A decentralised solution

Did you know that there are still more than 700 million people in the world who live in extreme poverty? These people must scrimp, starve and struggle to survive off less than $1.90 per day. By 2030, the World Bank estimates that more around 90 percent of those people will be concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This is perhaps one of the greatest developmental failures of the modern world. Despite the continent’s expansive natural resources and increasing connectivity, foreign actors still feel it’s too risky to heavily invest in their markets.

Blockchain, however, could be the key to changing that! 

Bitcoin and “Blockchain” were created in the mass wave of distrust in banks after the 2008 financial crisis. Therefore, the technology enables individual, distributed data storage that could become the perfect evidence base and financial infrastructure for a developing country.

With the right implementation, Blockchain holds the potential to completely revolutionize and revitalize such economies, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

So, what is this Blockchain?

How Blockchain works

Blockchain is essentially a kind of decentralized database that allows individuals to have a safe, secure way to handle their data without the need for third parties.

For example, people with Bitcoin can make or accept payments in real-time without needing a centralized bank.

“[It is] a way for one Internet user to transfer a unique piece of digital property to another Internet user, such that the transfer is guaranteed to be safe and secure, everyone knows that the transfer has taken place, and nobody can challenge the legitimacy of the transfer,” said software entrepreneur Marc Andreessen.

“The consequences of this breakthrough are hard to overstate.”

Why Blockchain could be the perfect fit for Africa

Until the mid-twentieth century, most of Africa was ruled under a colonial system meant to exploit the people and the resources for European benefit. However, they were rushed into development according to European standards rather than homegrown ones.

The legacy of rapid development, distrust and corruption left behind an economic system failing to recover in the 21st century.

While the World Bank celebrates a decrease in global poverty levels, the number is expected to remain stagnant in Africa. Today’s poorest people are living in places with the least economic growth. Sadly enough, poverty and lack of investment in many developing countries stem from how they were integrated into the world system.

The land was cut into countries according to European treaties and agreements, rather than by traditional and tribal land divisions. This situation worsened upon the handover of colonial power to so-called “democracies,” where power often shifted to the ethnic groups that former colonizers favoured.

Corruption multiplied in the form of bribes, political persecution, rigged elections and a massive wealth gap—all of which still affect the wealth distribution and investment potentials of many developing countries.

Of course, this created a lack of trust in banks and government throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa. During a 2012 study conducted in rural Western Kenya, Stanford University researchers waived the costs of opening a basic savings account for a number of unbanked individuals.

While 63 percent of the subjects opened an account, only 18 percent of them used the accounts. This was likely due to three factors: a lack of trust in banks, unreliable service and prohibitive withdrawal fees.

Unfortunately, the prevalence of unbanked individuals in the informal sectors scares off foreign investors, who heavily rely on transactional evidence to make investments. Otherwise, pouring money into markets is too risky. That’s where Blockchain comes in.

How would it work?

SmartContracts


Blockchain can host an entire evidence base of transactions, loan repayments and asset titles. The technology is also decentralized and requires individual confirmation, creating an element of trust and transparency beyond traditional banking systems.

According to Victor Olorunfemi, Director of Products for Pan-African tech and cryptocurrency exchange, KuBitX, Blockchain’s major benefits lie in “frictionless P2P and cross-border payments, transparent elections, land registry management [and] transparent crowdfunding.”

Let’s look at some of the different ways Blockchain could benefit developing economies, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

1. Creating financial infrastructure and accountability

According to a study by the Milken Institute, viable financial markets require consistent, accurate data on assets and credit histories. Luckily, Blockchain may fulfil these needs.

The use of Smart Contracts technology is ideal in areas lacking accountability, such as the real estate or land/agricultural sectors. In Africa, a lack of record-keeping practices often leads to “missing” or non-existent title deeds. In some cases, this is intentional.

Title deeds “go missing,” only to end up in the hands of benefactors other than the rightful owners. Smart Contracts could eradicate these issues through the use of special tokens that cannot be duplicated, changed or removed. See the article on tokenization.

Likewise, Bitland, a company in Ghana, currently helps individuals record deeds and land surveys. By resolving land disputes, Bitland creates more stability while accurately recording land asset data.

Blockchain has the potential to build up individual credit histories, as well. An individual could record on-time bill repayment or smaller transactions to obtain loans.

“There’s a massive number of people in the informal sector, but there’s not much data being collected on them right now,” said Merit Webster, co-president of the MIT Sloan Africa Business Club.

“That means you don’t have that credit history or payment history for them. If you have a decentralized approach to collecting data, you end up with more malleable data. [This] is very valuable for creating credit histories.”
The agricultural industry also has the potential to thrive using Blockchain.

