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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

Blockchain Becomes Discussion Point on Nigeria’s 2019 Political Agency

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Blockchain Becomes Discussion Point

Nigeria’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential aspirant, Atiku Abubakar, has announced his intentions to develop a blockchain and cryptocurrency policy in an attempt to boost the country’s international competitiveness in this new technological field.

Presidential Candidate Wants Blockchain Policies for Nigeria

buy bitcoin in nigeriaAtiku Abubakar’s highly optimistic manifesto, Let’s Get Nigeria Working Again, stated his desire to build “a knowledge-based economy in which a highly developed ICT sector, with wide applications in commerce, education, health and other areas of human endeavour, plays a significant role.” One of the areas he thinks will play a vital role in achieving his plans is the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry as he outlined in his 2019 policy document.

If elected, he wants to create “a comprehensive policy on blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies by the relevant government agencies.” However, the document does not provide any clue as to what the policy will contain except that he believes regulating cryptocurrencies can offer job opportunities for the Nigerian people and income for his government.

“According to the policy plan he laid out, a planned blockchain and cryptocurrency framework would be looked into by the administration. To what end? We can’t say for now…but the blockchain community believes it’s a step in the right direction. We have been broadly unregulated in the space in Nigeria,” Munachi Ogueke, co-founder of Nigerian start-up Cryset, told ITWebAfrica.

Ndubuisi Ekekwe, a prominent Nigerian professor and technologist, had also made a case for a cohesive roadmap for the blockchain. He explained that Nigeria could deploy the distributed ledger technology for the development of the nation. “It would be locally-flavoured focusing on areas where these technologies could help the nation,” he explained.

Many other African countries, like Kenya and Rwanda, have developed something close to a roadmap. Earlier in the year, the Kenyan government constituted an 11-member task force to explore the use of distributed ledger technology and artificial intelligence. The 11-member task force developed a roadmap and proposed creating a digital asset registry and a digital currency for the country.

Drop in Trading Volumes Should Not Deter Policymakers From Embracing the Blockchain

Cryptocurrency trading, which became significantly popular in Nigeria in 2017, has begun to lose its steam moving alongside the drop in the price of bitcoin. Leadership.ng reported that local trading volumes dipped to N1.08 billion in the second week of November. That is the lowest volume since September 2017.

Though prices of cryptocurrencies and trading volume have gone into a free fall, that should not deter the Nigerian government from embracing digital currencies and their underlying technology. Governments all over the world are still exploring the use of blockchain in specific industries and have started to develop regulations that encourage innovative solutions and can help guide the development of this nascent industry.

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5 Ways Blockchain Will Transform the Gaming Industry

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blockchain gaming industry

In the last decade, we have seen the gaming industry being rapidly transformed by the introduction of new technologies which allow for immersive experiences, such as AI, VR, and AR. However, one of the latest of these emerging technologies — blockchain — is set to redefine the future of gaming by turning what has been seen as a leisure activity into a potential economic endeavour.

In this respect, blockchain looks set to disrupt the gaming industry, and enable a new way for players and developers to interact with gaming platforms. With nearly 70% of the American population playing video games, and with the gaming market forecasted to be worth more than $138 billion by the end of the year, how is blockchain set to transform the gaming industry?

1. Gamers will have full control of their virtual assets

Due to the risk of assets being duplicated, gaming companies often store in-game assets on centralised servers. However, this means that gamers don’t actually own their purchased virtual assets, and don’t have the capacity to buy, sell, or trade assets outside of the game. Currently, if a gamer wants to trade or sell virtual assets, they would have to do it through non-traditional means.

Blockchain allows full transparency and decentralised control of virtual assets, meaning players will have ownership of their virtual assets. They will be able to exchange these assets with other players, and for assets on other games, instantly. Gamers will also be able to use their virtual assets across different games, providing players with a more personalised video gaming experience.

2. Players stand to be rewarded for their interaction with video games

Through the tokenisation of platforms, players will be able to earn tokens for playing, reviewing, or sharing games on social media. Players will also be incentivised to provide reviews and feedback to developers, leading to the improvement of games available. Blockchain will allow players’ activities to be tracked, and for them to be rewarded accurately and instantly.

3. Blockchain builds gamer credibility and accountability

As the blockchain is an immutable ledger which records all transactions and allows players to use their account across multiple games services, gamers’ interactions, player history, and trading of in-game items are always tracked and documented. With these records made publicly available, a player’s reputation is tied to the blockchain, therefore encouraging good behavior within the community. This builds and fosters a safer gaming environment, giving value to those with credible reputations, and encourages transparency within the gaming ecosystem.

4. Better security for games

In the past, virtual goods ownership and trading was never fully possible. For example, the rare or expensive item players worked hard or paid for was often copied by fraudsters and resold, making their item neither unique nor as valuable.

Blockchain prevents the trading of illegal virtual assets on the black market, as well as the hacking and stealing of keys, by creating an immutable ledger of that item and who it belongs to, making duplicating impossible. After all, the original purpose of blockchain was to irrefutably prove ownership of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

5. Transparent and faster payments to developers and gamers

UltraBlockchain technology will allow players to purchase items or games faster while ensuring their payments are secure. Developers are increasingly having a hard time selling their software outside of app stores, which result in large commission fees and loss of control over their own customers. Blockchain makes it possible to process nano-payments and for developers to get paid instantly, enabling developers to quickly reinvest money in their game launch marketing.

Meanwhile, gamers will have access to a range of new revenue opportunities, with proof-of-activity potentially earning gamers free swag.

This guest post was contributed by Nicolas Gilot, Co-CEO of Ultra, a blockchain-based, game publishing platform designed to put an end to the current PC game market status quo.

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IBM Egypt Continues to Locally Invest in And Develop Blockchain Solutions

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IBM Egypt

IBM Egypt General Manager, Wael Abdoush, stated that the technology giant will continue to locally invest in and develop blockchain solutions in light of the promising economic reforms that are being put into place in the North African nations.

Blockchain Technology in Egypt

Abdoush stated that IBM is ready to offer blockchain technology in the local market as IBM seeks to develop technological solutions to meet customers needs in line with the government’s economic development plan. That includes the Egyptian government’s 2030 plan of digital transformation.

blockchainIBM offers continuous online training of graduates and employees on its platform called Digital Nation Africa. It provides the required skills and training to deal with the latest technologies, such as the blockchain, AI, Internet of Things (IoT), and data analytics. According to Abdoush, “the main mission focus is to spread the digital transformation and lead more of our clients on the path to becoming Cloud and Cognitive digital businesses.”

Regarding offering blockchain technology solutions in Egypt, Abdoush says it is only natural since it is now a global phenomenon. He said: “There are many bodies which can benefit from these solutions and applications, and several generations can use the Blockchain technology. IBM is a global leader in Blockchain, as we believe this technology will revolutionize business as the Internet did in the 1990s; and there are several authorities in Egypt that have already taken steps towards relying on this technology in their work.”

The Law and Blockchain

Abdoush believes that the Egyptian market needs to develop the existing legislation in order for them to keep up with the continuous technological developments rather than create new laws. In the recent past, the attitude towards cryptocurrencies has been less than welcome in Egypt. It seems, however, that the acceptance of the blockchain by the Egyptians mirrors that of the world. Adoption of blockchain technology with better regulatory and operational framework seems to be the path Egypt is taking.

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