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
Despite 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.
Women in Blockchain: An Interview with Blockchain Association of Kenya’s Roselyn Gicira-Mwangi
On June 22, 2019, the Blockchain Association of Kenya (BAK) elected a new chairperson during its AGM. Bitcoin Africa talked to the newly elected chairperson, Roselyn Gicira-Mwangi, to understand what the association has accomplished so far, what she plans to achieve as chairperson, and about women in blockchain.
Since it was registered in 2017 as a non-profit, the Blockchain Association of Kenya (BAK) has played a big role in catalysing the largest Kenyan community and network of people working in the blockchain space. According to Gicira-Mwangi, this is one of the achievements that is the “foundation and catalyst of everything that is happening regarding blockchain in Kenya and East Africa.”
BAK has been an inspiration and role model to other blockchain communities and networks in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda. Furthermore, the association has grown its non-profit brand through the commitment and help of its community and network.
Through the guidance of a two-year strategic plan, BAK is currently working on several projects to promote blockchain awareness, adoption, and to expand the blockchain community.
“We are creating linkages with strategic partners to roll-out educational programmes for the public. The programmes will span from simple understanding and application of blockchain technology to actual courses for developers. We are also positioning the BAK as a platform to highlight all our partners’ activities to make it easy to plug into events whenever is convenient for them,” Roselyn said. “To get there, first we are working to get representatives in the different regions of the country to enable seamless representation for all Kenyans. This will lead up to a Blockchain summit at the end of the year hosted in one of these regions,” Gicira-Mwangi told BitcoinAfrica.io.
The association is reassessing its constitution and charter as it strives to grow its leadership, advisory, and board structure. A membership recruitment process for institutions, corporations, and individuals will follow this reassessment.
To support blockchain adoption, BAK has established working group forums to extract feedback and suggestions on how emerging technologies such as blockchain can drive development in the country at both levels of government.
Women in Blockchain
More than 50 percent of the people that reach out to BAK for a wide range of reasons are women, Gicira-Mwangi stated. As a woman in the blockchain industry, she believes that the diversity of players in any sector is crucial.
“My personal experience with Kenyan women is that they are keeping up with changes in technology and are keen to get a grasp on the future technological advancements and its impact on their lives. Women are also great networkers because they talk to each other about trends and events. Every other day, I get more women who want to be taken through Blockchain, its implications, and benefits,” she added.
Currently, women in Kenya are holding a wide array of positions in blockchain companies. They are trading and investing in cryptocurrencies, and increasing blockchain awareness to the people within their circles.
In anticipation of the rising demand for blockchain developers in the coming years, Roselyn plans to lead BAK in promoting the training of professionals in this line of work. Furthermore, collaborating with other regional blockchain organisations is another item on her to-do list during her term. Such partnerships could be used to promote blockchain awareness, increase blockchain innovation, and implement blockchain projects.
Gicira-Mwangi is passionate about emerging technologies and formerly worked as a programme officer at UN Women East and the Horn of Africa for eight years. Besides heading BAK, she is the director of Azuri Blockchain Consultants, a firm that connects investors with blockchain startups.
Blockchain Game Gods Unchained Secures New Game Director and Introduces Debit Card Payments
Blockchain card game Gods Unchained has added Magic: The Gathering Arena Game Director Chris Clay to its team and introduced debit card payments. These two decisions aim to drive the game closer to mainstream appeal.
Experience and Achievements
Clay’s experience of more than 20 years in design and game development will be valuable to his new position as game director at Gods Unchained. His task entails prioritising visual designs, new features, and supporting community experience.
In his previous role at MTG Arena, Clay brought on-board three million active players and more than one billion games were played. According to a report by Dot Esports, MTGA – a digital collectible free-to-play card game published by Wizards of the Coast – grossed around $225 million.
Currently, Gods Unchained is the top-selling blockchain game of the year and with Clay’s help, the game could reach greater heights and attract traditional players.
“I believe blockchain represents a new frontier for game developers. Digital asset ownership on the blockchain lets developers support games and their communities in ways we have never seen before in electronic gaming. […] Blockchain is not just for digital currency; it is laying the foundation for a whole new digital economy,” Clay explained.
As an Ethereum-based esports game, Gods Unchained has been allowing its community to purchase booster packs using ether. Users now have an alternative payments option of debit cards. This move could help the game to reach a wider audience by appealing to traditional players.
