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Africa Blockchain Conference 2018 Highlights Opportunities and Use Cases for Blockchain in Africa

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Blockchain in Africa

On May 23 and 24, 2018, Uganda was host to the Africa Blockchain Conference. The event succeeded in bringing together a mix of blockchain entrepreneurs, policymakers, academics, cryptocurrency enthusiasts, and investors to discuss opportunities and use cases for the blockchain in Africa.

The event was held at the Kampala Serena Hotel Conference Centre and was organised by the Blockchain Association of Uganda in partnership with the Binance Foundation, Uganda‘s Ministry of ICT & National Guidance and CryptoSavannah.

The Potential for the Blockchain in Africa

Africa Blockchain ConferenceThe conference began on the morning of May 23 with a registration and networking session amidst tight security. Delegates were seated by 9am for a welcoming address from Kwame Rugunda, the Chairman of Blockchain Association of Uganda.

He proceeded to welcome the first keynote speaker Euvin Naidoo, the Head of Financial Institutions, Thomson Reuters. Naidoo‘s talk was focused on blockchain technology and the 4th Industrial Revolution disruption.

He defined blockchain technology as “trust that is distributed” and said that the blockchain is trying to solve the Byzantine’s generals problem. Naidoo explained that with distributed ledgers the issue of double counting was solved by algorithms and computing power. According to him, the rise of decentralised technologies would complement the use of firewalls since protection is in a distributed format.

Most importantly, Naidoo explained what IoT (Internet of Things) would mean for the future. “We are in a world of the Internet of decentralized autonomous things. The Internet of Things is growing exponentially and with that KYM (Know-Your-Machines) becomes more important to establish trust between machines,” he stated. He asserted with the advent of IoT, KYC (Know-Your-Customer) and KYM was important to scaling the Internet of Things.

In closing, he summarised that blockchain technology would usher in trust and make local systems more efficient. He added,

“In the old world, the big fish ate the small fish in the new world the fast fish will eat the slow fish […]. We are in the world of the agile thinker.”

The second keynote address was from Dr Bitange Ndemo, the Chairman of the Kenya Blockchain and AI Taskforce. Ndemo expounded on the role of blockchain technology in Africa’s transformation. He set the tone of the conference with the proclamation “Nobody can develop Africa but Africans.” A sentiment that was shared by other speakers and panelists. He explained that blockchain technology would streamline supply chains to reduce food waste in the continent, build a vibrant creative economy, create wealth, make governments more efficient and reduce corruption.

“Blockchain works well to eliminate the middlemen,” he asserted. Ndemo also mentioned that Kenyan authorities were working to build a trusted identity platform for government agencies to make it easy to identify and share information about citizens.

His speech gave way to a panel discussion on how blockchain is changing government and business in Africa. The two keynote speakers were included in the panel alongside Christoper Bates, CSO of BitLand, Louise Wigget, Executive Director at Global Trade Solutions, and Leonardo Gammar, CEO of Agora. The panel discussed the need for African solutions for African problems by drawing on blockchain use cases from their respective fields and industry.

According to Ndemo, blockchain technology could democratise government data and promote transparency thus leading to trust between governments and their people. Naidoo reiterated the same reminding the audience how the public lost faith in financial institutions after the 2008 economic crisis, but blockchain technology could change that by offering people more control over how their data is disseminated and used.

The Panel discussion was interrupted by the arrival of two distinguished guests: the President of Uganda, H.E President Yoweri K. Museveni and Ameena Gurib-Fakim, the former President of Mauritius. They were welcomed by the Chairman of the Blockchain Association of Uganda and the agenda shifted to opening ceremonies with Uganda‘s Minister of Communication, Frank Tumwebaze, making remarks before inviting Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile, the Governor of the Bank of Uganda onto the stage.

The Central Bank of Uganda Excerises Caution

With many in the audience eager to hear the central bank’s position on cryptocurrencies, the governor’s speech was a repetition of the negative stance taken by most regulators in Africa and across the globe. He lectured the audience on the basics of money and economics then went ahead to clarify the Bank’s position on cryptocurrencies stating: “Money is a medium of exchange, a measure of value, a store of value … it will be risky to invest in cryptocurrency that is unregulated and undermines the role of central banks.“ He insisted that cryptocurrencies to not have the privilege of a legal tender and anyone investing in them was doing so at their own risk.

