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African Blockchain Initiative Put Student Government Election on the Blockchain

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African Blockchain Initiative

While cryptocurrencies continue to face resistance from some African governments, the blockchain continues to be utilised in various ways with the latest one being in an election where the African Leadership Academy (ALA) ran its student government elections on the blockchain.

The move by the African Blockchain Initiative (ABI) was influenced by the need to revolutionise elections on the African continent. The African Blockchain Initiative is an educational initiative that aims to boost the understanding of blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies in the African continent through the services it offers.

The four founders acknowledged that the elections held this year at ALA were interesting based on the fact that they used the ABI voting system, which no one had access to – not even the founders – because of its decentralised nature.

Speaking about the decentralised network, ABI’s CEO, Cyril Michino said: “The internet is most centralised. That means all data goes down to a central point; if you’re on YouTube, all those videos are being managed by one central party. If you’re on Google or any social media platform, all that information and content you have access to is going to a central party. The problem with this is that power is being centralised to one party – it’s not just on the internet, it’s in banking, it’s everywhere.”

He went on to add that the blockchain is a technology that removes power from one centralised point and makes it accessible to everyone. “That’s why, when you talk about blockchain you talk about trust, transparency – because everyone gets access to everything – accountability and consensus; each and every person has a voice, and you get to have consensus on how to run things in a particular way.”

ABI’s Voting System

The Student Government elections at ALA gave the ABI team a perfect platform for the implementation of the blockchain, said Michino, who believed that one should “always leverage their sphere of influence”.

He went on to explain: “Cryptocurrencies are just a small part of the part to the whole blockchain puzzle piece. Blockchain can transform many things. Our big inspiration was to try to show that blockchain has other applications, other than just the bitware because that’s what most people know about it.”

Using their blockchain-based voting system allowed ABI to show how blockchain technology really works.

“We really wanted to find ways on how to implement Blockchain in the school, because a lot of people have challenged us, saying that ‘this technology may be promising and it looks cool – but how can we actually make sure it is implemented in the school, otherwise there is no impact?’,” explained Soufaih.

“We also used to think Blockchain is only used in big projects, and to actually use the technology, we have to think big,” he went on to explain. “But we really wanted to see how this technology works on a small scale, before going big. If you really want to convince your country to use Blockchain in elections, a simple proposal would be less likely to succeed because you don’t have any proof that this has worked, and no country will actually really trust the system if it has not been used before. So we thought of how we could simulate the experience within ALA, with the Student Government. And if it succeeds, it would have huge potential and we could probably convince schools and universities to implement it in their own student governments and, moving forward, to reach national elections.”

That is ABI’s main inspiration and motivation. The ABI team – with all except one member being Kenyan – used Kenya as a case example for the need to have a transparent and secure voting system in the African continent on the recent national elections that were held and marred with a lack of transparency and accountability which eventually led to their nullification.

Power to the People

“The biggest challenge for Africa is transparency. By using blockchain we want to give power to the people; to decentralise the power that the government can have, yet at the same time keeping it secure because everyone has access to the system, but no one has control. The ultimate dream is to see presidential elections on Blockchain – that’s where you have far higher impact and where there is far more at stake,” said Michino. “We were trying to see if this system could be modelled, starting on a compass, to start revolutionising elections on the continent.”

While the student government elections at ALA was small, it was definitely the right step towards achieving ABI’s goal of revolutionising elections in the African continent, said Soufaih.

“It played a role in lessening central power and reducing the role of the Electoral Student Council (ESC), who could oversee the process but not affect it in any way. So the impact is much less than, say, a president who is being privileged by an electoral body in a specific country, where it has much more impact on millions and millions of people. So in this simulation the impact may be limited, but it’s a very important first step for us.”

How it Works

Since there already existed a technological voting system in ALA, it made it easier for the ABI team as all they needed to improve on was the tech that was there. “The language we use is called Solidity.” explained Soufaih. “We wrote a smart Ccontract that takes into consideration many conditions and makes it possible for voters to actually vote – information is kept confidential, no central party has access.”

The elections started at 7 am and closed at 6 pm based on the fact that the system runs automatically. The results were then released immediately with everyone receiving them at the same time – from candidates to the ESC, ABI team and student community. Michino noted: “While voting is open, no one can tamper with the system. Using Blockchain, whenever someone votes, once that vote is in the system it can never be changed – no person in the middle can change it; nobody has power over anything.”

