How Akon spent his day in Rwanda
“He’s a music guy. What’s he doing in energy?” That was one of the recurring questions overheard from curious fans of the Senegalese-American R&B singer Akon during his one-day visit to the country at the beginning of the week.
The other question was to do with the singer’s ear rings.
To answer the first question, Akon was here to discuss some energy deals with government officials from RDB and the Ministry of Infrastructure.
By now, you ought to have heard about the singer’s Akon Lighting Africa Project, or haven’t you? Well, it is a solar power initiative through which the singer intends to light hundreds of thousands of impoverished homesteads in Sub Saharan Africa.
As a person that likes to describe himself as “an African raised in America”, Akon is the personification of the American dream.
He is a first generation American, born in the US, to African parents. He spent his early childhood in Senegal, then went back to the US.
As a singer, he has sold over 35 million records worldwide since the release of his first album, Trouble, released on December 21 2004.
Akon has taken his celebrity and built it into a brand far beyond the music. He owns a clothing line, a string of night clubs, and a sizeable investment portfolio in Africa, including a Diamond mine in South Africa.
As an activist and philanthropist, he devotes some of his time promoting peace in conflict zones. In September 2014, he held the Peace One Day concert in Goma, Eastern DRC, a cry for peace in the war-affected region.
But don’t get it twisted: Akon Lighting Africa is not an exercise in philanthropy. Akon is not donating free solar energy to the continent’s poor. He is a business man first and foremost.
His model is what you would describe as social capitalism; basically doing good and making money at the same time.
Akon jetted into the country on Tuesday morning, flanked by Malian entrepreneur Samba Bathily, and Senegalese Thione Niang, his two business partners in the project.
So what was the singer up to during his day-long visit?
Hotel des Mille Collines by Kempinsky:
This is where the entire Akon team made their first stop after landing at the airport at 8:00 am.
Goes without saying that security was super tight, at a hotel that generally takes its security seriously.
One of the first public comments the singer made at the hotel were:
“Well I appreciate the food, and the hospitality in Kigali. The country is very clean, and very organized. I think this is a great model for the rest of Africa. Ultimately this is one place you want to be to do some great stuff.”
At about 10:00 am, David John Fenkil, my contact from Centennial Generating Company which hosted Akon informed me the singer and his team were headed to RDB in a short while, to meet officials from the body and from MININFRA.
It would be a closed door meeting where journalists would not be entertained. David instead advised me to head to the Kigali Memorial Center at Gisozi at noon as the singer would be headed there after RDB.
I did not warm up to the prospect, knowing how unpredictable celebrity itineraries can be. I dreaded a situation where I would have to wait three hours before the singer turned up.
David devised an alternative: I could join the entourage to RDB, and wait in the car as the meeting proceeded.
Shortly before we set off, the singer emerged from one of the lifts in the Mille Collines lobby, flanked by part of his entourage.
He held a small white object that looked like a gift box, and that he walked to the reception and handed to one of the attendants on duty.
What the contents of the box were, and what the singer whispered into the attendant’s ears, we never got to know.
The singer boarded a sleek black Toyota Land cruiser V8, flanked by about six escort cars and we sped off in the direction of RBD.
I sat in my car and chatted with the driver. He seemed to be envious of Akon’s driver, who he believed would walk away with a fat tip from the singer.
The suit-clad driver had been playing only Akon songs on his car stereo, and who knows, perhaps he indeed walked away all smiles.
At the rear of Akon’s ride I saw a sticker that bore the bold inscriptions, Paul Kagame. Was Akon riding in the president’s car? No, a closer look at the sticker soon confirmed: “Paul Kagame 2017. I support change of article 101”, it read in full.
The meeting at RDB took about 50 minutes.
At the Kigali Memorial Center:
His short visit to the memorial kicked off on a light note when Akon’s ‘ride’ pulled into the premises.
As he set his first foot out of the car to meet the expectant crowd, the singer realised the laces were loose, and immediately bent over to tie them.
He did not go into the memorial building itself, but rather the burial grounds, he laid a wreath and observed a minute of silence.
Then he walked slowly back as he had come, receiving blow-by-blow accounts of the events of 1994 genocide from the memorial’s guides.
Akon did not make any public statement while at the memorial.
He hopped back into his car and headed back to his hotel. His two business partners stayed behind to watch a documentary about the Kigali Memorial Center, and later a visit into the memorial building.
Due to time constraints, they were only taken around the children’s section, before the team took a lunch break at the Museum Café.
Over lunch, Maurice from RDB informed the press that the singer would be holding a brief press conference at the Kigali City Tower starting at 2:00pm.
He made several calls to media outlets and journalists, some of who seemed to be hearing of the singer’s visit for the first time.
The press briefing:
The press briefing that was to kick off at 2:00 pm did not begin until shortly after 5:00 pm.
All this while, journalists milled about the entrance to the Kigali City Tower, waiting for the singer’s arrival.
Of course, the long wait got onto the nerves of journalists, but for many, walking away was not an option.
For some reason, the press conference was assigned to a vacant room on the second floor of the Kigali City Tower.
When Akon and his team eventually walked in, journalists simply rushed before him and started to pose questions.
Akon spoke softly in his signature silky voice.
The press conference was as brief as they get; five minutes at the maximum, and thereafter, a selfie craze ensued. It was now all about who could elbow their way past the crowds for that rare Kodak moment with their superstar.
Later, as I and Timothy Kisambira, my photographer drove back to office to file the story, our driver remarked that he had seen the singer, and that he looked like The New Times scribe, Kenneth Agutamba, and we all seemed to agree with him.
What with the shared suited style and an almost rebellious slight forward bounce.