American singer Alioune Badara Thiam aka Akon has triggered a lot of controversy, if not anger, following reports that his dream to build a futuristic city, had earned him an unbelievable offer of one square mile of land.
Akon’s visit to Uganda along with his wife Rosina Negusei , reportedly at the invitation of the first family, has dominated the social media discourse due to the generous offer.
The State Minister for housing Dr. Chris Baryomunsi, confirmed that the government was keen to support Akon’s dream of establishing a futuristic city similar to what he plans to build in his second home Senegal.
For his project, Baryomunsi said the government would set aside one square mile to facilitate realization of his dream.
But the plan has attracted a lot of anger among some Ugandan elites on social media l, with many calling it a scam, a form of land grab, money laundering scheme, etcetera.
The greatest source of opposition arose from the fact that the singer has so far failed to start building a similar US$6 billion city back home in Senegal which he launched three years ago.
The greatest source of frustration was directed mostly to the government officials for being soft on foreigners and ruthless to their own.
Some argued that millions of Ugandans remain landless, while foreigners are given a free ride with such generous offers as free land, tax holidays and government-backed loans.
Mutabazi Sam Stewart, an Urban and Transportation planner, posted on his Facebook page:
“Senegal is poorer than Uganda statistically. Senegal’s GDP is US$23Billion Dollars compared to Uganda’s 35Billion. Akon claims he will build a 6 Billion city in Uganda! He promised to build a 6Billion dollar city in Senegal four years ago. Before he lays a foundation stone for the same, he came to Uganda with a similar proposal.
He adds: “Unless Akon wants to tell us that he is richer than his country, which he is not of course, it’s impossible to build two cities worth half the wealth of his country. Possibly the only thing government of Uganda didn’t get from him quite clearly was that he will introduce his own currency “Acoin” to be used in the two cities. Unfortunately, no country will accept his bogus money while purchasing materials during construction. The whole Akon city concept is dead at conceptual level.”
Veteran journalist Joachim Buwembo likened the plan to a con deal when he posted saying: “I wanna do a kon deal: am looking for a country of gullible Africans to sell them a dream. Any suggestions? Will pay 10% commission.”
Buwembo added: “I’d give the sq mile to University Architecture finalists to do a model city, not to a foreign singer. But I am not the Housing Minister.”
Daily Monitor’s Managing Editor Daniel Kalinaki took his gloves off when he slammed Ugandan leaders for cozying up with ‘a con’ and continuing to disregard the due process.
Another source of skepticism came from another veteran journalist and social commentator Charles Onyango Obo who wrote that: “Akon hasn’t even built his first “futuristic” city in Senegal yet, but Uganda is giving him land for a second (to be built in 2036).”
In his Thursday column in the Daily Monitor, Kalinaki said: “We cannot expect the head of state to quickly navigate intricacies of oil and gas deals with large multinationala and do so effectively, while also deciding who gets a market stall here, a pick up there and so on. As a result chances and opportunities are allocated in a lottery of access.”
Kalinaki, like many others are bothered by the lack of institutional mechanisms to evaluate such proposals and determine value for money.
He says: “It’s not that Mr. Akon can’t build a city somewhere in Uganda, it’s that such a city if necessary has better chances of being built, if there is an open process to clarify thinking and financing.”
One female writer with experience in covering similar land offers in others countries slammed that the deal smirked of violence of the rich against the poor.
Rosebell Kagumire said: “There’s no free land on this continent! Development that is just about dumping extra wealth of the rich without people’s rights and interests is not what Africa needs. Goddess knows this has been the story of our lands since colonialism!
She added: “#BlackCapitalismIsViolence and always has thrived in tandem with other oppressions. Women on this continent have barely secured their land rights even with all progress in laws. Capitalist expansion hurts these efforts to alleviate us from this imperialism induced poverty!”
There have been only a few and quieter supporters of the deal.
Makerere University Business School (MUBS) celebrated economist Ramathan Ggoobi says there is no need to run mad over an immovable asset like land.
He says: “If he doesn’t build the city, our land remains.
He adds: “We need to accept that some new ideas come from very unexpected sauces. If we reject his idea and he takes it to another country and it succeeds, you will hear the same people crying foul, again blaming the leaders for being hostile to investors.”