While the blockchain seems like a good solution to the transparency challenges in Africa’s election systems, there is a risk that the system can crash. To this, Michino answered: “Unlike central technology, where once you attack that server everything goes down, Blockchain saves information in every single ledger in the system.” He went on to explain, similar to bitcoin, downloading the application means that every single transaction has to be downloaded to your computer. As such, this makes it difficult to attack the system. However, if one system gets harmed, all the information is readily available on the other systems. “It’s also easy to know which one is corrupt and take it off the system – and It’s hard for anyone to crash a million systems at the same time,” added Michino.

For ABI, the next step is to take their voting system to institutions and schools across Africa. There have already been a number of schools that have shown interest in using their transformative system. Their end goal, however, is to have the system used across Africa for national elections.

“We know that not everyone has access to the internet, but they can have access to the Blockchain system at polling centers, where everyone can then cast their vote,” said Michino. “Whether this can be actualised within the next five or 10 years, remains to be seen, but it’s something we will definitely be pursuing in our Blockchain endeavours throughout our whole life.”

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Kenya’s Financial Institutions Want Blockchain-Based Financial Products Approved

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blockchain-based financial products

Dr. Patrick Njoroge, the Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) revealed that the central bank is receiving several applications from financial institutions in Kenya soliciting the approval and licensing of blockchain-based products and services.

His statement comes at a time when most financial institutions in the country are busy trying to find ways of addressing the disruption caused by blockchain technology. As it stands, both market regulators and key industry players in the financial sector are considering regulations and guidelines for the blockchain, virtual currencies, and online forex trading.

Speaking during a gathering of investment professionals, Dr. Njoroge said: “A number of banks are currently working on products (and services) hinged on blockchain technology and we think that they offer a lot of promise. We are not anti-innovation or anti-cryptocurrency. We support innovation but are concerned about the impact on financial instability and the inherent risks. CBK is working with central banks all over the world to identify the risks and find ways to mitigate them. The weakest link is where problems in our financial system will start.”

The blockchain was initially designed as an underlying technology for cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin but has over the years been utilised to help streamline the delivery of products and services in different sectors by governments and corporates.

Alternative Investment Schemes

The move by financial institutions in Kenya to solicit for the approval of blockchain comes two months after Joe Mucheru, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for ICT announced a blockchain taskforce that was formed to give recommendations on how the government can leverage the blockchain.

Dr. Njoroge went on to say that most online forex trading transactions tend to happen outside the central bank of Kenya’s jurisdiction. Last year saw Kenya’s Capital Markets Authority issue new regulations meant to curb risks that are linked to online forex and cryptocurrency trading. So far, there only exists one firm in the country that has an online foreign exchange license.

The National Treasury’s Director General, Public Investment and Portfolio Management, Esther Koimett, said there is a special interest by the national treasury on issues that affect the financial sector in Kenya and that alternative investment opportunities are progressively becoming crucial in resource mobilisation. She went on to add: “Last year the government launched the M-Akiba Bond as an alternative way for Kenyans to invest in Government Securities. Such alternatives need to be encouraged.”

A speech read on behalf of Bernard Ndung’u, the chairman of the Public Sector Accounting Board (PSAB) by Lazarus Kimang, stated: “Due to the ever-changing investment environment, there is a need to improve and continuously enhance the skills of financial analysts employed within government institutions. This will ensure that public sector entities are provided with sound advice on investment alternatives and strategies that derive them maximum returns.”

The PSAB chairman went on to share his concerns about other investment schemes that would make people vulnerable to fraud cases as well as the difficulty that financial market players would encounter in assessing different investment opportunities such as bitcoin.

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UNICEF Invests in Blockchain-based Early Child Development Startup Amply

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UNICEF Invests in Amply

The UNICEF Innovation Fund has announced its first investment into a South African startup called Amply, which leverages blockchain technology to better manage early childhood development services.

Founded on the IXO blockchain protocol, Amply is a UNICEF-backed application that is creating a universal shared ledger for impact data. Early child development (ECD) centers can record and validate pre-school attendance claims. The government of South Africa is then able to exchange these claims with subsidies, which create accountability and makes the funding process more transparent.

Based in Switzerland, the IXO blockchain is a project that is building the needed technology for the impact investment space. Its technology is meant to scale impact measurement as well as allow for the invention of digital assets known as Impact Tokens that are supported by verified impact data.

