As the 2020 edition of the Africa Blockchain Conference came to a close, there was a lot of optimism among attendees that blockchain could provide a foundation for solutions uniquely suited to Africa’s problems.
Speakers who gathered to discuss the future of blockchain in the continent this year had a rallying point—Africa is primed for blockchain revolution.
The event saw lot of meaningful discussion and exchange of ideas on the ongoing progress in the blockchain sector, with many leaders expressing optimism for the future.
Blockchain can boost trade finance in Africa
One of the main talking points was about blockchain’s ability to enhance cross-border trade particularly supply chains. Thavash Govender, Data and AI Specialist at Microsoft, presented on the technology’s potential to improve trade finance in Africa.
He noted that blockchain is capable of transforming cross-border trade by improving traceability, transparency and bringing a higher level of efficiency to the flow of goods and data.
However, Govender warned that blockchain should only be used in certain situations. For example, it could be applied to establish trust in instances where multiple parties are relying on the same data. This prevents unscrupulous players from controlling or tampering with data. It also reduces costs for parties by removing tedious verification processes and unnecessary delays.
Govender cited Kenya’s Mpesa mobile payment solution as a clear example of why Africa is poised to take a leading role in blockchain innovation.
“Africa became a leader in mobile payments and it’s still something that the rest of the world struggles with. Will we see the same necessity in fostering innovation by blockchain? Absolutely,” said Govender.
Another speaker to put forward blockchain’s ability to re-invent cross-border trade was Carlos Teixeira of Finastra. He stated that “trade finance is deeply enabled by blockchain technology” and that it can streamline cross-border trade from shipping to customs and logistics.
“Companies and banks are forming consortiums using new technology to overhaul current systems. We are looking at leveraging wider networks to give companies and banks information to make the right decisions,” he said.
Driving South Africa’s economic growth
Another interesting development at the Blockchain Africa Conference was the consensus among South African government representatives that blockchain could potentially uplift the country.
Mpho Dagada, Commissioner on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) for the South African Presidency said that blockchain has the potential to reduce unemployment and bolster the country’s GDP.
Dagada added that the country can tap into existing artificial intelligence and blockchain solutions to improve the mining sector.
“When we look at where the world is going, it’s important to leverage our strengths and align with that. If the world is moving towards more blockchain systems that are transparent and people want that, we know there is strength in Africa’s minerals and why not plug that in on top of the sector,” Dagada said.
“We might find that we’ll solve the problems we have, like corruption or bringing access to markets. These problems could be solved by us bringing in these solutions and allowing them to plug and play.”
Meanwhile, Akhona Damane, head of South Africa’s Office of Digital Advantage said that they are pushing increase investments in new technologies such as blockchain.
At the Blockchain Africa Conference, it was announced that the new South African National Blockchain Alliance will be launched next month. Once instituted, the new working group will embark on promoting and developing opportunities for blockchain in the country.
SA Reserve Bank softens its stance on cryptocurrencies
In what was seen as a positive development regarding the future of cryptocurrency in South Africa, the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) declared its openness to embrace digital currencies.
Speaking at the event, Anrich Daseman, senior fintech specialist at the Reserve Bank, acknowledged that cryptocurrencies were “here to stay,” pointing to the fact that a task force had been set up to develop regulatory frameworks for the sector.
Daseman also revealed that SARB is currently working on a policy paper that would regulate how cryptocurrencies are used in the country. SARB does not recognise digital currencies as legal tender but there’s a consideration of cryptocurrencies becoming a parallel payment system.
Digital identity enabled by blockchain
On the issue of digital identity, Victor Mapunda, founder and CEO of FlexFinTx, argued that a lack of proper identification documents is excluding many Africans from accessing insurance and financial services. This problem is further exacerbated by slow processes and a lack of information sharing between governments, financial and healthcare institutions.
Mapunda believes that blockchain can help tackle these problems. A nationwide blockchain identity system would enable African governments to not only connect many citizens to the financial system but also improve tax collection processes.
The 2020 Blockchain Africa Conference was overshadowed by low attendance owing to the recent coronavirus outbreak around the globe.
Notably, keynote speaker Charles Hoskinson, founder of Cardano, did not attend due to travel restrictions.
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