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Blockchain Technology Discussed at UN Conference in Ethiopia

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Blockchain technology was a key topic of discussion at the UN conference held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from the 21st to the 24th of November. The just-concluded four-day conference saw experts discuss the use of blockchain technology in Africa.

The conference was held to review a new Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) with the main aim of the report being to explore the opportunities that the blockchain technology presented to the African continent.

Blockchain technology is an innovative open-source distributed ledger technology that records, stores and transfers data across a distributed network of computers. It was initially invented for the digital currency, bitcoin, but experts have over the years found other applications for the blockchain.

Issues Affecting Adoption of Blockchain Technology In Africa

Speaking to an Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) on the theme “Exploring opportunities for Blockchain technology in Africa”, Chief of the New Technologies and Innovation Section (NTIS) in the ECA’s Special Initiatives Division (SID), Kasirim Nwuke, stated that there was a lot of publicity around the blockchain technology even though little is known about it.

“Like every new technology, blockchain faces many barriers which must be understood and overcome in order for Africa to take full advantage of it,” he stated.

Mr. Nwuke went on to say Africa lacks sizeable infrastructure, developed financial institutions, strong political stability and lots of capital that can facilitate instant adoption and distribution of technologies. He added that technical constraints were a hindrance to the prevalent adoption of the blockchain technology in Africa.

Such constraints included scalability and speed of transaction of the distributed ledger systems, compatibility of various ledgers, the flexibility of the system against possible cyber attacks and network security, cultural barriers as well as regulatory frameworks.

Incorporation of Blockchain Technology

“It is with the above in view that we commissioned the report which we are presenting to you today, as experts in the field, to review and advice. Our aim in the report is to explore the opportunities and challenges that blockchain technology presents in the context of skills and resource limitations as is the case in most African countries,” added Mr. Nwuke.

“We hope that this report will contribute to ongoing efforts on our continent to understand blockchain technologies, to harness it and to fashion adequate responses to it. We hope that the report will help governments and firms to begin to identify where to begin to build blockchain capacities or capabilities, to ensure that higher education and skills training institutions begin to offer programmes that incorporate this new technology, to ensure that employees, regulators, and citizens understand not just the possibilities of blockchain technologies but also the risks.”

According to Mr. Nwuke, there was and continues to be an increased use and development of the blockchain technology by Africans with Tunisia being the first African nation to place its fiat currency on a blockchain.

Andrew Rugege, the Africa Director for International Telecommunication Union (ITU), remarked on blockchain being a disruptive technology that although still in its development stages, has been proven to work hence a key reason why Africa cannot afford to ignore it.

“It is one instrument that Africa can use not only for financial digital inclusion but to accelerate to attainment of all SDGs. As the Specialized Agency for ICTs and telecommunication, ITU stands with Africa in this endeavor,” stated Mr. Rugege.

He said how important it is for people to trust the blockchain technology if ICTs are to become enablers in the execution of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Mr. Rugege went on to say blockchain has the capability of securing the trusted use of ICTs in a broad range of domains.

Bitcoin Empowerment in Developing Countries

Speaking at the end of the four-day conference, Mr. Nwuke said,

“We have learned that BC is an emerging technology with a breakthrough potential. We have learned harnessing this technology will require huge investments and that careful evaluation by member States and firms is needed not only to determine the suitability of the technology to help mitigate identified needs but also return on investment.”

The discussion also revolved around bitcoin and how its use can empower people living in developing nations. Bitcoin use was discussed as an avenue of facilitating low-cost remittances and its use as a liaison between other dominant currencies.

“We acknowledged that the technological environment for blockchain adoption in Africa remains challenging. Implementing blockchain requires a change in the record systems of transacting parties to evolve a common data structure,” Mr. Nwuke said.

“Put differently, blockchain solutions require significant changes to existing systems. This is an effort that is not only technically demand but also complicated and expensive. Further, we have to replace our current ways, notably, Near Field Communications, of linking physical products with digitization.”

In addition, participants agreed on the fact that blockchain implementation in certain areas is highly possible with supporting regulation and legislation. These include legal contracts, property records, elimination of financial institutions and mobile bitcoin.

As the ECA continues to work on the final report that will help guide African policymakers in this critical area, its acceptance will not only strengthen the use of blockchain technology in African nations but will also help in the widespread adoption of digital currencies such as bitcoin in Africa.