“To date, blockchain games have provided a niche group of individuals a fun and experimental game ecosystem of NFTs. But now is the time for mainstream adoption. We need these games to show value, and we do not want ‘blockchain’ to sit as just another buzzword. Gods Unchained will become a game that any person can play, regardless of their blockchain familiarity. And the fun of the game will not be predicated on the underlying tech,” stated Gods Unchained co-founder Robbie Ferguson.
In a press release, Gods Unchained announced the rebranding of Fuel Games to Immutable. Immutable is the creator behind Gods Unchained.
If you are into blockchain gaming, check out our guide to the best blockchain games in 2019.
Kenya’s Blockchain Taskforce Releases DLT Implementation Strategy for Kenya
Kenya’s Blockchain and AI Taskforce released its first report to the public since the ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru launched the body in 2018. The report depicts an implementation strategy for the adoption of these two emerging technologies that will steer Kenya to the fourth industrial revolution.
The report, titled Emerging Technologies for Kenya: Exploration & Analysis, has stipulated an implementation strategy based on blockchain technology and AI that will solve challenges such as financial exclusion, corruption, high public debt, inefficient public service delivery, food insecurity, and high transaction costs.
Furthermore, the report will guide the government in attaining the Big Four Agenda, which encompasses affordable housing, food security, manufacturing, and healthcare.
The Chairman of the taskforce, Bitange Ndemo stated: “I am confident that this report will guide policymakers in their efforts to stimulate an efficient and resilient economy with respect to the digital transformational technologies, especially with the realisation of the Big Four Agenda.”
Some of the implementation strategies are as follows:
Digital Asset Framework
The Blockchain and AI Taskforce has proposed a digital asset framework that will guide companies wishing to list a cryptocurrency on an exchange. According to the report, the Capital Markets Authority (CMA) is looking into how to regulate initial coin offerings (ICOs) by using the authority’s legal framework and the forthcoming regulatory sandbox.
The digital asset framework is meant to help small and medium-sized enterprises that are unable to raise capital through IPOs to have the alternative of using token sales.
The taskforce had earlier announced its proposal for a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), which would facilitate financial inclusion and low-cost transactions.
With 90 percent of Kenyans already using mobile money, credit cards, and bank transfers to make transactions, adding a CBDC to the existing digital economy could be a seamless process.
To introduce a digital currency in Kenya, the taskforce acknowledges that the country first requires a regulatory sandbox and the tokenisation of government fiscal operations.
Another proposed strategy is the tokenisation of the economy which could help to solve unemployment issues. The unemployment rate in Kenya is one of the highest in the world and the taskforce envisions a platform where work is exchanged for tokens to tackle this issue. Service providers will use the platform to build a work marketplace, store data, and manage transactions.
The Ajira Program, an initiative created to enable more Kenyans to work online, will adopt this proposed strategy. Using the Ethereum platform, Ajira will offer inter-person and inter-service settlements and payments. The initial stage of creating the Ajira platform is ongoing. A flagship service called Ajira Machine Learning (AML) is currently running on this platform. The AI-based service links crowd workers to digital tasks.
AML offers human language interfaces in African languages and pays people for teaching the AI to translate these languages.
The Chairman of the blockchain taskforce, Bitange Ndemo, had mentioned in an interview with BitcoinAfrica.io the need to tokenise Kenya’s economy. In addition, he had observed the importance of helping Kenyans to understand this process.
Target Implementation Areas
Some of the target implementation areas for blockchain and AI include the Ministry of Lands, Huduma Centres where important documents are issued, and the Ministry of Transport.
In the Ministry of Lands, illegally duplicated title deeds are a common issue. With blockchain technology, the land titling process will become transparent and secure.
Moreover, the blockchain will enable Kenya to build an efficient public service delivery system where digitised documents are sharable between various government offices and where Kenyans can trace the payments they make for services.
The Ministry of Transport can build a public transport model based on a sharing economy. This model is then built on a blockchain to ensure that all relevant stakeholders in the transport sector are part-owners and that everyone benefits.
“The Organisation would determine which participants would form part of the networked nodes that would run the validation software as well as the consensus mechanism. Typically, the network of participating nodes would include stakeholders with specific roles and mandates within the ministry and across the transport sector,” the report reads.
The taskforce believes that the proposed strategies and solutions in this report will propel Kenya’s economic development. Additionally, the ICT CS Joe Mucheru illustrates his commitment to have the entire contents of the report executed and to gain the backing of all stakeholders in making these recommendations a reality.
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