His comments seemed to dampen the mood for delegates who were hoping for positive news from policymakers regarding the use of cryptocurrencies. However, the next keynote speaker Frank Tumwebaze, the Ugandan Minister of ICT, took a more reconciliatory tone and announced the setting up of an advisory task force to review the benefits of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. Tumwebaze reminded the policymakers that if they ignored technology, others would take it up and it would end up disrupting them.

“The task force will explore the advantages of (blockchain) technology as well as assess the challenges and advise the government on how to harness fully the opportunities, and how to mitigate the challenges….and you can be assured the view of the governor will be and must be represented on this task force,” he stated.

His speech was followed by a keynote address from former president Ameenah of Mauritius, who gave a useful case study of blockchain technology being used to identify and keep records of plant varieties.

Uganda‘s President Endorses the Blockchain

Finally, President Museveni took to the podium and gave a differing opinion to that of his Central Bank Governor. He dismissed the governor’s old school of thought as irrelevant in this day and age but instead encouraged him to be “inquisitive and not be dogmatic.”

MuseveniHis positive sentiments were well received by the audience and would become the greatest highlight of the conference. Museveni proceeded to explain the development of money from its rudimentary form thousands of years ago to the present fiduciary system controlled by central banks. He likened blockchain technology to the cooperative movement, where people work together for a common goal and anyone who breaches the group’s trust is expelled.

He gave an example of how the cooperative movement in Uganda failed because the few who had the knowledge took advantage of the many who were illiterate. However, with the blockchain, all participants in the movement would be equally knowledgeable and thus have a stake in the platform. While he acknowledged the Governor’s cautionary approach to digital currencies and admitted the need for further discourse. He believes the convergence of blockchain technology in areas such as food production, manufacturing, service industry, etc. would be useful.

“Blockchain technology will go a long way in providing important solutions to record management in areas of land, finances, revenue, health and public,” President Museveni stated.

He believed Africa was ready for the digital age. With those few remarks, the president officially opened the conference amidst applause from delegates.

African Blockchain Use Cases

The afternoon programme had presentations on use case demos from InfiniChains and Blockchain Technologies Africa on their track and trace solution to prevent counterfeit drugs in Uganda. Another interesting use case was from Bitland, who are using blockchain for land titles registry in Ghana and Mauritius and looking to enter the Ugandan Market. Bitland CSO, Christopher Bates stated, “Bitland is a land registry application on blockchain that maintains immutable decentralised and distributed land records.”

There was also a keynote address from Urs Arbischer, Swiss Impulse, focused on the opportunity for Africa on the global economy. He stressed that for blockchain projects to succeed in Africa they would have to find sustainable ways of funding. Ultimately, Arbischer believed that education would also play a crucial role if the blockchain revolution is to succeed in the continent.

“In order to make Africa successful, we need to create a mentoring and coaching infrastructure for the next wave of entrepreneurs.”

The day came to a close with breakout sessions involving speakers and panelists discussing various topics and networking amongst themselves. There was also a pitch competition organised by Binance Foundation and CryptoSavannah and moderated by Aggie Konde, CEO of Msingi.

Kwame Rugunda, the Chairman of the Blockchain Association of Uganda, shared his thoughts on the conference at a press briefing:

“I would like to encourage us to take keen interest and learn as much as possible (from international experts) even when they are no longer here we can continue to share the knowledge with others, on top of sharing it, we can apply it because blockchain has numerous applications.”

Blockchain Regulations and Crafting Policy

Day two of the conference had a number of notable keynote speeches and panel discussions centered around blockchain regulations and how the technology is being applied on the continent.

Llew ClaasenAmong them was a keynote address from Llew Claasen, Executive Director of the Bitcoin Foundation, which was focused on demystifying blockchain, bitcoin, and cryptocurrency. He admitted while cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology had many beneficial uses the reality was with any emerging technology they would always be potential for misuse. He gave an example of regulators in the US who are clamping down on cryptocurrencies and ICOs on the basis of the potential dangers and ignoring the achievements so far.

“What we are fighting for all the time is to say to regulators around the world, just wait! Just be patient we don’t even know what this stuff is ourselves,” he stated.

“Half the world population cannot be served by the current financial system. Blockchain gives us more option” he added. His sentiments were echoed by Alexia Hefti, Blockchain Tax Lead, Deloitte Canada who gave a talk on setting up the right regulation for a successful blockchain ecosystem.

She was of the opinion that we need legal frameworks that promote cryptocurrency and blockchain innovation but allow protection of consumers. Hefti gave examples drawing from her experience in the cryptocurrency space as a tax and regulation expert of countries that have come up with ways to govern digital currencies, ICOs and blockchain development without slowing down their progress. She stressed how regulatory sandboxes have been useful in a number of countries in helping regulators map out legal frameworks for blockchain technology.

