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  • Chris Bratton - Tech Journalist

Where other African smart cities have failed: Akon’s $6 billion smart city looks set to succeed

In early 2020 when the coronavirus was just beginning its rampage on the world economy, Akon announced via Twitter that he had gotten the approval to go ahead with the construction of his Smart city in Senegal.

The news was met with great enthusiasm but there was also a hint of skepticism, especially from industry experts, about the feasibility of the project.

The skepticism is not unwarranted. However, based on current information, Akon City looks well placed to become the first true African smart city. It is going to set the pace for other African countries to join the technology revolution.

Admittedly, the project is going to cost more than the proposed $6 billion but, that is something key players in the project are aware of and hopefully prepared for.

“My bet is it's going to be a little bit more money and take a little bit longer of time,” Karas who is Akon’s business partner has been quoted saying.

He also goes on to reveal that the smart city has been a dream and vision of Akon for more than a decade. So, why are we just hearing about it now? Two reasons.

One, Akon finally has the resources to kickstart the project. Reports show that he has already acquired $4 billion out of the $6 billion required.

Two, he has the right team to successfully launch the massive undertaking. For a smart city to be successful, it needs to be built on a well thought out infrastructure that is efficient, resilient, and scalable.

For this reason, Akon chose KE international, an American company that has already been involved in the construction of another technological city in Kenya. Additionally, the design of the city has been contracted to Bakri and Associate development consultants who are based in Dubai and, therefore, know a thing about out-of-the-box architecture.

The company notes that the city will be built using traditional construction materials and materials made precisely for Akon city like lightweight steel and glass that generates energy.

That explains how the gleamy and curving structures depicted by the City renders will be actualised.

The city will also be run using advanced tech like blockchain, artificial intelligence, green energy, all of which will be essential in its sustainability.

There is the fear that Akon City will follow the path of other African smart cities that have been proposed before but what do you know about these other cities?

The proposal for the South African smart city was never even approved. The city of Johannesburg rejected it because it did not include affordable housing. Paul Martin, KE international’s project manager for Akon city says that 30% of the city’s housing will be affordable to the lower half of the wage market.

Also, unlike the Konza smart city in Kenya that was initiated by the government, Akon City is a private investment. There is a reason SpaceX is making bigger strides in Space exploration than NASA.

The fact that Akon city has the backing of the government will also be crucial to its actualization. It has already been designated as a special tax area and all imports to the city will benefit from reduced taxes. How about that to attract investors?

The government is yet to offer any financial aid but it’s only a matter of time before they see the project’s real potential and jump in.


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