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Insight & Analysis - April 23, 2022

Is the Proposed Akon City a Fraud?

Little has been heard of Senegalese-American, Aliaune Damala Badara Thiam, famously known as Akon, in recent years. His music career may have nosedived, but he had transitioned nicely into entrepreneurship, especially with his revolutionary real estate project, Akon City.

He had become known for other business projects in Africa – in tech and solar power, but none of these projects has really taken off, particularly the ultra-modern Akon City, which earned him public admiration.

About four years after the idea was conceptualised, it remains a dream at best, as no concrete work suggests it’s a ‘work in progress.’ Some of his associates have also insinuated that the project is a sham.

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In 2018, Akon, alongside the Senegal Minister of Tourism, Alioune Sarrin, announced his plan for a futuristic city called Akon City.

The proposed sustainable smart city would be built in Senegal at a projected cost of $6 billion. It would also be powered by a cryptocurrency coin called Akoin.

According to Akon, the move to build the city was borne from the fear of being known only for singing and dancing. This fear is the propelling factor of his engagement in the different business sectors.

He started as a tech entrepreneur in Africa and got into the solar-power sub-sector. He also created his cryptocurrency and acquired a diamond mine in South Africa.

Akon’s Futuristic City

According to the R&B singer, the city would employ the most up-to-date blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies. Also, the project would be built on 2,000 acres along the Atlantic coast and 62 miles south of Dakar.

Also, the project was endorsed by Senegalese President Macky Sall and classified as a “special tax zone”. The city is to have condominiums, offices, parks, a university, a seaside resort, and a 5,000-bed hospital.

The primary architect of Akon City is Hussein Bakri of Dubai’s Bakri & Associates Development Consultants. The city would combine traditional and modern building materials created specifically for it, such as lightweight steel and energy-generating glass.

However, local architect Mamy Tall stated that the design is unsuitable for the environment’s climate. He noted that the country has a hot temperature, and the large windows will trap heat. This, in turn, will necessitate continual air conditioning. 

Interestingly, in 2021, while the proposed Akon City in Senegal was yet to begin construction, the singer announced another ultra-modern city to be built in Uganda. The singer had only laid the first stone at Akon City by this time.

“…the stone itself sits at the bottom of a dirt track in a field; a small placard advertising the megaproject has fallen off it,” a report said.

Funding of Akon City

Julius Mwale is Akon City’s primary financier. Mwale invested most of the $4 billion initially raised for the project. The identities of the other investors and partners are, however, unknown.

Is Akon City a fraud?

In 2021, Akon’s business partner, Devyne Stephens, filed a lawsuit against him in the United States for a debt of about $4 million. He loaned the singer the money as part of the implementation of his futuristic city project.

Devyne Stephens alleged that the projected city bears the hallmark of dubious business enterprises. He insinuated that Akon City and Akoin are money-laundering conspiracies.

The lawsuit sought that the singer’s assets in New York be frozen until a verdict was made. This freeze would ensure that Stephens receives all of his funds, including royalties.

Jeffrey Movit, Stephens’ lawyer, said the proposed city is a broken promise with no openness regarding who is investing in Akon City or how it will be created.

According to former FBI Special Agent Scot Thomasson, who investigated the project, Akon City has “many distinctive traits (known as red flags) of fraudulent business enterprises such as Ponzi schemes and pyramid schemes”. 

But Akon’s team had countered the claim. 

“The speculations are nothing but innuendo and supposition, created by someone who had a lawsuit against Akon dismissed,” the singer’s camp said.

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