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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

The State of the Blockchain in Uganda

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Blockchain in Uganda

Uganda is home to a growing cryptocurrency community. The capital Kampala was host to the Africa Blockchain Conference in May, which attracted a number of local and international blockchain enterprises and highlighted the country’s ambitions in becoming a blockchain hub. This article will explore the state of the blockchain in Uganda including the regulatory climate, notable startups and what the future may hold for the blockchain in the East African country.

The Potential for the Blockchain in Uganda

The blockchain is a decentralised, immutable and public digital ledger that records transactions across a distributed network of computers, which makes it de facto impossible to alter any records without altering all subsequent blocks or getting consensus from the network. Blockchain technology has gained global attention as it aims to build trust into systems used for transfer of value and any kind of data.

Digital currency adoption in Uganda has been on the rise with a number of investors, freelancers, and entrepreneurs in the space. In addition, the Blockchain Association of Uganda organises regular meetups and events where cryptocurrency enthusiasts can discuss opportunities and address challenges.

Regulatory Stance Concerning Blockchain Technology

Blockchain in UgandaDespite a growing cryptocurrency presence in the country, local regulators have not warmed up to the use of digital currencies. The Bank of Uganda has in the past warned against the use of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin citing the lack of consumer protections and a proper regulatory framework to govern their use. The central bank also warned investors about investing in MLM schemes like OneCoin, which are quite pervasive in Uganda.

However, things seem to be changing with policymakers and leaders looking to embrace blockchain technology and reap its benefits.

During the Africa blockchain Conference held in May the President of Uganda, Yoweri K. Museveni urged the Bank of Uganda to be more receptive about cryptocurrencies and to research on its potential benefits. He publicly endorsed blockchain technology explaining it would be useful for critical areas of the economy such as food production, service industry, manufacturing just to name a few.

Also, the Ugandan ICT minister announced at the conference the setting up of a Blockchain Taskforce to review the opportunities presented by blockchain, challenges, and advise the government on how best to utilize the technology. The setting up of the taskforce shows regulators in Uganda are becoming more receptive towards blockchain technology and its many applications.

Blockchain Startups in Uganda

There are a number of local and international startups that are harnessing blockchain technology to solve local problems in Uganda. While the Bank of Uganda’s position on cryptocurrencies remains unchanged, the regulator has given cryptocurrency trading platforms some leeway to operate.

This has given local entrepreneurs an opportunity to open cryptocurrency exchanges to serve the growing retail market. One such exchange is known as CoinPesa. Founded in 2018, CoinPesa is a cryptocurrency exchange and wallet that was formed to serve the needs of the global market while also providing access for the African user. The Kampala-based startup seeks to solve problems African users face when using international exchanges such as high fees and need for bank accounts. The company improves the user experience by integrating with familiar local payment methods such as mobile money and agency networks. CoinPesa also plans to release a utility token to be used on the exchange through an ICO slated for Q3/2018.

Apart from local exchanges, Ugandans will soon be able to trade cryptocurrencies on the leading global digital currency exchange Binance. The platform has launched a new cryptocurrency exchange in Uganda that enables crypto-fiat trading in local currency. The move comes nearly two months after Binance formed a partnership with CryptoSavannah, Made in Africa initiative, and Msingi East Africa to promote development in Uganda.

Wala, a blockchain powered platform that intends to offer barrier-free banking solutions to the unbanked in emerging markets, launched its money transfer app in Uganda. The zero fee app provides users with access to remittance services, credit and savings solutions on the platform. The services are enabled by the Dala token, which facilitates near instant micropayments at no fees. The company partnered with Spire to pre-install Wala in over 30 million smartphones across its markets. In addition, Wala partnered with Block Commodities, FinComEco, and the Dala Foundation to lend $10 million worth of Dala tokens to small-scale farmers in Uganda.

CryptoSavannah is another blockchain organisation in Uganda that is at the forefront of spearheading initiatives that promote blockchain technology in Africa. The organisation is forming strategic partnerships with the government, private sector, and international sponsors to develop the local blockchain space and thus create jobs and opportunities.

The Future of Blockchain in Uganda

Warnings from regulators against the use of cryptocurrencies have not slowed down Ugandans’ appetite for acquiring digital assets. With high unemployment rates witnessed among the youth in the country, many Ugandans are turning to digital currencies like bitcoin for investment and trading.