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While Bitcoin Faces Resistance, Blockchain Adoption Soars in Kenya

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While the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) continues to hamper the adoption of bitcoin, blockchain technology is increasingly gaining traction in both the public and private sectors in Kenya ranging from the transport, security, and health sector to the insurance industry.

The blockchain is a digital ledger that allows for the incorruptible exchange of data without the need for a middleman. Although the blockchain technology was originally created for bitcoin, the world’s first digital currency, the technology is now finding more uses from the tech community.

Blockchain technology has also allowed for the creation of other digital currencies such as the recently launched bitcoin cash but can also be used for much wider applications than purely financial transactions.

Kenyan Industries Are Being Revolutionised By Blockchain Technology

The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) disclosed that in a month’s time it will be mandatory for Kenyan motorists to have electronic stickers for their motor vehicles. The electronic motor identification service will ensure that all drivers have the stickers on the windscreens of their cars and will be detected by use of special gadgets. This move will help in the recovery of stolen motor vehicles and rid the Kenyan roads of old cars.

The said e-service from NTSA will operate on a shared blockchain platform that will link key state agencies like the Kenya Police and the Kenya Revenue Authority. This will allow for the sharing of critical information thus alerting officers about a vehicle’s ownership, inspection, and insurance status.

The Health and Security Sectors

Kenya’s health sector is making use of the technology that will see the installation of a smart platform that will enable all the 98 public hospitals to monitor important patient data such as a patient’s health history as well as for the use of public health and hospital management.

The programme that is being streamlined by Kenya’s Seven Seas Technology in collaboration with Japan’s Toyota Shusho will eradicate the manual re-write of patients’ health history that has always been the norm in Kenyan hospitals.

Furthermore, the blockchain-driven platform will drive the creation of a professional hub for the medical practitioners. The online shared hub will serve the purpose of information sharing that will allow for nurses in remote health locations to get advice on treatment procedures from doctors based in different areas.

Specialised treatment services will undergo a complete revamp as X-rays and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) diagnostics will be performed centrally. This will help cut costs for various hospitals and health institutions as specialised doctors in certain medical fields will be able to remotely diagnose and treat different ailments using the imaging results sent to them.

The platform, built on the blockchain technology, will also allow for the scrutiny of diagnostic notes made by doctors. In return, this will help diminish the number of wrong diagnoses made.

In the security sector, the government – through the Ministry of Interior & Coordination of National Government – is working to link the database of the National Registration of Persons Bureau with that of the manned Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) Cameras by the Kenya Police that are installed in both Nairobi and Mombasa to allow for immediate face recognition using the blockchain technology.

The Insurance Sector

America Insurance Group (AIG) partnered with banking group Standard Chartered to run a pilot using blockchain technology where it ran cover offers for their policy holders across America, Kenya, and Singapore. The pilot saw the two companies attend and process real-time payments for their clients on a unified platform that linked their agents and financial institutions.

Payments were made on time and policy renewals happened automatically once premium payments had been received. The two companies stated that the use of the blockchain technology to process payments would eradicate the need for physical company set ups in the said regions thus helping cut on expenditure.

BitPesa, Kenya’s first blockchain technology startup, which to date has raised more than $10 million USD to allow for its expansion to other markets, stated that use of digital currencies in transactions was more favoured by large companies with local subsidiaries as it saves them the hefty and costly transfer fees incurred when making international payments through the local Kenyan banks.

Resistance from the Financial Industry and the Central Bank

Although the technology is getting recognition and its use is being utilised in various sectors, the financial industry in Kenya continues to resist its adoption citing fear of criminal related activities as the reason.

The CBK’s governor, Patrick Njoroge, has been on record issuing a warning in the use and adoption of the digital currency saying that bitcoins operations are done on decentralised systems that could make Kenyans an easy target for online fraudsters.

Ally-Khan Satchu, a financial markets consultant, in an interview with Daily Nation, however, suggested that the Kenyan government review its stand on bitcoin and the use of the blockchain technology as it can no longer be disregarded as a mode of transaction.

Satchu stated: “Essentially blockchain platform payments and crypto currencies are being mainstreamed and that is why we have been seeing the material share price appreciation of leading blockchain platform provider bitcoin.”

As the head of Rich Management Services, Mr. Satchu stated that Kenyans need to be made aware on the functionalities and modalities of digital currencies so that they can take part in investment opportunities that blockchain technologies provide.

He added, “The Kenyan investor has certainly internalised the cryptocurrency universe. I think we need to review our regulatory stance and seek a way to carve out ahead of the curve position commensurate with our mobile money leadership.”

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