Senegal: Superstar Akon Gets Diplomatic Status

Diplomatic Status: Akon

Diplomatic Status: Akon

by Kemo Cham, AfricaNews reporter in Dakar, Senegal
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has a highly compelling ally in music superstar Akon in his unrelenting effort in pursuing another term as president, amid sustained bitterness against his bid.
With a level of popularity that rivals even that of the president himself, especially among the youth, Akon makes a formidable force in the efforts of the octogenarian Senegalese leader for a third term in the forthcoming presidential election.

The Senegalese government’s announcement, last Thursday, appointing the R&B superstar as Goodwill Ambassador, undoubtedly augmented this prospect. A statement released by the Ministry of Communication named Alioune Badara Thiam (Akon), alongside a number of other cabinet appointed figures, as ‘Goodwill Ambassador of the Republic of Senegal.’

Even though he has never made any direct reference to Wade’s divisive bid for re-election, Akon’s intimacy with the Senegalese leader could unmistakably be deemed as endorsement of everything he stands for politically.

AfricaNews reporter said coincidence or not, the two share one thing in common, an innate desire for a united Africa. President Wade has a multimillion dollar stature, albeit highly criticized for its professed wastefulness, to show for this. And as for Akon, the hit musical single, Mama Africa, speaks volumes.

“The more we realize what we can do together as a unit, the farther we will get as an African nation,” Akon, whose parents are Senegalese and spent a good part of his childhood between Dakar and the US, told a press conference last week, on arrival in the Senegalese capital to participate in the now concluded World Festival of Black Arts.

Segregation

“The one thing we always lack is unity,” he added, “we always stay segregated. Even though Africa is one of the biggest continents, we never stay together as a people.”

But Akon’s popularity in Senegal has done little to save him from the prying media and relentless critics of President Wade, over his relationship with the Senegalese leader. Even before his participation in the festival was confirmed, speculations abound about the financial burden of hosting him on the Senegalese tax payer.

Presidential: Akon

Presidential: Akon

He probably was sure to be asked this question the moment he stepped into the country. “The kind of money I am actually paid for a concert is nothing Senegal would really be able to afford. It’s about uplifting the people,” he said in response to a question about what he was given for his participation. According to Akon, he was giving the concert for free. He said the government had only paid the travel and hotel costs for him and his 32-member crew.

The rapper said if he wanted money he wouldn’t be in Dakar for the festival, hopefully laying to rest weeks of speculations in the Senegalese media that he’d demanded one billion CFA francs for his participation.

Akon’s presence attracts enormous excitement among Senegalese, often resulting in traffic jams, with fans of all ages and genders eager to shake hands with him or at least have a glimpse of him. His popularity was recently demonstrated as he arrived at a neighborhood of Dakar on a visit to a school being sponsored by his foundation.

Celebrity status

This was how one newspaper described it: “Men, women and youth of all ages were keen to shake hands with Akon, which was impossible with a cheering crowd that came over him,” wrote Webnews. According to the website, the star was only saved with the timely intervention of his security details. So much for being so famous!

Akon himself is well aware of his presidential celebrity status, something he said he profoundly treasures. “When I’m normally here, I travel at night because during the daytime, it is hard to get around when I am recognised because of the love people have for me which I appreciate more than anything,” he told AFP in an interview. “Normally when I’m here it’s a matter of coming home. This is something that we always make time for somehow,” he said.

Akon already has his imprint on the country’s economy, having heeded calls earlier by Karm Wade, son of the Senegalese president and de facto heir apparent, for Diasporan Senegalese to take advantage of investment opportunities offered by the government. He became one of the first foreign based Senegalese to buy a share in the newly established Senegal International Airlines. He is also deeply involved in charity works in the country. These, coupled with his worldwide fame, thanks to his musical prowess, positions him as an advantageous partner for attention seeking, something President Wade almost certainly intends to exploit.

“I ask you to support our president in his effort to develop the country,” Akon told a riveted crowd at his concert, in St Louis, over 300 km north of Dakar, where he did the memorable closing performance of the World Festival of Black Arts.

Source – Africa News

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