Building capacity to help Africa trade better

TAS 2018: The future of blockchain technologies in Africa


TAS 2018: The future of blockchain technologies in Africa

TAS 2018: The future of blockchain technologies in Africa
Photo credit: Government of Rwanda

As Transform Africa Summit 2018 kicks off in Kigali, different experts from across the continent and beyond are deliberating on a number of technology issues and how Africa can reap benefits from them.

At ‘The Workshop’, a side-line event which took place at the Kigali Serena Hotel, experts once again reiterated the power and potential that lies within blockchain technologies. Participants indicated that blockchain technologies can enable the continent’s transformation.

Don & Alex Tapscott, authors of ‘Blockchain Revolution’ described the blockchain as an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.

One common application which was originally devised for blockchain technology is the digital currency known as bitcoin, but the technology community is now finding other potential uses for the technology.

At the event, experts indicated that there are endless possibilities that this technology can create in Africa, from bringing efficiency in voting systems, to registering land titles, and to finally enabling seamless transactions online.

Jimmy Nguyen, the chief executive officer of nChain, a blockchain research and development company, strongly believes that blockchain technologies can disrupt any industry by making processes more efficient.

“Any industry where there are intermediaries, people and business in the middle like payment processes, music distribution and supply chains, blockchain technologies can eliminate all these processes so that it can be faster and cheaper,” he said.

Tunde Ladipo of Stellar, a payment network, highlighted that the way internet allowed anyone to send an email or create a blog, blockchain technology can allow people to easily send, save, and receive money, without large fees or hassle.

“This is what we are doing at Stellar Development Foundation. With all the infrastructure challenges faced by the continent where many people have no access to electricity, internet and smartphones, such a technology can help bypass all these challenges,” he said.

There is currently high cross-border and domestic transaction costs in Africa than anywhere else, and Ladipo noted that blockchain technology can address all these issues only if African countries see value in it.

Different studies place intra-African trade at around 14 per cent, but the recent signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) aims to double this by 2021, and ultimately reach 60 per cent in the long run.

Norbert Haguma, the head of Blockchain Hub in Rwanda, said that blockchain has the potential to dramatically change how Africans trade, removing unnecessary middlemen and commissioners.

“Trust has always been the cornerstone of trade, but blockchain achieves trust amongst Africans and with the world. It can create better supply chain management, reduce environmental degradation, and better use of resources,” he noted, arguing that Africa needs to make more investment in this technology.

The Blockchain Hub, which is under Smart Africa, is a month old and the hub’s activities will be exploring the wider applications of the technology and form the basis to which a roadmap to adopting Blockchain technology in Africa will be created.

Already, players like DLT Labs, the global group of blockchain experts are building applications in Africa. Loudon Owen, the chairman of DLT Labs said that they are building systems in different parts of the continent that are changing doing business.

“We are providing blockchain-based solutions in Africa like land registry, intellectual property registry, car ownership registry, we have asset tracking systems, and we are creating digital wallets. All this is coming to allow organisations to use blockchain technology to change their business,” he noted.

Digital currency

Currently, there are thousands of people trading in cryptocurrencies like bitcoins and ethereum. But the cryptocurrency market has not been working well as the bitcoin prices have been falling lately.

There has been a lot of push backs from many central banks when it comes to trading cryptocurrencies, but Craig Wright, the chief scientist at nChain said that most governments’ negative perceptions and assumptions when it comes to digital currencies are based on misinformation.

“The problem is misinformation. Bitcoin doesn’t stop banking, bitcoin doesn’t stop central banks. The reality is that there is a high level of transparency in cryptocurrencies, because people are in charge of their transactions since there is no intermediary,” he noted.

Address by President Paul Kagame at the 4th Transform Africa Summit

Good morning. It is a pleasure to welcome you all to Kigali for this fourth Transform Africa Summit.

There is no doubt that technology is the foundation of modern, high-income economies. That is why we are investing so much in physical infrastructure and in the education required to use it.

These efforts are already bearing fruit. However, even the most advanced technology cannot compensate for shortcomings in other areas which are essential for economic competitiveness.

Let me highlight a few of these, beginning with regional integration and cooperation, which is absolutely central.

As discussed at the Economic Forum yesterday, political will, both from governments and the private sector, is essential in implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area. This agreement will transform Africa, but only if we translate its provisions into reality on the ground.

Secondly, a favourable investment climate is critical in order to build trust in African economies, attract the right partnerships, and spur innovation.Indeed, many African countries are already among the leaders in business-friendly reforms.

But achieving good rankings is not an end in itself. The goal is to attract more and better investment, and that requires effectively communicating these facts to global markets, and even to our own investors right here in Africa.

That brings me to the third point, which is that we must work harder to ensure that African private capital is mobilised to participate fully in major projects on our continent.

There is this myth that we always have to look outside the continent to fund major initiatives. But this simply cannot be true when Africa is losing billions every year through lost taxes, sending private assets abroad, and other factors.

We are not poor, not at all.

The issue has more to do with the mindset, that it is normal to use our money for consumption, while we leave strategic, long-term investing to others. It means that no matter how much we earn, we would remain poor.

Whether this comes from colonialism or not, is irrelevant. It is up to us to identify mindsets that hold us back as a continent, and change how we do business.

What these few elements remind us is that the application of technology and innovation takes place in a wider context. We must harness all these factors together holistically to achieve the results that our people expect and deserve.

One example I might mention is the effort by the African Union and the International Telecommunications Union, together with the private sector, to bring broadband to under-served communities by harmonising spectrum and standards.

Let me conclude by commending the prominent participation of youth and women in Transform Africa, including through the pitching platform “Face the Gorillas”, and the Smart Women Summit, taking place tomorrow. Our strategic investments in technology and education will only have their full impact if they are matched by efforts to ensure all sectors of our society can access the benefits.

I thank you for your kind attention and wish you productive discussions, and an enjoyable stay in Rwanda, as well as I welcome you back to Rwanda anytime for different engagements.

Thank you very much.


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