Nearly two weeks after its end, the United Nations Climate Change Conference continues to make headlines around the world. Governments, politicians and environmentalists alike are praising the summit for its momentous agreement reached by 196 countries worldwide. Although it is just a first step, the agreement is a firm move towards managing greenhouse emissions and curving global warming.

Though at a different venue, in the same city and at the same time, another conference took place. Speaking to policy makers and CEOs of various energy companies, one man took the stage to speak about the importance of renewable energy. Though he wasn’t a politician or environmentalist, he knew a few things about the subject- after all, he is the man attempting to bring solar electricity to 600 million people in Africa.

Anon Lighting Africa co-founders, from left to right:  Thione Niang, Akon, Samba Battily.
Anon Lighting Africa co-founders, from left to right: Thione Niang, Akon, Samba Battily.

“Renewable energy is in the same position now competing with the traditional way of energy,” Akon told the conference. “Ultimately, we really have to pay attention how the world is moving forward and if we don’t pay attention, of course the people in the renewable energy space will eventually override the people with the traditional energy resources.”

The Senegali-American singer is the face and co-founder of Akon Lighting Africa, a grassroots initiative that aims to provide electricity to 600 million people in Africa. Only 30 per cent of the continent’s population has access to the energy source. While some countries such as Liberia have limited access to electricity, in other countries such as Senegal, the resource is inequality distributed with rural communities virtually left in the dark.

According to the project’s website, over 3.5 million people die each year from harmful pollutants and fires in the home caused by toxic solid fuels.

In Africa, energy is crucial and many believe the resource to be key to the continent’s future development. According to the organization, with increased access to electricity individual countries’ infrastructures, job markets and health care systems can improve. In its commitment to make Africa the world’s major investment hub in the 21st century, Akon Lighting Africa prioritizes providing clean, affordable and endless energy to those in countries’ most rural and remote areas.

Given the organization’s significant undertaking and rapid progress, Akon Lighting Africa has received little praise. Since its creation in 2014, the project has reached an estimated 1 million Africans through the implementation of a “wide range of quality solar solutions” which include street lamps and individual solar light kits. Yet in light of these achievements, in the discussion of climate change and renewable energy, the media has largely forgotten Akon and his initiative.

Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change was that it included both developed and non-developed countries- even those that depend on revenue from oil and gas production, such as Nigeria. This element of inclusivity has been hailed by publications worldwide.

It was the perfect moment to discuss Akon Lighting Africa and the media failed.  

For the sake of clarity, it should be noted that it is not all media outlets that have failed in this recognition. Rather, it is predominantly Western media that has ignored these significant developments. In November, Time opened its polls for readers to vote for the magazine’s Person of the Year. An annual issue that highlights individuals who have influenced the news or the world throughout the year, previous winners include Adolf Hilter and Mahatma Gandhi. This year’s nominations included singer Taylor Swift (praised for influencing changes to Apple’s streaming service) and Caitlyn Jenner (nominated for her bravery in coming out as transgender).

Akon was not mentioned.

In light of this lack of global acknowledgement, Akon is committed to bringing change and improvement to his native home. Akon Lighting Africa plans to expand its resources in the coming year. Partnering with U.S. universities, German researchers, Chinese equipment providers and NGOs, the organization is set to develop solar-powered “mini grids” in 2016. Additionally, the project plans to train and employ the continent’s young people to learn to install and maintain solar systems.

“Power to empower people, that is our objective,” says Akon.

It’s clear the singer is committed to the cause, not for the recognition but for the region. This is perhaps for the best, as it’s unlikely the media will be acknowledging Akon Lighting Africa anytime soon.

But that’s just According to Adrienne.

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