Akon & Kanye West to run in US elections 2024?
This week, the Inspire Middle East team takes you to meet entrepreneurs from the business and entertainment worlds, with RnB star Akon, also an accomplished business executive. In Tunisia, we show you the factory of the very first car manufacturer in the country.
The Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival welcomed thousands of participants for two days, including many regional founders of start-ups. The opportunity for business leaders and young entrepreneurs to share their skills and ideas, and even to raise funds.
According to Najla Al Midfa, the festival organizer and president of the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center, the 100 start-ups that have joined its structure in the past four years have received a total investment of nearly $ 50 million. Investments that increased by 30% this year, compared to 2018.
For the businesswoman, small and medium-sized enterprises are a pillar of the growth of the United Arab Emirates: “ SMEs are the backbone of our economy. Much of the non-oil GDP comes from SMEs , so they really do play an important role. However, I think that we have not yet reached our full potential in terms of entrepreneurship. Much remains to be done, ”said Najla Al Midfa.
Celebrities and business leaders were in Sharjah to offer advice to young entrepreneurs. Among them, Akon, the famous singer of RnB, interpreter of Lonely, Beautiful and Locked Up. In addition to having sold millions of albums around the world, the American singer of Senegalese origin is an accomplished businessman.
Its “Akon Lighting Africa” program provides green electricity to nearly 600 million people in Africa. And with his cryptocurrency “Akoin”, he hopes to offer new opportunities to young entrepreneurs on the continent. Thanks to his commercial ambitions and his musical successes, Akon was voted 5th most influential personality in Africa, by Forbes magazine.
He even has the ambition of one day running for president of the United States. We met him in Sharjah to find out more about his projects.
Akon, a singer with multiple hats
Rebecca McLaughlin-Eastham: Akon, welcome to Inspire Middle East. You were born and live in the United States. What do you think of the current political situation, in view of the elections next year?
Akon, singer and businessman: It’s really, really, really, scary … I always had the impression that, when it came to the American government, we had a consensus around which everyone aligned their objectives. There we are at a point where even politicians are skeptical about the way we govern, they feel uncomfortable. We just don’t feel safe.
You have publicly stated that you will not be running for president in 2020, but you have not ruled out 2024. So what would make you the right man for the job?
I think that if you are a candidate, you must serve the people, it is different from other work. I have experienced everything that an American citizen can experience. And as an entrepreneur, I understand growth, I know how to build a society, and I can say the same thing from a political point of view. I have advised presidents in 15 African countries, and I have met with political leaders around the world for all kinds of things. So I think when you go through all of these experiences, it’s a great place to start. Because I believe that you will never be a perfect leader until you are in a position where you are in control.
Let us return to your role of advising leaders in Africa. What advice do you give them? What topics are coming back?
Well in Africa, it is mainly youth, because 70% of the population is under 21 years old. They are therefore the future of Africa and I think that we must focus on this youth, create more opportunities, subsidize projects to promote entrepreneurship for these young people, who have great ideas and who need money to start. All of this will create a better economy for Africans in all of these countries. [Cryptocurrency] Akoin not only gives them the platform, but also the mechanisms to enable them to use the latest technology and obtain the transparency that is lacking in Africa, and which is at the root of all current corruption.
If we look at SMEs in Africa and the Middle East, do young entrepreneurs all face the same challenges? Is this a problem with funding at the start?
Yes, I think the main challenge for entrepreneurs is the launch. And I think a lot of companies that would be able to invest consider these young companies to be high risk. They have this “80-20” rule, where the majority of the money would be lost, and only 20% could pay off. This is unfortunately true, to a certain extent, because as a young company, we just have an idea and we hope that it will go somewhere. So you have to think strategically, to do something useful for society. I think if you do that, it will give you a better chance of starting a successful business, in a much faster way.
Let’s talk about music now, what do you think of the current state of hip-hop and RnB? You have said in the past that artists should not run after money and not after record contracts. Why ?
What I meant by that is: don’t focus too much on record companies or contracts, because it takes you too far from creation, and it’s important to improve. The major record labels are not going anywhere. They will always be there to pick you up when you become known. They are just waiting for the one who will rise above everyone else, so you have to focus on that. Once you get to this level, the offers will come and you can decide which direction to go.
Still on music, we have to talk about Kanye West, one of your contemporaries. If you run in the 2024 presidential election in the United States, he will be your potential competitor. Do you think it will be the Battle of the Titans or an easy victory?
(laughs) No, I don’t see it as a competition. I think it’s healthy for the United States, because if you think about it, before Obama, nobody thought he could be a candidate for president. And today there are people like me and Kanye who say, “You know what? I introduce myself ”. So it gives hope, ideas. And people also realize that there are things we can bring to our country that the average citizen cannot, thanks to our experience and our way of always moving forward. You never know, maybe we will get to the point where we will both be neck and neck. So, I would not hesitate to say: “Look man, if you win, I will be your running mate and if you lose, I will make you my running mate, because you are so popular”. If we are competing at the very end,
WallysCar, the leading Tunisian automaker
In Tunisia, two brothers, Omar and Zied Guiga, made the crazy bet of embarking on the automobile industry, although they have no experience in the field. In 2006, they created their company, Wallyscar, and produced the very first 100% Tunisian car.
A unique experience, but full of obstacles. “It was complicated to be honest, especially in a country where the automotive culture is not as strong as in Europe or America, says one of the co-founders, Omar Guiga. Our challenge was to convince Tunisians, but also Europeans, to trust a new Tunisian brand in the automotive industry ”.
Wallyscar produces only 350 cars a year, assembled by hand. Sales are divided between the European and Tunisian market. “_In the automotive industry, we always talk about mass production,” explains Zied Guiga, the second co-founder. Our cars are made by hand, which is no longer possible in industrialized countries, except for very expensive cars. We make cars for € 15,000, 100% handmade, so it’s really unique. ”
Last year, more than 98 million cars were produced worldwide, only 3% of them in the Middle East and North Africa. China and Europe currently dominate the market, and demand for electric vehicles increased by 63% in 2018 compared to 2017.
To survive, the two brothers must follow the trend, as Omar confirms: “I believe that the automotive industry and car manufacturers are moving more and more towards the electric. WallysCar does not want to lag behind, so we are developing a new car. ”
According to some experts, electric cars represent the most significant technological advance in the automotive industry in recent decades. The problem, however, is the autonomy of the batteries: an electric car travels on average only 200 km, and for long journeys, this can quickly become problematic.
For the moment, demand for electric cars comes mainly from the European market, but the Guiga brothers believe that gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles could be the solution in the region.