“In the case of small-scale farmers, Blockchain technology helps with transportation logistics,” said Webster. “Blockchain could be used to track goods around the world. This allows farmers to earn a fair wage for their goods.”

Also, farmers could use record-keeping technology to streamline the supply chain and document resources. This would lead to better efficiency, lower transactional costs and improved logistics—especially for commercial farming activities that invariably contribute to exports.

2. Security in banking

According to the World Bank, there were 1.7 billion people with no bank account in 2017. This situation is worst in developing countries, especially African ones. For example, over 62 million of these people lived in Nigeria.

Besides, data from Google Trends reveal that Lagos, one of Nigeria’s biggest cities, ranks globally as the number one city based on the volume of online searches for Bitcoin (BTC). Clearly, for the city’s 21 million-odd people, there an immense interest in some form of an accessible payment system.

N26 Bank
N26 Bank

Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect bank branches to magically appear in every remote corner of the world. However, a digital database using Blockchain technologies has the potential to reach far beyond physical banks.

Many Africans value trust and transparency. In developing countries, this lack of trust goes beyond the Internet. Developing countries with less industrialization tend to have higher levels of corruption. This reduces national investment opportunities in the public sector and instils a lack of trust in centralized oligarchs handling international investment.

Because its power lies within the community of users, Blockchain can combat these trust issues. All data logs and amendments must pass through this community and identification confirmation tests.

Blockchain technology also secures its data incredibly. Hacking and data breaches are all too common nowadays. In 2017, for example, around 3 billion Yahoo user accounts were stolen. When information is stored in the same place, hackers have one, easy target. In contrast, Blockchain is a distributed entity. This dissemination of data leaves it far less vulnerable to cyberattacks.

3. Fostering Entrepreneurship

Coupled with the Internet, Blockchain technology could be the perfect platform for aspiring African developers. Because the ‘source code’ is free of charge, skilled coders can adopt, create and configure special applications, called DApps, via Crypto platforms provided by companies like Ethereum, Tron and even a South African firm specializing what they called the Keto-Coin.

Rather than waiting for governments to drag their feet trying to create jobs—which they tend to do—individuals on the continent can form small firms that build and sell Crypto-based Apps locally or abroad.

“Despite the frictions and impediments mentioned,” said Olorunfemi. “Blockchain can still provide an avenue for promising African tech (and even non-tech) projects to access capital (foreign direct investments) via token offerings on digital assets exchanges.”

Many courses are even readily available online to quickly learn about the new technology. Microsoft, for instance, offers a platform via Azure to build and learn about the Blockchain.

One-man shops in countries with unfavourable economic systems, like Zimbabwe, can also adopt smaller, stable, Crypto-built Apps/coins to facilitate or replace payment systems. In cases of rampant inflation, Cryptos can temporarily act as a store of value or help pay for things until the currency stabilizes again.

As with the Venezuelan hyperinflation case study, Cryptocurrency intervention could help many developing countries troubled with economic instability.

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There is also the option of Crypto-mining. Now before you pull out the high-energy (electricity needed to power PCs that mine Cryptocurrency) argument, think outside the box for a moment. What about energy sources that are free and available nearly 24/7? Like water and the sun!

The African continent is full of capable scientists and mechanical engineers. One could build special solar-powered energy centers to power Bitcoin-mining.

And without the expertise, governments or private companies could alternatively just invite Crypto companies with abundant financial resources to mine (cleanly) for a special tax/fee while creating jobs for the locals.

4. Elections

In addition to the financial side of things, Blockchain technology could help eliminate some forms of corruption. For example, many African countries’ elections are incredibly vulnerable to the social scourge. In some extreme cases, some officials change or forge written ballot votes to rig elections.

Corruption


To combat this, Blockchain databases could record votes, which are nearly impossible to tamper with using Smart Contract technology. Having fair elections improves infrastructure, which then increases development and economic dependability.

Blockchain non-profit company Cardano, this year, has partnered with the Ethiopian government to battle these issues specifically.

5. Leapfrogging

While some might see Africa’s economy as underdeveloped, others might see it as a blank canvas well-suited for a large-scale implementation of Blockchain. Economic and governmental systems are shifting and slightly shaky in many Sub-Saharan African nations.

MPesa

Although these facets have been detrimental in the past, this also means that there is no rigid current economic system to upend to implement Blockchain.
Don’t just take our word for it—African nations have often implemented new, practical technologies before the Western world. Let’s look at the example of M-Pesa. Back in 2014, Americans and Europeans were amazed by Apple Pay’s launch.

