FORGING AHEAD: President Jacob Zuma and rapper Akon in Johannesburg. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko
FORGING AHEAD: President Jacob Zuma and rapper Akon in Johannesburg. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko
Having interviewed both President Donald Trump and far right presidential hopeful in France, Marine Le Pen, CNN’s Anderson Cooper says although it could be “too easy to just say Marine Le Pen is France’s Donald Trump, it is not that simple”. Talking to 60 Minutes Overtime’s Ann Silvio, Cooper argues, however, that even if Le Pen is not “talking of building a wall (like Trump), she advocates much tougher immigration laws, and a radical shift in France’s foreign policy, including renegotiating its place in the European Union (EU)” – like Trump.

In the world that is embracing nationalism and narrow self-interest, there remain several global concerns of the human race.

These include the need for security from global terrorism and the pressure to attain a more sustainable energy mix to power economic growth or resilience. In December 2015, a few weeks after the November 13 Paris bombings, leaders of the world embraced globalisation and converged in France to pledge at least $10billion towards renewable energy.

At the COP21 climate change summit held at Le Bourget Airport in the north-eastern outskirts of Paris, it looked as if the world not only resolved to defy the fear following the attack on Paris, but also that climate change was a threat to all of us against which action was long overdue.

As Africans bemoaned the lack of organisation by African countries to cash in on this renewable energy bonanza, there was an unlikely superstar at the climate change summit – an American rapper and now global philanthropist and investor named Akon. After lighting up COP 21, he left bureaucrats singing along to his 2006 hit, Smack That!

Although born in St Louis, Missouri, with a real name like Aliaume Damala Badara Akon Thiam, Akon unsurprisingly considers Senegal his home town and he has spent much of his resources on lighting up African households.

At COP 21, I witnessed discussions and undertakings by companies, cities and countries to increase the proportion of their energy mix as close as possible to 100% renewable – as Iceland had already done, with geothermal energy. Germany showcased, with the help of companies like 50 Hertz, that it was close to achieving a similar feat. The parent company of 50 Hertz, Eurogrid GmbH, had just issued a 750million corporate bond towards the realisation of this ideal.

Still, Akon’s star shone brighter.

Johannesburg made waves with its own award-winning Green Bond. About 1 000 cities committed to RE100 – a 100% renewable energy pledge. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, led the launch of the Global Geothermal Alliance (GGA) to hike the global installed capacity for geothermal power generation by 500% and for geothermal heating by 200%, come 2030. Less than a year after COP 21 in Paris, the US and China ratified the Paris deal. At least until President Trump decides otherwise, the world’s two largest economies are in on this renewable energy gig.

However, Africa looks like a region with merely an outside chance of benefiting from this renewable energy boom, despite its enormous geothermal, solar and hydro-energy endowment. Apart from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Kenya’s 140MW geothermal plant launched in 2014 and the 175MW Solar Capital facility in South Africa’s Northern Cape, there remains even bigger untapped capacity on the continent.

That is why it’s commendable today to see a rapper like Akon, with his heart in the right place, forging ahead with his Akon Lighting Africa initiative, long after the politicians and business leaders with him at COP 21 have forgotten their renewable energy pledges.

Geared to provide clean energy to 600 million Africans, and having launched his Solar Academy for Africa in Bamako, Mali, to give African engineers and entrepreneurs the skills needed to develop solar power, Akon took his roadshow to The Gambia to meet newly-elected President Adama Barrow and launch a solar energy project. And we thought rappers were uncouth gangster-entertainers!

Victor Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business,a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs, and a weekly columnist for Sunday Independent. Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica.