by providing affordable internet access in remote regions, all the way to critical needs and services in the education and healthcare sectors. I envision a future where Akoin is a hub of economic opportunity, digitally and in the real world, where entrepreneurs of any type – from those with a food cart to those developing software – can all get access to the tools, services and funds they need to make their business successful.
Many financial speculators based in Africa and abroad argue that the main obstacle for Akoin and other cryptocurrencies is acceptance from central regulators. Do you believe that acceptance of cryptocurrencies as legal tender is possible across Africa or are some states more accepting than others?
We successfully conducted our first pilot programme in Kenya at Mwale Medical and Technology City, integrating Akoin across every aspect of daily and business life. We did this by working directly with the city founders, the people and merchants all the way to the government directly, we knew this would be critical. Change is never easy but if everyone feels a part of the process, feels heard, massive evolution and growth can occur. We’re finding that each country is different and has its own unique needs, socially and from a business and government perspective. My goal is to help each of them to see the financial and global benefit of integrating and accepting cryptocurrency and blockchain, Akoin in particular, within their region. Once they have that ‘aha’ moment, it’s all about integrating and deploying - including many of their specific regional needs - together and making sure everyone wins. If you don’t see this evolution of how the world is functioning, you will be seriously left behind. Africa has a huge chance right now to be out in front of the evolution taking place in the global financial system.
While COVID-19 has had grievous effects on the global economy, it has also served to push us in a more digital and remote direction. Do you think the long-term effects of the pandemic will be positive or negative for the development of Africa?
It’s a really good question. This isn’t the first pandemic to hit Africa and it probably won’t be the last. But it is the first pandemic to truly impact the entire world in a long time and I think its effects will be felt for quite some time. This pandemic has forced change in thinking, change in behaviour, change in what’s important to us. This kind of disruption forces us to rebuild and I believe will bring more, not less, positive social and economic change. The people of Africa are not only resilient but are adept – they evolve and they are resourceful. If it’s anything I’m betting on, it’s the people.
Disruption always works best for those needing the most – it is easier to leapfrog than it is to patch. Regardless, this is a true global crisis, which means the continent of Africa and developing nations around the world get hit especially hard. I hope that if anything, the pandemic will have shown the importance of strengthening local communities so the effect of events like this, even on a much smaller scale, will help us prepare and protect for whatever lies ahead.
What role do you see crypto-cities such as AkonCity playing in a more pan-African context? Do you think they can serve as templates or inspirations for the direction the continent should take?
One of my goals with Akon City is to showcase the potential of the world from the birthplace of the world. I want Akon City to be accessible as a living, breathing monument to the power, potential and history of Africa by leading our future. We are bringing best-in-class technology and futuristic design, leading thought and technology for smart green cities all the way to blockchain based iOT (internet of things) infrastructure, all while sharing and spotlighting our collective African heritage.
And we’re doing this not just with Akon City in Senegal – we’re in talks with government officials in other African countries all the way to Southeast Asia. We want to copy and paste these city models into other regions and countries, all the while improving and learning from each of the deployments as we go. It takes massive investment, dedication and time to deploy cities of this scale and design, and we’re aggressively working on all fronts to move these mega ventures forward.
When it comes to Africa in particular, I’m proud of my roots, and I want all of Africa to be proud of the many Akon Cities that will be situated across Africa, that they represent what Africa is and what it can be, especially when it comes to global leadership and a place that other countries point to as a sustainable and futuristic way forward.
Are there any exciting partnerships that you think will support the adoption of Akoin moving into the future?
We’re making some big moves to end the year and there are a lot of exciting partnerships in the pipeline that will change the game for Akoin. In fact, we’re announcing many of these in Malta AIBC, including our launch of the Akoin Card with partner Baanx, Mastercard enabled. Also, our new public facing wallet coming out built on partner Fireblocks leading wallet-as-a-service provider technology, with best-in-tech and security crypto wallet functionality, critical for our users as we scale throughout Africa and beyond. Then we’re moving into our Akoin Marketplace launch, this is a collection of crypto enabled tools and services offered to users as DApps/Apps downloads, think of it like the Applestore for crypto players, all trading in Akoin and empowering users to help scale their life and business needs.