The Amply Platform

The Amply system enables every child to have a mobile digital identity that verifies their existence, records the history of their education and enables them to receive the benefits that they deserve. Known as the digital identity protocol, the system is already changing the way pre-school children are registered in South Africa.

AmplyThe system has been built in such a way that it stores the digital identity and personal details of each individual child privately allowing only for the child or their parent to have control. Since the pilot was launched in 2016, about 85 ECD centers have recorded over 61,000 digital attendance, especially in the Western Cape region. Pre-school teachers, through a verifiable claim format, are now able to collect data on attendance through the mobile application developed by Amply, as part of a pilot project. The verifiable claim format is a systematised template that allows for the exchange and use of information across datastores, which helps break down information silos between various stakeholders. The validated attendance claim is then tokenised as a digital asset that a given ECD center can exchange for subsidy grant funding from the government.

According to TechBullion, the digital data captured by Amply has metadata – location, date and time of collection – that has a mathematical proof marking that proves the claim comes from a given origin. This way, the data has a built-in error checking that makes it possible for an external authority to validate the entry without the need to know what is contained in the data. The mathematical proof tied to the metadata is free from any tampering.

In most ECD centers today, teachers are forced to use a paper-based system that cannot be verified. As such, the centers are forced to submit lengthy attendance reports whenever they need to claim subsidies for the services rendered to the Department of Social Development. The government is, therefore, forced to spend a massive amount of time in auditing the attendance reports which makes it a long and expensive process. Besides, stakeholders such as NGOs, ECD centers, the government and other institutions are unable to utilise the information available in the analog reports to come up with comprehensive analytics and program optimisations.

However, with the availability of the global data ledger by Amply, all stakeholders can now have access to crucial information such as where and how the services are being delivered which will help them to plan better and allocate resources. Besides, the data ledger has brought about increased trust in the funding ecosystem which has resulted in increased funding for needy children while saving the administration money and time.

While education is the main focus for Amply at the moment, there is excitement for potential applications that will tackle access to government subsidies, healthcare, food and other goods and services sector. Data collected via Amply has the potential to help improve the consistency and quality of services that South Africans receive. And for Amply, it is just the beginning as they are looking to expand to more schools in the country to help the more than 3.5 million children that are currently not receiving pre-school education.

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BlockCerts Targets Africa Through New Blockchain Strategic Alliance in Mauritius

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Blockcerts Blockchain Strategic Alliance Mauritius

BlockCerts has announced the formation of a Blockchain Strategic Alliance in Mauritius to target the African market.

BlockCerts, a private blockchain platform developed by Seattle-based Finaeos, will be promoting blockchain initiatives in Africa in partnership with Rogers Capital, the fintech arm of the Mauritius-based Rogers Group.

Timothy Vasko, founder and chief architect of BlockCerts, said in a press release: “This is an exciting step for BlockCerts. Through our operations in Mauritius and working with the team of Rogers Capital, we will be bringing new blockchain innovation and infrastructure functions, to generate new opportunities for growth, inclusion, and advantage to the African population businesses, and governments as blockchain evolves to serve the combined population 1.3 billion people.”

According to the World Bank, Mauritius is the easiest place to do business in Africa while the African Development Bank has rated the Island as the most competitive on the continent. The country is also aiming to become the new Singapore by becoming an investment and trade hub for global investors wishing to set up their operations in Africa.

Mauritius also showed its determination in becoming a trade hub when it joined 43 other African nations in signing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) signed in March 2018.

“We are excited to begin operations with Rogers Capital, as the market potential for building blockchain infrastructure is massive when considering the 2.5 billion people who are seeking new inclusion and opportunity in [the] supply chain, payments, and fintech, which can all be served on the BlockCerts blockchain,” Vasko stated.

Vasko also said BlockCerts’ sister companies have been incorporated and operating successfully in India as technology providers for five years. The company has now expanded to Africa where it will provide the continent with technology platforms from its operations in Mauritius.

“This area is committed to becoming a world force, improving the lives of millions, and enhancing trade and transparency through blockchain. We couldn’t [be] more excited to bring BlockCerts forward with our partners from Mauritius,” he added.

“We are very pleased to have the involvement of BlockCerts with Rogers Capital in bringing blockchain to our Corporate, Technology and Financial services – while we continue on the path to pursue new opportunities. […] Blockchain is the next big wave that will propel the world stage forward. We are committed at Rogers Capital, to be a leader at the head of the surf with BlockCerts to power our blockchain initiatives,” said Rogers Capital CEO Kabir Ruhee.

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