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Singer Akon Starts a Cryptocurrency, Building crypto driven Senegal City

American pop icon Akon creates its own crypto-currency and a town for its use

Story Highlights

  • Grammy nominee hopes to launch coins as soon as July
  • Coin planned the development of 2,000 acres in Senegal

When during a trip from Dakar to Paris a few years ago, Grammy Award-nominated singer Akon tried to convert some of Senegal ‘s currency to euros, he was met with resistance. He was told by an employee at France’s currency exchange counter, “Unfortunately we don’t take those.”

Singer Akon Starts a Cryptocurrency, Building crypto driven Senegal City

“I’m just like, ‘What? “Akon recalled in a recent Bloomberg News phone interview. Before leaving for his tour, he had not had time to convert one currency to another, so he was left with a pocket of CFA francs — the currency used in many West African countries, like Senegal — with nowhere to spend them.

“That just really opened my eyes,” Akon, 47, said in the interview.

“That really catapulted the energy to say ‘We have our own currency to have. I don’t mind what it takes — we’ll fix this.'”

The encounter served as a catalyst for one of its newest ventures, Akoin, a cryptocurrency that will also be Akon City’s local currency, a 2,000-acre development in Senegal. Although some other coins have promised but failed to update the fiat currency system, the hope is that Akoin will be adopted across the continent and beyond, with a launch likely to occur in early July, according to Jon Karas, Akoin ‘s president, and co-founder.

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The American-born artist, who has been selling over 35 million albums worldwide, spent his early childhood in Senegal before moving to New Jersey. With the release of his debut album “Trouble,” he rose to prominence in the early 2000s. He had 27 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 and collaborated with Lady Gaga, Eminem, and Gwen Stefani, among others.

Although his career spans more than a decade, some of his earliest hits, with titles such as “Locked Up” and “Lonely,” have seen a resurgence in recent months, becoming anthems for hordes of masses locked up in their homes amidst the coronavirus pandemic. But recent events around the outbreak only sharpened his focus on the need for digital currencies, as millions were hunkered down, unable to use cash, and forced to shop for necessities online.

Singer Akon Starts a Cryptocurrency, Building crypto driven Senegal City

“It just goes to show the relevance of why digital currency is such a futuristic event, and how this is the future as we move forward,” said the artist, Aliaume Damala Badara Akon Thiam, whose full name is. “There’ll be digital currencies floating through the entire universe that will allow us to trade in a way we ‘re already used to — but now it’s going to be the norm.”

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Akon says he’s been a crypto fan for years (he invested in Bitcoin in 2014). He announced potential plans for Akon City in 2019 and finalized a land agreement with the Senegalese government earlier this year — though the government isn’t providing funding for the project nor does it have a stake in the coin, Karas said.

When it comes to Akoin, 10 percent of the total float will initially be issued through a public sale, which may change depending on demand. According to the white paper, another 10 percent will be held by company executives, consultants, and directors. Company representatives declined to disclose what percentage of the coin Akon will hold.

The three founders of the coin — Akon, Karas, and Lynn Liss, who also acts as a chief operating officer — undergo a six-month lock-up period and are released gradually afterward. “We build a large ecosystem,” Karas said by telephone. “We are in the long run in this.”

Digital currencies — of which, by some estimates, there are more than 5,000 — have been cited as a way of opening up financial systems and integrating a greater mass of users, particularly those who may not currently have access to banks. But there’s a debate about how best to do this: some have proposed digital tokens backed by central banks as a possible solution, while others argue for private-company involvement.

To be sure, the conversation is fraught and many prior undertakings have been called out for shortcomings and outright fraud. A lot is at stake, and the debate is likely to intensify as more institutions attempt to define their involvement. The Chinese government, for instance, already has a pilot program for an official digital version of its currency, while other governments have been loathed to relinquish the sovereignty of a national currency to the blockchain.

Akoin is designed to be a utility token (meaning one with a particular use), not an investment tool, Karas said. And Akon says he knows the turbulent past of crypto — and cautions against jumping blindly into investment. During the height of crypto-mania, thousands of tokens were in circulation — and many have since been weeded out.

“Not just move on the hype, whoever is interested,”

 

he said.

“Do your proper due diligence, understand who you’re getting into it with, know the market you want to invest in, and have an action plan as to what’s right for you.”

 

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