Beyond the West: Technology and Blockchain in Africa — Reflections from the 2018 Blockchain Summit in Morocco

Kenya’s minister of information, communications, and technology told the Blockchain Summit today in Morocco that the new technology “is really critical and important for us” because it “allows us to have a trustless system.”

“For Africans with blockchain, we can interact and participate with the rest of the world. You don’t have to be trusted, the system already works for you,” said Minster Joseph Mucheru during a panel on blockchain in Africa.

Staci Warden, executive directive of the Center for Financial Markets at the Milken Institute, said investors and businesses need to focus increasingly on the continent’s young and growing population.

“By 2030, one-fifth of the global population will be African,” Warden said. “By 2050, 1.4 billion people will live in Africa. Africa will see the highest rates of urbanization on the planet. That is how we need to be thinking about opportunities on this.

“Africa is risk nirvana,” she added. “The perception of risk is much higher than the actual risk.”

Tanya Stephens, senior IT innovation leader at Procter & Gamble Inc., agreed but said that companies need to educate, and become educated, about blockchain technology before they can move forward with comprehensive applications.

“You have to be very succinct in explaining the technology and that takes time,” said Stephens. “Those are necessary. That speaks to the importance of having the right people on the ground. So what becomes important is to craft solutions that can be demonstrated. That’s the best way to make people believers.”

Sebastien Gregarek, an investment officer at the International Finance Corporation, told summitgoers he’s already seeing some impressive inroads on the use of blockchain in Africa.

“Kenya, for example, is a dynamic and innovative market,” Gregarek said. “I think it would be very useful to start developing these test stories and highlight them. I’m also thinking about the use of blockchain for land titling, which is a whole issue around mortgage financing.”

Mucheru said his government wants to promote and encourage blockchain technology for a wide array of applications, including perhaps voting.

“Blockchain is a technology and we do not regulate technology. Where there is an issue, it’s around cryptocurrency. But blockchain is a database, and we want private sector to take advantage of this in every way.”

Nasia Seria, the general manager of Group Mobile Financial Services at MTN, a new company that operates mobile money across South Africa, originated from people’s need for money that was easy to use and easy to move. “That’s why we see blockchain as a game-changer. It’s not just an alternative to cash.”

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