The impact of Blockchain Technology in Africa
Governments, startup incubators, the food and energy industries and others are all using blockchain technology to find new applications for the everyday lives of millions. As it always has, the African continent is finding ways to innovate through its challenges. Here are a few real-world examples of blockchain being used across the continent.
Verification of identity
Without a verified legal identity, billions are without access to social and financial services throughout the world. Mobile healthcare organisation PharmAccess has partnered with blockchain-powered digital identity platform AID:Tech in Tanzania. Their operation included providing secure identity verification to newborn babies. In June 2018, the partnership resulted in the headline-grabbing announcement of the ‘first baby born on the blockchain’. Cases such as these highlight the grass-roots need for building a more connected and secure registry of individuals in rural areas. It’s a task for which blockchain infrastructure is uniquely suited.
Binkabi is an e-bartering platform which allows traders to settle over the blockchain and pay in local currency. Binkabi has created its own utility token to revolutionise the international trade of agricultural goods, addressing the difficulty which many African farmers face in exporting their goods to more developed nations. Challenges include exchange rate inconsistency, paper-based processes and fluctuating commodity prices. When the price of coffee drops, for example, coffee shop consumers don’t pay less; the farmers bear the brunt of any market volatility. The Binkabi token aims to use peer-to-peer hedging without a centralised exchange to alleviate these losses. The primary focus as of 2018 is the trade movement between Côte d’Ivoire and Vietnam.
Kenyan startup ‘Nurse in Hand’ collects and delivers information to a geo-strategic network of paramedics in order to improve emergency response time. In March 2018, they reached an agreement with Apla Tech Company to build a blockchain-based accident response platform. The aim of the partnership is to decrease the distance between first responders located in Emergency Care Centres and the accident victims themselves.
In June 2018, the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) released the results of a proof-of-concept exercise aimed at increasing the efficiency of interbank settlements and payments collection in a real-world environment. The results of Project Khokha were unambiguously successful. The SARB stated that the average daily volume of overall payments on the blockchain-based system could be processed in under two hours, all while retaining full confidentiality and settlement finality. One of Project Khokha’s aims is to better understand how the South African Multiple Option Settlement system might integrate with a blockchain system. The SARB anticipates continuing work in this area.
Custos is a copyright infringement protection service launched in South Africa in 2014. Videos submitted to the platform are encoded with a digital watermark on the Bitcoin blockchain. Using their own patented core technology, Custos allows users to embed a Bitcoin monetary reward inside a media file. This acts as an incentive for third party ‘bounty hunters’ to report leaked and re-uploaded content to the original rights holder. Custos is able to notify rights holders of these leaks and infringements in real time, and also reveals the identity of the person responsible for the leak.
Twiga Foods, a Kenyan agri-tech company, has partnered with IBM Research to trial a blockchain-based financing system which is set to provide microloans to food stall retailers in the country. The Nairobi-based platform was previously focused exclusively on helping farmers distribute bananas, tomatoes, onions and potatoes to kiosks across Kenya. Realizing that a blockchain-based loan system would help vendors sell more produce motivated Twiga to successfully negotiate the IBM partnership. The result? More food being grown and distributed by the region’s local farmers and traders.
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. With the early adoption of blockchain technology, real estate firms like Land Layby are able to create efficient and foolproof land registries. Bitland is a global property registry which is set to enter Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. The company has been assisting farmers in registering their land to their blockchain system. African land rights are customarily agreed verbally, leaving much room for dispute, corruption and land cartels. Bitland’s effort to record these rights to a blockchain system will create a more secure method of dealing with false property claims.
Ujo is a music publishing platform based on the Ethereum blockchain. Co-founded by South African tech entrepreneur Simon de la Rouviere, the service allows musicians to upload their music and receive direct fan-to-artist purchase and tipping in ETH. Paypal and credit card integration are slated for a later date. The site hosts music by Grammy Award-winning artists Imogen Heap and Rac, both of whom are advocates of the platform and its potential to bypass the typical 30% payment processing fees set by traditional streaming services such as iTunes. The elevator pitch? A more fair distribution of digital music revenue between publishers and the artists themselves.
ImpactPPA is a blockchain-based technology platform that provides pre-paid electricity solutions from a mobile device. In partnership with the Earth Day Network, ImpactPPA is currently launching a blockchain-powered energy platform in Somaliland. Solar grids will be deployed in order to generate, store and deliver power. The company is using blockchain technology to provide a payment rail for a host of investors, developers and service providers — including governments. Using blockchain as a secure system, ImpactPPA is offering even the least stable of African countries a basic electricity solution.
Centbee is a Bitcoin Cash wallet and merchant payment ecosystem based in South Africa. The company was founded on the premise that African business is already primarily being conducted using mobile phones rather than ATMs and bank transfer. According to founder Lorien Gamaroff, there are more mobile money account holders than bank account holders in Africa. The fact that Africans seem to favour mobile money transactions has positioned Centbee squarely in the centre of a potentially game-changing marketplace for cryptocurrency to flourish. In 2018, UK Fintech firm nChain acquired a stake in Centbee for undisclosed amount
The African (and particularly South African) predisposition for cryptocurrency and mobile money over traditional financial transaction services seems to march forward unabated. It’s no wonder that blockchain academic and development hubs are popping up in many major African cities.
As the world continues its trod towards unprecedented connectivity, the fertile African business terrain is looks set to fully embrace of emerging technology like blockchain. Those who embrace the change and stay up to date with the African technology industry are well-positioned to reap its rewards in the coming decade.