Alexia Hefti

The discussion moved to a panel on regulation, tax, and policy that included a number of experts in the financial, legal and blockchain space.

Roland Haggins, Director, CARICOM, Barbados said: “Some regulators are taking a wait and see approach to not doing anything, that creates regulatory uncertainty, which is not necessarily good for these companies, businesses, and foundations. But some jurisdictions….have taken the lead by being agile and very vocal, they want to attract these businesses to their jurisdictions and as a result, they are receiving foreign investment and providing jobs.” he asserted.

In her contribution to the panel, Hefti also stated: “I think what is important from a Ugandan perspective when it comes to regulation…which area are we going to regulate? Trying to regulate every area makes no sense, are we going to be the country for crypto exchanges, are we going to be the country where ICO’s will occur in Africa, are we going to be the country for funds, where are we going to focus?”

Ultimately, the panelists agreed that self-regulation would be a first step towards allowing the markets to mature before establishing more structured legal frameworks.

Pitch Competition and Guest Speaker

Pitch CompetitionAs the conference drew to a close the winners of the pitch competition where announced by representatives from CryptoSavannah and Binance. The winner of the competition was Hilina Damte of G&H blockchain who walked away with a $5,000 cash prize. This was followed by a highly anticipated speech from Changpeng Zhao, Founder, and CEO of Binance, a leading cryptocurrency exchange worldwide and official sponsor of the event.

His talk was focused on what blockchain and cryptocurrencies can do for developing nations. He gave an example of how the sponsorship payment for the conference was done in cryptocurrency and transferred across a blockchain and received in good time by the organisers and at low cost. He joked if the same payment was made using banks perhaps the funds would not have arrived by the start of the conference.

Zhao took the audience through the Binance crypto exchange and some of its new initiatives that are being rolled out. He voiced his support for ICOs as means for raising funds for local startups and promoting technological development in Africa. He encouraged regulators in the continent to come up with favourable rules to promote this alternative means of funding citing countries where proper legal frameworks were drawing startup projects from around the globe to those locations.

Binance in UgandaOn what Binance’s aims to achieve in the long run, Zhao said:

“We believe that giving people access to cryptocurrency increases every individual’s freedom.”

With those remarks, he invited questions from the audience and later from the press in attendance. The conference closed with speeches from Mr Patrick Mweheire, CEO Stanbic Bank and Chairman of the Uganda Bankers Association and Hon. Frank Tumwebaze, Minister of ICT.

If you want to listen to any of the event‘s key speeches, you can relive the livestream here.

Blockchain Technology

BanQu is Leveraging the Blockchain to Give Refugees a Digital Identity

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BanQu

BanQu, a software company focused on eradicating global poverty, is leveraging blockchain technology to provide refugees with a digital identity so that they can continue to take part in society.

Linking Refugees to the Global Economy Using Blockchain Technology

Refugees and displaced persons can continue to live their lives independently thanks to the BanQu blockchain-based solution, which allows them to store their information on a distributed ledger. That means that with their information digitally stored and accessible from anywhere, they can look for jobs, apply for loans, and run their own businesses, thereby, contributing to the host country’s economy.

Hamse Warfa got the idea for this solution after experiencing the refugee life in the Daadab Refugee Camp in Kenya. After escaping Somalia with his parents during the civil war at the age of twelve, Warfa knows how it feels like to have one’s life turned upside down so suddenly, Fair Planet reported.  His parents, once thriving business people, were now dependent on charity.

“I want all refugees to be able to build transaction-based economic identities that allow them to thrive, including getting loans, and accessing credit for things like businesses and eventually homes. BanQu is for the world’s poor, refugees, and stateless people so they can live their lives like the rest of us,” Warfa stated in an interview.

How it Works

BanquTo use the BanQu blockchain solution, a user creates a digital profile via a mobile phone where they enter their information. A third party, who must also be verified, verifies this information, which is then stored on the blockchain. A user can access his or her information at any time.

Users can also store their financial transactions, health records, education records, and credit histories on the BanQu app, thereby, enabling them to participate in the global economy.

Furthermore, the BanQu blockchain solution also benefits organisations and governments that interact with refugees. For instance, the BanQu platform allows governments to track aid resources that have been disbursed to the target population.

More than 25,000 people across four continents are using the BanQu solution and the company is striving to reach more than 100 million underprivileged people by 2028.

