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Akon City: tumbleweed rolls at the site of the rapper’s Wakanda-inspired dream | Akon

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A seat of herons flies imperturbably above the futuristic curvature of an eerily solitary white concrete building in Mbodiène, a coastal village in Senegal. In theory, it will become the “welcome center” of Akon City, a $6 billion (£4.7 billion) metropolis inspired by Wakanda, the fictional African country from the Black Panther films.

The plans were first revealed five years ago by American-Senegalese R&B singer Akon, and the first phase of construction was expected to be completed by the end of 2023, but the project has been fraught with delays and of controversies.

Akon City still a construction site with a building and livestock – video

Since his childhood, Jean Charles Édouard Sarr, a 55-year-old maintenance engineer and self-confessed cryptocurrency aficionado, has visited his ancestral village of Mbodiène, where his mother is buried.

After graduating, Sarr left Senegal to establish his career in France, where he lived for five years. Unlike many, he chose to return to Senegal, where he settled near Dakar. When Akon City was introduced to the world in 2018, Sarr was fascinated by these projects, which promised economic resurrection and self-sufficiency for the residents of Mbodiène.

Jean Charles Édouard Sarr
Jean Charles Édouard Sarr said the project would bring jobs and health care to the region. Photograph: Guy Peterson/The Guardian

“If young people have the opportunity to attend a good university, they will have a better chance of finding a job here,” he says. “As an African, if you have a good life, the beach, a good job and health care, what else do you need? Why would you go looking for it in Europe?

For Michel Diome, chief of the village of Mbodiène, 53, who met Akon several times, the project could be a gold mine for the local economy, undermined by the decline of the fishing industry.

“All village chiefs would like a project like this, because we expect jobs for the men, women and youth of Mbodiène,” explains Diome, who gave Akon his blessing for the project.

Akon has said in the past that his namesake city would not only provide jobs, but also be a sanctuary for African Americans seeking to reconnect with their African roots.

A map of the location of the town of Akon

The country has already become a pilgrimage destination for the African diaspora, who make the short ferry ride from Dakar to Gorée Island, the largest center of the slave trade on the African coast from the 15th to 19th centuries.

“I wanted to build a city or a project like this that would give them the motivation to know that there is a home at home,” the singer said during a press conference in 2020.

Much of the international response has centered on the city’s Afrofuturist aesthetic and Akon’s stated plan to run its economy primarily on its Akoin cryptocurrency. There has also been a lot of skepticism that it will come to fruition, fueled by the lack of detail on the plans.

In 2021, Devyne Stephens, Akon’s music manager and former business partner, filed a $4 million lawsuit against the singer, claiming he was still owed money under a settlement agreement of 2018.

Cattle pass by a bulldozer clearing shrubs at the site where the town of Akon will be built
There has been much speculation about Akon’s plans for the city, with critics saying they lack details. Photograph: Guy Peterson/The Guardian

In March 2022, Stephens asked a judge to freeze Akon’s New York assets, saying that without the measure, Akon would have difficulty repaying an alleged debt. Stephens’ attorney, Jeffrey Movit, claimed in his affidavit that Akon City and Akoin exhibit “many of the hallmarks…of fraudulent business ventures such as Ponzi schemes and pyramid schemes.” Akon City was “probably a scam,” Movit said.

Akon has denied the allegations regarding Akon City. The following month, he paid $850,000 to settle part of the ongoing lawsuit. He said the motion to freeze his accounts was made “out of spite” to damage his reputation.

Stephens, Movit and Akon’s representative did not respond to requests for comment. In December 2022, Akon said the Covid pandemic was to blame for the delays and that plans were “100,000% in motion.” In a podcast interview in September, he said he was working on a 10-year timeline to complete the project.

A portrait of Akon created by a graffiti artist adorns the walls of a youth center
A portrait of Akon created by a graffiti artist adorns the walls of the Mbodiène youth center, one of the only visible buildings in Akon City. Photograph: Guy Peterson/The Guardian

State support for the project, once zealous, has also recently deteriorated.

This project initially benefited from the support of the outgoing president of Senegal, Macky Sall, and the Society for the Development and Promotion of Littorals and Tourist Zones (Sapco), which lent $2 million to the singer for this project.

According to local media, Sapco sent Akon a formal notice telling him that if the project did not move forward by next year, its contract with him would be terminated.

Akon City is also embroiled in land rights issues.

Celebrated for its pristine beaches and surf spots, land near Mbodiène earmarked for the town of Akon was handed over to the Senegalese state in 2009 for future tourism development by Sapco.

The first phase of Akon City was to be built on 55 hectares of land secured by Sapco – eventually expanding to another 500 hectares by the end of the decade. These lands belonged to several hundred people who were to be compensated by the Senegalese government.

More than a decade later, some residents have still not been compensated, according to Diome. “My problem with the land is not with Akon,” he said. “My problem is with Sapco, because they are the ones who took the land from the villagers.”

Sapco did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.

A view of children playing on a basketball court
Children play on a basketball court part of a youth center funded by Akon in Mbodiène. Photograph: Guy Peterson/The Guardian

Besides the Welcome Center, the only other tangible sign of construction work is a recently built youth center, financed by Akon under a contract in which the residents of Mbodiène stipulated conditions that the singer had to meet before get the blessing of the village to build the reception center. city.

As teenagers played basketball on the court next to the center, Diome shared a photo depicting himself with Akon and praised his own interactions with the singer. “I judge people by the way they are with me,” he says. “In Akon’s case, everything he said he would do, he did.”

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theguardian

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