Furthermore, the Ugandan Government is looking to leverage blockchain technology to improve efficiency in public service delivery and provide easier access to critical public services.

In light of the success of the recent Blockchain African Conference in Kampala, combined with Binance’s arrival in the country and the launch of several new local blockchain initiatives, it would not be surprising to see more local blockchain startups emerge as well as international blockchain startups entering this market. This, in turn, would help to boost digital currency adoption and the development of value-adding blockchain solutions for Ugandans.

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Locus Chain Foundation Becomes Blockchain Partner of Tunisia Economic City

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Tunisia Economic City

Locus Chain Foundation (LCF) has signed a strategic partnership agreement with the Tunisia Economic City (TEC) to make use of Locus Chain’s blockchain platform to deliver services and settlement currency functions.

The agreement was signed at LCF’s headquarters in Singapore by the CEO of Locus Chain, Mr. Lee Sang Yoon, and the President of Tunisia Economic City, Dr. Riadh Khalifa Toukabri Ph.D.

The collaboration will see the TEC utilise Locus Chain’s next-generation blockchain platform in all construction projects and as a base technology and settlement currency for different industries – such as communication, finance, shopping, medical, AI, and automatic vehicles – that are aimed at digitalising the public sector and businesses by establishing an urban development and a mega economic development project on Tunisia’s eastern coast.

blockchainThe Tunisia Economic City is a large-scale project that covers an area of 90 sq km that will be constructed at a cost of US$50 billion during the initial decade. It is jointly owned by Tunisia and Saudi Arabia and will be built on the eastern peninsula of Tunisia. The city is designed to have a cluster of 14 large themed zones that will serve as a technology and an international business hub that will link Africa, Asia, and Europe. In addition, it will also act as Africa’s gateway to Europe and enhance the economic growth of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

Speaking of the partnership, Lee Sang Yoon said: “TEC is one of the most advanced smart city projects the world economy has ever seen. When the ‘Locus Chain’ blockchain platform is applied to the TEC project, it will be used as a transaction and authentication method for various industries and will provide an ideal management and service system ensuring high transparency and security across the industry.”

Jackey Choi, the Operations Director of Locus Foundation for the Middle East, went on to add: “The agreement will enhance the TEC’s future-readiness through technological precision and innovation, and benefit, in a broad perspective, all similar projects in the MENA region. This purpose will be served through the LCF’s Middle East headquarters in Dubai Silicon Oasis.”

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Commit Good to Award $10,000 Monthly Grant to Charities in Partnership with FTG

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Commit Good

Blockchain startup Commit Good has announced that it will be launching a “Currency of Good” campaign in collaboration with Dubai-based financial services and investment firm Financial Training Group (FTG). The campaign, which begins on September 15, will award a grant of $10,000 every month to a charitable organisation that receives the highest number of votes from users on the Commit Good platform.

The Commit Good platform enables charitable organisations and donors to track how funds are utilised and for what reasons.

The “Currency of Good” Campaign

The campaign will offer digital wallets and a blockchain platform where charitable organisations can post their ongoing projects and ask for the items they need to complete the project. As projects are completed, the most impactful project in that month will be voted for and the project that receives the most votes will get the $10,000 grant.

Commit Good founder and chief executive officer Clay Braswell said:

“Until now, a campaign that awards grants to charities worldwide would not have been possible because of the complexities of regulations with each country’s currency. Our goal is to create a charitable economy with the main economic driver being good deeds.”

Financial Trading Group CEO Nick Capitanis stated: “At FTG, we are committed to giving back on a global scale. When we learned about the Currency of Good Campaign, we immediately knew we wanted to participate. As we continue to grow, we look forward to funding larger grants for committing good.”

FTG has promised to reserve funds from its portfolio performance “to fund, promote, and support humanitarian” and NGOs through Commit Good’s campaign.

“Commit Good is dedicated to building a global charitable economy through the integration of marketplace features, fundraising and solving the last mile of delivery,” the company states in its press release.

Currently, the listed organisations and NGOs on the platform are Feed the Children, Habitat for Humanity, and Catholic Charities. Organisations wishing to participate can visit Commit Good’s website for more information.

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