However, this mobile payment system wasn’t exactly “new.” By that time, Kenyans had used M-Pesa, a very similar technology, for years.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to leapfrog the way the West developed and have these more unique African solutions, but it needs to come from within,” said Webster.

“It needs to come from entrepreneurs in the continent who want to implement these solutions. It’s important to engage people very early on. Systems incubated in the West don’t stand as great of a chance to work as African ones do.”

With the possibility of an experimental, large-scale takeover of Blockchain technology to improve African infrastructure, the nations there could leapfrog in development and growth, surpassing current World Bank expectations and its developing national counterparts.

This must begin internally. According to Olorunfemi, “Education—of policy makers and other stakeholders—which is often ignored has to be a critical factor in paving the way for the acceptance and adoption of new technologies and the accompanying investment.”

The results in Sub-Saharan African countries could help eliminate much of the world’s poverty, along with remnants of mistrust and corruption left behind by the days of colonial exploitation.

While there are some obstacles to large-scale Blockchain implementation, we can’t think of a better benefactor than there. The possibilities for business using the Blockchain are endless!

To learn more about how to get started with Cryptocurrency mining or purchasing, visit our resources page for useful links and guides.


Additional input by Bobby Quarshie (BQ). 

Citations: Christopher Lee and Jackson Mueller. 

Swan, Melanie. “Anticipating the Economic Benefits of Blockchain.” Technology Innovation Management Review 7.10. Oct. 2017.

Bitcoin Lessons from Venezuela, Where Hyperinflation Reigns. Online Source: https://www.lathropgage.com/newsletter-237.html

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Anonymous Surfing

You don’t have to be an online arsonist, hacker or international cyber-terrorist to hide your online identity. Likewise, concealing your PC’s web address or (better known as) your Internet Protocol address (IP address), making it unknown to the public, does not necessarily mean you are up to no good online.

Debunqed.com will, therefore,  build a case for why it is important at times to conceal your private online location with the use of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks).

A VPN is a connection method used to add security and privacy to private and public networks, like Wi-Fi Hotspots and the Internet. They are most often used by corporations to protect sensitive data but now also by the man on the street for the very same necessity.

Getting back to the importance of your IP address: it is probably something you rarely think about but is very crucial to your online lifestyle even as an individual. How so? You might still ask.

Well, without an IP address, you wouldn’t be able to get the current weather, check the latest news or view at videos (streaming) online for instance.

VPN-Protect-you

Click here or on the image to view a quick video

The uses of VPNs

Your IP is also used for basically every online service you partake in including very private things such as your internet/mobile banking or online trading activity.  Think of it as your physical address and how important it is when getting things delivered by post or using it when you need to make applications for loans, jobs etc.

“Without a public IP address, online service providers like Netflix, BBC or Amazon wouldn’t know where to send the information you asked for. They wouldn’t be able to get it to your computer.”

One can now imagine how naked you must feel if you have nothing to protect this address from the advent of a hack without adequate data encryption.  Also the just the haggling by overzealous online marketers, spam, malware, and even 419 scammers!

Now the argument for whether using VPNs is illegal is highly debatable for some of the valid reasons highlighted above. It should, however, be a given right  to be able to use it. And even though it is commonly used by cyber-thugs to mask their clandestine and often dark activities, it should not be outlawed altogether.

The case for VPN

The legitimacy of VPNs debate therefore, carries on into a grey area.

avg-secure-vpn-featuredWe will, however, investigate a few VPN providers that are ‘paid for services’ and even offered by established companies such as AVG (which primarily offers Antivirus protection).

The directive is to help the everyday consumer surf the web without ‘virtual’ salespeople bombarding them with offers based on personal information gathered in an ‘unsolicited’ manner.

Policies like the European-based GDPR law were put in place to protect consumers from the non-consensus use of their data. Even your Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can track your online activities via your IP and sell your browsing habits.

Some forward-thinking people and companies, however, have long been shielding themselves manually using VPNs.

One direct benefit for you as a consumer is the ability to access content (information, products, and services) from different servers. A good VPN service can enable you to obtain access to other geo-locational content despite being on a different continent.

Take the example of Netflix: if you use a VPN in Europe it enables you to have international access to content from the US by using a US-based server for access.

It is perfectly legal provided you are paying for the service. The burden falls on the provider of the service and not the end user if it came down to a legal “scrap”.

If you need to do these tasks frequently, you need a VPN:

  • To hide your IP address (to enable anonymity from marketers and hackers)
  • Change your IP address (to avoid identity theft)
  • Encrypt data transfers (private and financial data)
  • Mask your location (to access other services)
  • Access blocked websites

250x250A word of caution for the last reason, i.e when navigating websites blocked by governments with a VPN: Unless you are a high-profile journalist working on a case and backed by good legal aid – it’s not a wise thing to do.

