With the global blockchain market value estimated to surpass the USD 60.7 billion mark by 2024, African tech companies are not being left behind in the revolution.
In 2017, the technology’s global worth was more than USD 706 million according to Orbis Research.
Accenture estimates that the banking sector could make an estimated USD 12 BILLION yearly by utilising blockchain technology.
As keen interest emerges in the potential for blockchain, major vendors and multiple blockchain specialists are focusing on offering blockchain and broader distributed ledger technology (DLT) implementation and consulting services.
Thanks to lower bandwidth and storage costs and improved storage and computing capacity, blockchain seamlessly and cost-effectively connects the multiple nodes in the chain across multiple regions and has become a viable solution for pan-African systems of record.
Unlike cloud-based data storage, blockchain distributes data into nodes along the chain, making it harder – or virtually impossible – for hackers to access.
Blockchain technology in Africa
According to Liquid Telecom‘s African Blockchain Report, startups in Africa are not being left behind in utilising the technology.
Paxful has announced plans to establish a blockchain incubator hub in Lagos, Nigeria, as well as run blockchain and cryptocurrency events in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.
In Tanzania AID:Tech and PharmAccess are harnessing AID:Tech’s blockchain platform to collect and verify digital health data to make antenatal care more effective.
ImpactPPA and the Earth Day Network are launching a blockchain energy platform in Somaliland to manage on-site renewable energy to facilities such as hospitals and schools.
Kenyan real estate firm Land Layby Group plans to use blockchain to store land registry records, eliminating the existing real estate challenges of fraud, double ownership and false documents.
‘Nurse in Hand’, a Kenyan startup, has signed an MoU with Apla Tech Company to build a blockchain-based accident and emergency response platform.
Binkabi, an e-bartering platform for SMEs, allows traders to settle over the blockchain and pay in local currency, using its own utility token. An initial focus will be on trade flows between Côte d’Ivoire and Vietnam.
Blockchain start-up TariLabs has launched in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the aim of building the open source Tari blockchain protocol.
The protocol is being constructed as a platform for the management, trade and use of digital assets, and will be merge-mined with the Monero blockchain.
The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) ran the Project Khokha proof of concept trialling a distributed ledger technology-based wholesale payment system in a ‘real world’ environment.
It reported that the typical daily volume of the payments system could be processed in less than two hours with full confidentiality of transactions and settlement finality.
Nigerian cryptocurrency project Kurecoin, part of Kure Holdings, plan to ‘tokenise’ the business world, one sector at a time, using a multifaceted blockchain infrastructure.
The Africa Blockchain Alliance actively seeks to bring together organisations and innovators in the blockchain arena. It is based in Nigeria, with partners in the US, Senegal, Ethiopia, UK, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda.
Pioneering blockchain technology in Kenya
In February last year, Kenya’s Information, Communication and Technology Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru named former ICT Permanent Secretary Dr Bitange Ndemo to head the 11-member Kenya’s Blockchain and AI Taskforce.
The taskforce also includes Juliana Rotich, a tech entrepreneur best known as one of the co-founders of BRCK and Ushahidi.
Dr Ndemo was influential in transforming Kenya’s ICT sector while he was the permanent secretary from 2005 to 2013.
He believes now is the time for decisive action from African governments.
“If countries don’t begin to build new capabilities and capacities for these technologies then they will be bystanders,” says Dr Ndemo.
He adds, “Africa missed the first, second and third industrial revolutions, but we have a real opportunity to be a part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
Digital transformation in Kenya is paving the way for the application of emerging technologies like blockchain.
Already, Kenyan citizens can now access up to 200 government services online at Huduma Centres or on their mobile devices. Huduma centres are locations where citizens can access a range of public services online.
The government has made a further commitment to widen access to services for citizens from their homes or business premises, and is also exploring the use of biometrics.
“One of our first projects will be creating a trusted identity platform, which would provide us with biometrics on an individual. This removes the need to have multiple data sets to verify a person for a transaction,” says Dr Ndemo.
Blockchain in elections, fighting corruption
The Sierra Leone elections in March 2018 alerted the media to a compelling use case for blockchain even if the project ended up marred in controversy.
A Swiss-based blockchain startup called Agora claimed to have facilitated the first blockchain-based election. This claim was subsequently contested by the country’s National Electoral Commission (NEC).
It later emerged that the startup had acted as an international observer at 280 of the country’s 11,200 polling stations, recording the votes on its blockchain as part of a proof-of-concept experiment.
Even if the project was overshadowed by the hyperbole, it does highlight the interest in using blockchain to improve transparency in the electoral process – an enticing prospect for a region accustomed to controversial elections.
“Blockchain technology gives government powerful tools to fight corruption both outside and within the government,” says George Etheredge, Research Analyst at Digital Transformation Practice for Frost & Sullivan.
“Blockchains can accurately verify the identities of individuals while offering a method to register assets and track transactions, all of which can contribute to limiting the potential for corruption.”
Yet he predicts that the adoption of blockchain-based solutions to prevent corruption could be slow: “Although blockchains do have the potential to limit internal government corruption and bring transparency to the public sector, these use cases are far less explored than those which allow governments to combat external corruption,” says Etheredge.
“One possibility is to use blockchain technology to track the tender process. A key barrier to adoption here is a misalignment of incentives: such a project would have to be implemented by government itself and thus constitute government voluntarily subjecting itself to further checks and balances.”
While the South African Reserve Bank has run a proof-of-concept trialling a distributed ledger technology-based wholesale payment system and the Tunisian government is using blockchain to boost its eDinar digital currency, African governments have overall been quiet on the blockchain front.
However, with the governments of Kenya and Uganda making the right noises, expect that to change soon.
The Nakamoto white paper on blockchain technology
According to the Nakamoto white paper, “The only way to confirm the absence of a transaction is to be aware of all transactions. In the mint based model, the mint was aware of all transactions and decided which arrived first.”
It adds that to accomplish this without a trusted party, transactions must be publicly announced, and “we need a system for participants to agree on a single history of the order in which they were received. The payee needs proof that at the time of each transaction, the majority of nodes agreed it was the first received.”
To ensure that the process is foolproof, a Timestamp Server is a solution proposed in the white paper.
A timestamp server works by taking a hash of a block of items to be timestamped and widely publishing the hash, such as in a newspaper or Usenet post.
The timestamp proves that the data must have existed at the time, obviously, in order to get into the hash.
“Each timestamp includes the previous timestamp in its hash, forming a chain, with each additional timestamp reinforcing the ones before it,” adds the white paper.
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