The East African nation has agreed to identify “a place suitable in Uganda that has not less than one square mile, which will be made available to him and his team,” Isaac Musumba, Uganda’s minister for urban development, said at a news conference Monday. Akon will be in charge of attracting investment and managing the project, and will consult with the Ugandan government to come up with a theme for the “satellite city.”
A Missouri native whose family hails from Senegal, Akon, 47, has spoken expansively about his desire to create a real-life version of Wakanda, the futuristic African kingdom portrayed in Marvel’s “Black Panther.”
His plans for the first Akon City involves building luxury condominiums, a seaside resort, office parks and even a university in tubular, seemingly gravity-defying skyscrapers that resemble molten metal. Intended as an upscale destination for Black Americans, Akon City will be solar-powered and environmentally friendly, he has said. Residents and visitors will be able to make purchases with Akoin, which he envisions as a global currency.
The singer’s splashy designs for what is now a farming village on Senegal’s coast have met with some skepticism. Locals point out that the metal and glass structures — which Akon says are intended to “look like real African sculptures that they make in the villages” — are ill-suited to the sweltering climate. Others note that despite Akon’s stated goal of using local craftsmen and materials, he’s tapped an Abu Dhabi-based architect and an American developer to build the city. (Akon explained last year that he didn’t want to “overthink” the project.)
In a region starved of tourism, however, officials have been receptive to Akon’s promises to attract investment and create jobs. Last Friday, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced that he had played host to the singer, whose full name is Aliaune Damala Badara Akon Thiam, and touted the country’s untapped potential as a vacation destination.
“There’s so much about Uganda that I never knew existed,” Akon said at a news conference days later. “I’m determined to expose that. I want people to understand how beautiful Uganda is, and the best way to do that is to built my city here.”
Construction on the city won’t be completed until 2036, the singer added, because of the amount of infrastructure, such as paved roads, that has to be built first.
In Senegal, Akon has raised at least $4 billion of the $6 billion needed to build his city, and the project has yet to break ground. Uganda’s opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change, said on Tuesday that it was “a public secret” that Akon City would never come into existence, but that the government’s willingness to give away the land raised larger questions about whether officials were granting “sweetheart deals” to wealthy developers.
A local investigative reporter, Canary Mugume, wrote on Twitter that he asked how much it would cost to build Akon City 2.0, but the singer dodged the question three times in a row. When asked whether ordinary Ugandans would be able to afford the services offered in the futuristic city, Akon responded by suggesting people in Africa suffer from a low sense of self-worth, delivering an impromptu lecture on how at one point in history, “we were kings, queens, richer than anybody you can think about.”
“I don’t look at it as the standpoint of something that people can’t afford,” he added. “I know that if I put it there, they’re going to find a way to afford it because it’s going to motivate them.”
Danielle Paquette in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.