Dr Riby Okoth, a lecturer at the School of Security, Diplomacy, and Peace Studies at Kenyatta University in Kenya, said: “Having the refugees, for example, use their digital footprint to access financial services or job opportunities as the rest of the population not only reduces the culture of dependency but also opens up the global economy to more participants who are growing it rather than depending on it.”

According to the UNHCR, there are about 68.5 million people displaced from their homes and among them about 25.4 million refugees and approximately ten million stateless people.

With BanQu’s blockchain solution, these people could have the chance to live normal lives where they can access education, healthcare, loans, and employment.

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Vodafone Ghana Introduces Blockchain Programme for Technology Students

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Vodafone Ghana

Vodafone Ghana in collaboration with IBM, HackLab Foundation, and Stanbic Bank has introduced a blockchain technology programme for technology students at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). The aim of the programme is to promote digital innovation in Ghana.

The Hacklab Foundation Hackathon

The blockchain programme took place at Hacklab Foundation’s hackathon held on April 19, 2019, at KNUST. The programme was based on the theme: “Can blockchain technology transform the services sector?”

Hacklab Foundation is a non-profit organisation based in Ghana that instills skills in the youth in preparation for the job market while connecting them to potential employers.

Vodafone GhanaAs GhanaWeb reported, the hackathon attracted 600 developers from more than 18 institutions across Ghana with the purpose of finding blockchain-based solutions for the country’s market and for the entire continent. Vodafone Ghana will help the developers that had the best solutions from the hackathon to execute their ideas.

“Our status as a leading telecom company in Ghana means we have the power to drive change in our society and this is one of the many avenues we are deploying to accelerate Ghana’s digital journey,” said Vodafone Ghana’s Enterprise Business Director Angela Mensah-Poku.

According to a statement from Vodafone Ghana, the blockchain technology programme will revolutionise how student developers think.

“Blockchain technology is a very fascinating concept which has captured the attention of the world and this hackathon is a demonstration of our commitment to lead a digital revolution in Ghana. We are always excited about the opportunity to unearth young talents in the digital technology sector,” Angela added.

Promoting the Digital Revolution in Ghana

Vodafone Ghana has been promoting the digital revolution in Ghana for more than three years, the telco company said in the statement. This has been done through the implementation of a digital strategy that is all-inclusive. Vodafone implements its strategy through annual hackathons, national digital coding, and the youth skills and jobs portal.

Vodafone Ghana was recognised as a digital leader at the Ghana Business Awards in 2018.

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Mauritius-based Horizon Africa Launches Blockchain Education Platform for Africans

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Horizon Africa

Mauritius-based technology firm Horizon Africa has launched a new platform aimed at educating Africans about blockchain technology and encouraging startups, corporations and public sector institutions to utilise it.

An Ethereum-based Network for Africa

Horizon AfricaHorizon Africa is an Ethereum-based blockchain platform that offers blockchain solutions and facilitates DApp development. The Horizon Africa Blockchain Network (HABN) aims to apply blockchain to a number of industries including fintech, digital healthcare, education, governance and more.

According to the company’s co-founder, Suyash Sumaroo,

“Even though the public Ethereum (blockchain) has been available for years, the blockchain landscape in African countries has not developed much. There is a gap which is being filled by Horizon Africa. Its focus is not about creating a network or increasing the value of its token, but instead to allow people to learn about using the network. Building prototypes and ultimately real solutions is a large part of the mission,” he stated in an ITWeb Africa interview.

To make this dream a reality, Horizon Africa aims to involve African developers in the creation of blockchain solutions. The HABN network will provide a ‘test bed’ for local developers to design and deploy DApps that solve specific challenges in areas such as identity management, land registry, supply chains, gaming, and agriculture.

Sumaroo believes the uptake of blockchain-based products in Africa will increase within five years. He argues that Horizon Africa’s platform will play an important role in enabling African companies, startups and governments to learn about the technology, develop an implement blockchain systems.

Investing in Jobs of the Future

The platform launch comes after comments shared by the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina, at the 2019 Mo Ibrahim Governance Week, where he urged African governments to move away from “investing in the jobs of the past, but rather in the jobs of the future.”

He stated that Africa should position itself to maximise on the opportunities brought by digital technologies such as blockchain, AI, big data analytics, and 3D printing. Sumaroo mirrors the same belief and reiterates that blockchain technology will play a critical role in industries such as finance, agriculture and the public sector in the future of Africa.

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