Blockchain Africa – from fantastic use cases to some foolish PR

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A couple of months ago I was pleased to host a panel discussion focusing on global innovation trends that have caught the eye. Topics raised included AI, cryptos, Alipay and Tencent and, by me, Blockchain. With so much scope for the growth of Fintech in emerging economies, notably within parts of Africa, I mentioned that I was fascinated by Blockchain’s potential to create ’leapfrog’ movements within these countries.

In the past, I have touched upon usage of Blockchain by African farmers and Blockchain for financial inclusion through social media-based models. There does seem to be real scope for Blockchain to thrive within the agricultural sector. Interestingly, as recently as June 27th, the Agricultural Bank of China, which is one of China’s top four banks, issued the first agricultural mortgage for $300,000 on a blockchain.

Putting the focus back on Africa, there are several fundamental problems that hurt emerging economies, such as the complexity of making cross-border payments, and Blockchain could go some way towards solving these. At the same time, Blockchain must also market responsibly and be cautious when it comes to creating a buzz about their brand.

Appallingly, a research report published in 2014 (slightly outdated, but still relevant) indicated that Africa receives roughly $30 Billion in Aid every year, but a staggering $192 billion is sucked out of the continent by richer nations and illegal activity. The report also suggests that, shockingly, less than 40% of the charity money injected into Africa each year reaches its intended target.

Whilst it would be foolish to suggest Blockchain is the answer to all of Africa’s economic problems, it certainly has the potential to allow for more transparent, seamless transactions across the continent.

One key example of this is blockchain-based solution Funds Aid. The platform, developed by Rufaro Masiiwa, allows for the transfer of donations from donor to beneficiary with complete transparency and lineage.

Blockchain could also have a real impact as a digital identifier. Providing a secure platform to develop an economic identity. Although most commonly used to combat issues of cybersecurity in developed countries, an economic identity is vital to ensuring social and financial inclusion in emerging economies.

There are opportunities for Blockchain to shine within real estate too through its smart contract capabilities. Real estate transactions across Africa are notorious for processes riddled with corruption. In 2016, Ghana-based platform Bitland was launched to combat this.

Ixo Foundation in South Africa uses Blockchain technology to optimise sustainable development impact, which could lead to the creation of an Impact ecosystem using the Ixo protocol.

Organisations and funders can use a decentralised impact exchange to create verified impact claims, essentially “proof of impact”. This proof can be used to access social impact bonds and government subsidies and drives down the cost of evaluation. The data from these impact claims becomes a part of a global impact ledger, an open data commons that organisations, governments, and researchers can access to make informed decisions and optimise impact initiatives.

But while Blockchain has the potential to do a lot of good things, there have been cases where some in the Blockchain community have been dishonest about their roles and achievements.

In one particular instance Blockchain even had to clarify its relationship with Microsoft, with even IOTA forced to become involved after misrepresentation in the media.

More recently still, Agora was accused of misrepresenting their (Blockchain’s) role in the Sierra Leone elections. An initial press release seemed to suggest that the entire election in Sierra Leone happened on Blockchain. This was promptly denied by the national electoral commission of Sierra Leone, which led Agora to clarify that they had only actually used a simple prototype to simulate the votes to demonstrate how Blockchain technology COULD be used in a democratic election process.

Agora_Blockchain twitter screenshot

national electoral commission sierra leone statement

Put simply, it’s plain to see that Blockchain’s framework and technology has the potential to make a positive impact, but the Blockchain comms team needs to be far more responsible and honest in the way they market their achievements. If they continue to mislead, they risk learning the painful lesson that not all PR is good PR. The proof is in the pudding as they say, and it is far better to let your achievements speak up for themselves rather than demand attention.

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