Do some research if you are not sure because accessing such sites (and not necessarily just government sites) could land you in some hot water. Rather use a known privacy service like Tor to ensure full anonymity to gain access to restricted sites if you really must.


Top Virtual Private Network Protocols

VPN protocols and available security features are numerous. The most common (best) protocols are:

ExpressVPNthe acclaimed best offshore VPN for privacy and unblocking.

IPVanish great for P2P and Torrenting.

VyprVPNthe best choice for those looking for security.

NordVPNsecurity is its middle name.

TunnelBeardubbed the easiest VPN to use.

Windscribea VPN which gives you unlimited connections.

Hotspot Shieldan awesome solution for online browsing.

KeepSolid VPN Unlimitedthe jack of all trades of VPNs.

CyberGhostrich clients and ease of reconfiguring.

ZenMateuser-friendly VPN that caters to the newbies to VPN.

PureVPNtake advantage of easy to use apps and access to many servers.

Source: www.itproportal.com, PureVpn

Picking a VPN service can be a daunting task as there are now literally hundreds of them to choose from. Landing the right one means striking the right balance between services, ease of use and pricing.

Some providers offer free VPN services while some like AVG charges for their VPN service. Paid VPN providers, however, are preferred to the free service providers as they offer robust gateways, proven security, additional free software, and unmatched speed.

The key is to find the best VPN that meets your immediate needs while matching your budget.

Accountable Supervision

Leadership values are not only confined to the running of a political campaign, party or country for that matter, however, like in any venture that has an objective and deals with human beings – it forms the backbone of a successful any business.

Consequently, what leaders such as CEO of Tesla Elon Musk, for example, say or does, have a positive or, in the recent unfortunate case, a negative impact on the shareholdings of his business.

The share price can decline sharply and worse yet, it can lead to the exit of senior staff members and thus undermining the business, its leadership values and objectives.

This why it is critical for companies to adopt the right practices and responsible leadership to enable them to address both internal and external issues affecting them.

This is even most relevant when dealing with a company that has a multinational operational facet such as the Murray and Roberts Group – a South African company that operates in a global setting.

This specific multinational company was used in a case study for a research paper because it is firmly entrenched in the construction and engineering industry.

More specifically, they service the global natural resources market sectors of underground mining; Oil & Gas; Power & Energy.

Such a diverse set of operations requires a varied set of objectives spearheaded by a solid leadership path.

New model of leadership

We have covered the topic of Emotional Intelligence before. It now surfaces again within a brand-new leadership model known as the ARCHES model.

The name derives from a key characteristic of the physical structure of an arch and its durability. Coupled with its diversity in models and materials and its depiction as symbols of triumph, it represents an apt analogy of what responsible and effective leadership should be.

The model was especially derived by an academic* for a syndicate group assignment and is based on six key characteristics that should be imparted in a leader.

An effective and responsible leader is one who is attuned to their followers, responsive, possesses the necessary competencies, serves with humility, is ethical and adopts a sustainable approach to leadership.

A leader who possesses all these attributes is one who can rise above adversity and lead their followers in a way that promotes innovation, motivates, develops skills, promotes personal growth and encourages improved performance – B.Moyo

Application of the model

The model defines attuned leadership as the act of being self-aware, informed and  aware of the environment in which you exist – servant leadership.

Employees should be encouraged to take responsibility for their actions because responsibility and effectiveness are complimentary. The demise of US energy company Enron, for example, was due to a failure of management to execute communication-based responsibility, internally and externally.

ARCHES

A volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment in which a business operates can result in many potential projects not coming to fruition.

In such an environment, leaders that are attuned, responsive and possess the right competencies can expert power as their way to influence followers to exhibit the same traits.

Referent power develops out of admiration of another and a desire to be like them. Expert power on the other hand, is a person’s ability to influence others’ behaviour because of recognized knowledge, skills, or abilities.

This requires the leader to have a tolerable level of humility. This is defined as a personal quality reflecting the willingness to understand the self (identities, strengths, and limitations). That combined with a purpose in the self’s relationship with others.

Once again, the emphasis on Emotional Intelligence coupled with traditional leadership competencies is needed to steer multifaceted companies.

Even more so when dealing with diverse cultures and work ethics across borders and continents.

Direct consequences

Being the largest employer in the locality directly implied that Murray and Roberts had to be consistent with the idiomatic Zulu expression of “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”. This means: I am because you are, you are because we are.

