‘Your job is to empower people’: Akon on Meghan and Harry’s Africa tour and his new cryptocurrency that’s changing the continent

By Kathryn Kyte

Akon is not just a multi-platinum recording artist – he’s also a budding entrepreneur with a futurist mindset who is actively creating change. He was recently in Toronto as part of Elevate, a major technology conference that also welcomed Martha Stewart, Chris Hadfield and Toronto’s Director X to the stage this year.

The five-time Grammy nominee, who spent a large part of his childhood in Senegal, spoke multiple times during the week. Along with his journey to stardom, he highlighted his recent efforts with Akoin, a cryptocurrency that aims to empower those in Africa and help them make a greater investment in their lives.

“It all started with the ecosystem,” he told HELLO! Canada at Elevate. “I really wanted to build something, but then I realized that the dollars in so many countries in Africa don’t mean anything. And it’s the worst when you go into these countries with a pocket or bag full of money that you’re trying to exchange and they won’t even take it. It’s ridiculous.

Akon spoke about Akoin and his initiatives in Africa at the Concordia Annual Summit in 2018. It’s an annual conference dedicated to fostering partnerships for entrepreneurs to create social change. Photo: © Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

“So, we just thought, well, we have to create our own currency that we can then create value on, and to the respect where you have to accept it,” he added with a cheeky grin.

Seeing the need to help others, Akon’s efforts have become forged with technology to achieve his dream.

“We come up with these concepts and then have to find the technology to fit it,” he said. “I think a challenge is finding the right technology that works perfectly with what we’re trying to do.”

Other than that, “waking up early is probably the only challenge,” he said.

“If you want to go into the African market, Akoin is the best place to go because we started from the ground, the grassroots, attacking anything,” he said. “Where the necessity is high, you’re going to make money no matter what, but it’s more about building the economy and empowering the people. That’s what stimulates growth and wealth.”

Akon said with Akoin, people can unite and drive growth and prosperity. He also said given Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s recent trip to southern Africa, Akon says now is a good time to continue the conversation and shine focus on the continent.

Prince Harry visited Huambo, Angola on Sept. 27, where he met with staff and patients at the Princess Diana Orthopedic Hospital, which helps landmine victims. Photo: © Dominic Lipinski - Pool/Getty Images

“When they’re there they need to meet the people,” he said, when asked what advice he had for the royal couple. “It’s very important to understand the people, the needs and what is necessary to help them grow. I think when you’re in a position like that your job is to empower people. Period.”

PHOTOS: The best pictures from Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s royal tour of southern Africa

Akon stressed the importance of focusing on the needs of communities to create opportunities that are more than just about money. He said doing so so will “create freedom for those that might not necessarily have that right now.”

Akoin may still be in its early days, but so far Akon said things are resonating.

“The response has been amazing, and it starts from being on the grass. The ground is where and how you decide the impact being felt. And how the people are feeling it,” he explained. “I measure everything on the ground level.”

In 2015, Akon spoke at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, which was jointly hosted by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and then-US President Barack Obama. Photo: © John Muchucha/AFP/Getty Images

In addition to Akoin, the star also runs Akon Lighting Africa, an initiative founded in 2014 that aims to install solar street lighting and sustainable energy products throughout the continent. In 2015, Akon told Global Atlanta the project was providing electricity to 1 million households in 14 different African countries.

Akon’s motivating demeanour is immediately felt when speaking to him, and so is his bubbly charisma. You just know he isn’t playing for second – he really wants to change things. He said he believes there needs to be more awareness known about Africa, its challenges and how people report on the happenings.

“If the situation isn’t changing in Africa, there has to be something more that we can do. And people like Meghan and Harry aren’t necessarily responsible to do it, but it’s their responsibility to raise the awareness so people themselves can open up the opportunities,” he said passionately.

“I think when you empower people, literally, and put them in a position to help themselves, not necessarily help them, but show them how to help themselves, that’s ideal.”

Don't miss a beat with HELLO! Canada's Daily Hits newsletter, your daily dose of royal and celebrity news, fashion, weddings and more. CLICK HERE to sign up for free!