Can blockchain digitally empower Africa?

New report from Liquid Telecom highlights potential and pitfalls. Also: a new digital service to allow unbanked people to pay for all their utilities at once.
Tech, Technology, Blockchain, Africa, Economy, Liquid Telecom, Liquid, Business, Digital, Society, Future, Growth, Start-up, Treon, Equality, Digital equality, Empowerment

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Forget column inches – kilometres of text have been devoted to the implications and potential uses of blockchain technology.

A new report says blockchain technology represents an important platform for digital empowerment in Africa.

Pan-African telecommunications company Liquid Telecom’s African Blockchain Report 2018 says the technology is full of potential for businesses, organisations, individuals and governments across Africa. The report looks at some of the pioneers of blockchain in Africa, highlights potential use cases and applications, and examined some of the challenges that lie ahead for wider adoption throughout the continent.

What’s interesting is that, according to Liquid Telecom group chief technology and innovation officer Ben Roberts, blockchain – at least on the surface – doesn’t seem to be the most revolutionary digital technology in Africa. “Compared to some of the weird and wonderful connected devices introduced as part of the trend towards the Internet of Things (IoT) or the science fiction-meets-reality potential for artificial intelligence, it is no real surprise that blockchain hasn’t quite captured the general public’s imagination in the same way,” he says.

Yet he’s still bullish on its potential. “Consumer trust in online services and platforms has been shaken by years of fake news, major data breaches and serious misuse of personal data. Blockchain presents an opportunity to shine truth across the Internet; placing digital records and transactions into a shared ledger and ensuring there is no single point of failure or no one organisation controlling that data. What we discover is a real appetite for public and private organisations alike to seize the blockchain opportunity while it is still in its nascent stages.”

Roberts says a key part of that development will be for start-ups to work on solutions that will specifically be relevant to Africa. He says Uplus, a Rwandan start-up that uses blockchain to digitally secure transactions on its crowdfunding platform, is a good example of this.

Roberts says more. “There is much work to be done. There are no global standards or regulations in place for the technology, and new skills are required in the workforce to support its rise. One thing is for sure, as the global discussions around blockchain technology continue to grow; Africa will be part of it.”

At the same time, Treon, developers of a “utilities token” that securely and seamlessly enables consumers to pay their utilities bills through a single consolidated online dashboard, recently delivered a keynote presentation at the Bloconomic: Blockchain Economic Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

For the keynote, Treon technology co-founder Khaled Khorshid and strategy and commercial co-founder Hesham El Metainy discussed how blockchain can specifically benefit emerging economies such as those in many parts of Africa. “Investors and blockchain experts are looking for evidence of where blockchain will change the world, but they often skip over the people that need this groundbreaking, decentralised, security of transactions the most,” said Khorshid.

Added El Metainy: “The unbanked population of global utility customers has gone largely unrecognised up till now. They have been left to wait in line at local utility offices to make payments in hard currency. Conditions are often uncomfortable or unsafe and the process can easily consume 20 hours of a customer’s month, just paying for the basics.

“Treon has a solution, letting these and all utilities customers make payments with Treon Tokens, securely from their own home in a matter of minutes. What seems commonplace in some countries will be a life-changing shift in paradigm throughout parts of Africa and Asia and throughout the world.”

The Treon Token aims to provide a solution for the “unbanked” – people who do not have access to a bank or similar financial organization. An estimated two billion people worldwide are unbanked, according to the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor.

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