Good leadership in the Ubuntu philosophy is based on the engagement with communities and defines a well-led organization.

Not paying attention to ethical issues surrounding a community or the environment can have an adverse effect on your values. This would also affect your staff and the image of the company you steer.

A bitter consequence of the failure of ethics was evident in the $4.2m (64.1 million ZAR) fine to the said company. This was for its involvement in sector collusion related to construction projects for the 2010 World Cup.

Finally, a practical leader will also consider any upcoming projects with the lens of understanding the environment that surrounds them to incorporate the concept of sustainability.

These traits might sound like they need to be learned but most should be already ingrained or come naturally to you or your leaders.

If not this is not the case, you need to quickly install the right personnel with such to help steer your business enterprise or economy for that matter, to success.
*This blog post contains excerpts and is derived from a master’s research paper. It was conducted by Bonnie Moyo for the Rhodes University Business School.

Can’t Get No Satisfaction

In economic terminology, the term “utility” has not much to do with multifunctionality nor completing specific useful tasks.

It does in context, relate to the level of satisfaction or “completeness” one derives from the consumption of a product or service. For example, there is only so much pizza one can eat before feeling ill from satiety.

On a broader and more macroeconomics spectrum, our utility levels will also help determine how resources are allocated and consumed.

Definition

The concept, a brainchild of Daniel Bernoulli, has so many relevant connotations. As humans, we individually have a maximum biological boundary which when reached, signals absolute satisfaction. This in economic terms is called maximum (total) utility.

Total utility as the complete satisfaction that you can get from consuming all units of a specific item.

Economists are more interested in the changes in levels of utility or what is referred to as the marginal utility.

We will return to its application to the economy.

Applying utility

Incidentally, utility has no formal unit of measurement – though some have coined the term “utils”. These so-called utils equate a number to utility levels in a controlled sample experiment.

Understandably it can be quite a feat to quantify utility as it is based on human behavioural preferences. The closest we got to quantifying such was via the marketing concept of the consumer black box.

N26_banner-160x600-ENAs an illustration, the concept can be applied to something as basic as eating a delicious meal.

Depending on how hungry you were, you would derive the highest utility from the first few bites of your meal.

As you progressed and depending on your appetite, each additional fork, spoon, handful more would provide fewer levels of satisfaction. As you reach your stomachs capacity (inch towards satiety) your utility diminishes.

This can be applied to the taste of the meal. It specifically explains why we tend to eat something sweet after a main (savoury) meal.

The appreciation of ice cream when you are starving would diminish quickly as you concentrate on filling up your stomach. This as opposed to enjoying the taste.

When applied properly to the running of an economy, governments and policymakers can determine which goods and services yield the most maximum utility.

This helps them to consequently direct expenditure to identified priority areas (products/services).

It is a long term concept

Education, for instance, may not provide immediate utility (gratification) for scholars and pupils. However, when appropriately harnessed, it could yield higher levels of satisfaction as individuals enter the job market with better remuneration packages.

Tweaking education curricula, taking into consideration levels of utility to whip up interest for the good of the individual. This should, therefore, be a prime focus for legislators.

Inputs such as maximum times that students can concentrate and the length of study for a degree, diploma or course should be offered without compromising the substance.

Without a doubt, there would be considerations, at a micro-level to assist in enhancing both marginal and total utility in the education sector.

Read more about fiscal policy and budgets here

More life-related uses

The concept of utility is a lot less ubiquitous as we think and relates to the unsavoury phenomenon of megalomania and why we have greed.

When the level of satisfaction or self-gratification diminishes quickly, you find that it takes longer for those experiencing lower levels of marginal utility to reach a plateau of pleasure.

Drug addiction, sexual appetites, and fetishes would then kick-in in such cases where people upgrade the “product or service” that they have already maximized their utility. At that stage, another level of fulfilment would be sought.

Utility applied to finances

120x600It also explains why people lose a lot of money gambling or investing in stocks. The satisfaction of gaining more for a little outlay based on your decisions, will often drive you to take more risk until a level of risk aversion kicks in.

High-risk equity investors “called whales”  are now delving into the Crypto market to maximize their utility. They are diverting their funds from property and stock trading into digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum.

The saying too much of a good thing is inevitably bad for you applies and can be countered by diversifying the things that deliver pleasure or satisfaction.

This is to ensure that you do not maximise utility on them too quickly and lose interest.  Worse case, delve too deep into the dangerous territories of addiction.

Economists need to be relevant, more than ever before. They also need to formulate a means to measure and quantify utility or provide “utils” for at least, the most common goods and services.

With such a strategy, policy-making, product pricing and the efficient allocation of resources would be more effortless.