Construction of ‘Akon City’, a project due to feature ultramodern twisting skyscrapers, was expected to have begun near the Atlantic Ocean village of Mbodiene. But construction work is yet to start, prompting residents who were hoping for jobs to wonder about its future.
It has been a year after singer Akon laid the first stone of the $6 billion futuristic city he vowed to build for his native Senegal, and the site remains grassland.
Jules Thiamane, a 35-year-old local who works in the tourism industry said: “They laid the foundation stone with a lot of speeches and promises. Compared to everything that was announced, I don’t think we have seen much yet”.
According to reports, the foundation stone sits at the bottom of a dirt track in a field and a small placard advertising the megaproject has fallen off it.
Meanwhile, the ceremonial stone was laid on August 31 2020, and construction was scheduled to begin early this year.
It can be recalled that Akon, a Senegalese-American singer-songwriter launched his eponymous city in September 2020, to great fanfare and international media attention.
The city’s otherworldly design is partly inspired by Wakanda, he said at the time, making reference to the fictional African city of the ‘Black Panther’. Marvel movie and comic series.
Akon City’s planners also said it will be a “beacon of innovation and human development” that will boost industry in the West African state of Senegal.
A stadium, casino, luxury high-rise apartment complexes, and an education district that will “accommodate the most prestigious universities in the world” are also part of the plans.
A hospital, school, shopping mall, homes, police station, waste center, and solar power plant are supposed to be completed in 2023, and the whole city is to be completed by 2030.
Meanwhile, locals during an interview disclosed that they knew little about ‘Akon City’, nor why construction had been delayed.
Even a 25-year-old student Ahmeth Deme wondered whether the project had been canceled.
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That notwithstanding, Badara Diakhate, the deputy mayor of the local commune, revealed that he was unaware of the exact reason for the delay but that “people want things to get going”.
He welcomed investment in the village and said that delays were common, especially given the pandemic.
It is worth mentioning that 6 billion dollars is the planned cost for building ‘Akon City’ which is about 80% of Senegal’s overall 2020 budget of about 7.5 billion dollars.
A lack of clarity regarding Akon City’s funding also raised questions.
Paul Martin, from the US-based firm, KE International, which won the ‘Akon City’ construction contract, revealed that Kenyan entrepreneur, Julius Mwale is the lead investor.
He added that he could not disclose information on other investors for confidentiality reasons, but said more than 4 billion dollars in funding had been raised.
Construction of ‘Akon City’ will start in October, Martin said, after a similar Mwale-funded city is completed in Kenya.
However, tourism worker Thiamane noted he has become disappointed, pointing to earlier failed development projects in Mbodiene.
“What is shared in the village at the moment is the beginning of disappointment”
Meanwhile, most Mbodiene residents cited the potential benefits of Akon City and said it could bring jobs.
“This is big for us,” said Philomene Bamimba, who heads a local women’s association.
David Seck Sene, president of the village youth association, admitted there was confusion around the delays but said: “I still have hope. I don’t see how a project like this could stop tomorrow”.
He, like other residents, is pushing for education and training so that villagers are not sidelined to laborers’ roles in ‘Akon City’.
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