Having mesmerized Ugandans and hoodwinked the government with promises of a futuristic city, famous American-Senegalese musician Akon leaves behind a dream, unfulfilled. What became of this overzealous ambition? Was the Ugandan government too quick to commit support for this dream? The Nile Post revisits Akon City, a dream that never was.
In 2021, the arrival of the globally renowned American-Senegalese musician and entrepreneur, Akon, in Uganda was met with a wave of excitement and anticipation. Akon, a luminary in the music industry, was venturing into the world of investment, promising Ugandans a futuristic city that would rival the mythical utopia of "Wakanda" from the 2018 Hollywood blockbuster, Black Panther.
Upon landing in Uganda, Akon was given a red-carpet welcome, typically reserved for high-ranking foreign diplomats.
He was surrounded by a host of Ugandan politicians and local investors, highlighting the magnitude of his influence. From a heavy security detail to presidential motorcades and military helicopters, Akon's presence in Uganda was nothing short of extraordinary.
With this kind of treatment, everyone was sold – Akon was here for a good and big cause. The nation was gripped with anxiety.
“Akon is set to invest 26 million dollars in the country, such a big investment opportunity is an economic boost to the country” asserted Rewind, the Presidential Advisor on Diaspora Affairs, Ambassador Abbey Walusimbi.
Uganda will benefit in many different ways from Akon’s visit, one of them being through his brand power. Asserted Isaac Kigozi, Head Trade and Investment officer, Office of the President.
Akon was here to sell a dream that had failed elsewhere. Met with a lot of scepticism, Akon promised Uganda a futuristic city built and run with African resources.
From his words, this city as a beacon of development would then shape Africa's future, and he spoke passionately about his true calling- the development of the continent, government officials accompanied Akon to sell this dream but there was doubt whether the officials themselves understood what they were trying to push, one could tell from the lack of detail in their answers when asked about the feasibility of this city.
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However, they were quick to confirm the government's commitment towards a blurry vision. He even embarked on a nationwide tour to identify suitable land for the ambitious project.
Uganda was five countries out of the 10 that had access to the Akon City, my true calling is to develop Africa with a goal to invest in tourism, infrastructure and energy the government of Uganda gave me three choices across the country which I traversed and chose one. Noted Akon During his Visit
The land where the futuristic city was to be built is located in Mukono-Katosi, a picturesque spot approximately 50 kilometres from Uganda's capital, Kampala. Set on the shores of Lake Victoria, the area promised breathtaking views and the serenity of the lake.
However, as time passed and the vision of Akon City began to take shape, questions arose. The land allocated to Akon, approximately 640 acres, was not barren but home to people who depended on it for their livelihoods. Fishing, farming, sand mining, and other economic activities still thrive on this land.
It has been 2 years since this land was identified, but upon reaching here - all we saw was grassland. An empty piece of land represents the failed hopes of a dream that never was. Was the government duped? How did the government rush to commit to a dream that was coated with doubts right from the onset? The area LC1 chairman Waidongo Yahaya had limited information about the project and its implications.
“I just heard that government officials came here and stopped at the hills to inspect the land and they went back, as a leader, I’ve never been approached, everything comes up as hearsay," noted Waidongo
This land is however surrounded by problematic concerns. The land first identified by the government has locals settled on it.
They have occupied this space for generations and Akon’s dream 2 years ago was a scare of displacement for them. One might think Akon’s dream not coming to life would give them a sigh of relief, but no.
“I’m told Akon city covers more than 600 acres, if that’s so then many of our villages will be affected and in most cases, these things involve displacements so that is my biggest worry; many of us have grown up and settled on this land, so the idea of compensating us with petty sums of money may not really go well with us”. Added Waidongo
Vincent Emegit, an Area Local added
“Many government officials have come on several occasions to inspect the land, they only stop on the hill view and go back and they don’t even interact with the people, it is said that the deputy speaker was even here; their regular entry and exit with notice of the locals make them worried of displacement”
It is alleged that as soon as government officials heard that this particular piece of land had been identified for Akon City, they started grabbing pieces of it in anticipation that would be compensated when the dream came to life – a common practice for all big government projects.
Locals are worried that they might eventually be displaced without being compensated and that would ruin their livelihoods.
“Some Ministers like Okello Oryem paid locals with petty cash and threatened many to lose their plots of land if they didn’t consent”. Stated Waidongo
Kateu Bob, the Youth Councilor of the Mpungwe sub-county added
“It discourages me as a leader that these government officials come here and they don’t even approach us to guide them as leaders, Akon was misguided that the land he was given didn’t bear any occupants which is not true”
“The main problem we have faced on this land is forced encroachment, this land belonged to the government and most of us settled on it on a freehold land tenure system, many rich people have taken advantage of that to Grab land from the locals who are already occupants”. He added
Ssekabira Shaban, another Area Local expressed
“The Akon city is not going to be significant to the local people, should the project commence, many of us are going to be forced to vacate this land; we were going to be happy if the project commences without us being displaced because we’ve maintained this land for so many generations, but now a city to exist without we the original occupants makes no sense”
We put questions to the Minister of State for Investment and Privatization Evelyn Anite, on why investment in Uganda comes at such a high cost for locals. Stories of displacement have become commonplace in Uganda. Why?
"As you know the government of Uganda just doesn’t displace people, we compensate, when the time comes for us to go on with the investment, we’ll talk to the people, explain to them, value the land and relocate them," expressed Anite
Since Akon’s dream has not been able to come to life, why is the government silent on reassuring locals about the failed progress of the project so as to take away the fears of displacement from the locals?
“We did our part as government, he asked for land and we made it available for him, don’t think that Akon has pulled out from developing the city, I think it's just because of the rollout of his projects. We need to be patient with investors because they have different projects that they keep rolling," Anite.
“We are hopeful that he will come, but if he doesn’t come, we don’t lose out because then we know that the next investor will take on the land. We operate in a free market economy; there is free entry and free exit, we are concentrated on anyone who has money, anyone who has money is our friend," Anite emphasized
This creates even more doubt. Akon’s promise in his home country – Senegal is similar to that one here. Previously to be built on 55 hectares, Akon City in Senegal is also a dream that exists only in his head.
Why are African governments, including the one in Uganda easily excited and hoodwinked by so-called investors with celebrity status neglecting due diligence on their capabilities?
The government also in the dark, has now given Akon the benefit of the doubt, anticipating his return to fulfil his commitments.
“We are hopeful that Akon is still doing some finance and resourceful mobilization as he waits to embark on the Akon City Project, The Government played its part in giving him land where he can fulfil his investments, we, therefore, give him the benefit of the doubt hoping that he comes back and fulfils his pledge” hoped Baryomunsi
The dreams and aspirations of a futuristic city remain uncertain, Akon City now stands in limbo. We will not be surprised if another investor comes to Uganda and is accorded the same treatment only to do lip service but with no action, but we only hope that Akon’s experience here, pledges are a learning experience for a government that is always in the rush to commit support where there are no hopes for the return of investment.