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.

Advert: Web security scanner

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

Get a vault for your data!

It’s not often that we readily endorse a product or company. However, when the nature of work they engage in is considered ground-breaking and has a positive impact on our lives – it most certainly warrants a mention.

The rationale for considering such tech-driven projects as highly significant is neither due to ‘gut feeling’. Nor that it is simply fascinating and therefore must be an excellent product. This project actually has a value proposition for you!

We are indeed well into the information age and while we have written extensively about data, its importance to marketers and its fragility when used and abused by unscrupulous third-parties for their financial gain.

The issue of data security is however, quite a serious issue. You just need to pay attention to the news to become even more aware.

 

Data breach incidents

In Europe, the where security is supposedly more advanced, we have seen the likes of renowned airline British Airways, being hacked. Several hundreds of thousands of customers’ personal data compromised.

These were followed by hacks on other major airlines such as Cathay Pacific.  Aside from airlines, other business outfits have suffered a similar fate.

The perpetrators are getting a lot more brazen and very recently, a cable car, used as public transport in Moscow was hacked, leaving vulnerable passengers terrified and stuck high up in the air. And this probably to the amusement of the pranksters (hackers).  

Can you imagine the chaos and commotion that would be caused if their control systems of driverless cars were to be hacked? 

The digital intrusions get even more sophisticated.

This time, affecting the very wealthy:  private yachts are now being hacked and taken into the pirate waters, all via uniquely coded signals, reading data from their antennas!

 

Data security 

On the issue of data security, you often hear about extra protection but not just anti-virus and anti-phishing software. The more secure and heavily encrypted Blockchain technology is, however, making waves in the digital sphere.

It is mainly for the escalation of its once shining star by-product designed for discreet transacting – the Bitcoin.

Blockchain technology has also triggered several other technologies based on its digital cryptology technology to ensure that your information is kept safe from prying eyes while stored, used or transferred online.

Blockchain products such as cryptocurrencies, however, are not completely safe from hackers!

 

A solution

Zortrex400x400The company we chose to highlight uses a unique vault system and is called Zortrex. It has adopted one of such Blockchain technologies dubbed tokenization. It will be using it to ensure that highly sensitive data online is kept safe.

“Our tokenised solution would have protected their customers’ personal identification information (PII) details. Instead the hackers ran off with the date of birth; passport numbers; financial data etc,” says Susan Brown, Chairperson of Zortrex – relating to the British Airways incident.

 

Tokenization is the process of converting rights to real-world assets into a digital token on a blockchain.

Brown’s background in data privacy systems as well as her devoted passion for the protection of PII, financial and healthcare data led her to start up and chair Zortrex. 

 

The law

“Companies have disrespected your data for over 25 years, and if left unattended, there will be nothing left to protect,” Browns says.

Thanks to new laws like the European GDPR law which is now imposing the data protection, data breaches and abuse of customer data is now met with hefty financial penalties.

Companies now think twice about consent and how to use and share your data digitally. But is it enough? The simple answer is no.  

The authorities just do not have the resources to investigate every complaint nor to actively enforce all data breaches – yet.

We have ingeniously invented systems that automatically align with financial messaging, payments and securing information. All of which require data. 

“However, we should and need to go a step further to secure all the PII details with tokenisation so that in the event of a hack, the cookies and trackers will only be following a ‘useless’ token as there is no real identification on it,” Brown explains.

Zortrex would naturally like to tokenise all healthcare data so that vulnerable people living outside of major cities can also feel assured that their privacy is protected.

In a previous blog, we wrote about the new Internet of things (IoT). All those devices being built for it. They would all need  their IP addresses and the serial numbers tokenised for instance.

 

Using Blockchain

The application of the all-powerful blockchain is not limited to use in the financial sector and will be applied via the supply chain to all industries that deal with data – especially the most sensitive ones.

An angel investor or any investor for that matter looking to get onto the next best thing since Amazon would therefore be unwise to pass up the opportunity to back the Zortrex venture given its scope.

Furthermore, regulations are currently being implemented primarily in the pharmaceutical sector.

A tokenised supply chain such as what Zortrex offers would be ideal for this new law which is planned to be implemented by 2023.  A judiciary blockchain, for instance, would enable the police to “talk” to the prison service,  who in turn, will communicate with the legal sector or public health institutions (NHS).

Forensic evidence would in such instances be tokenised and kept secure (away from tampering) during legal hearings.  In another practical scenario, Smart Contracts (which are touted to replace lawyers) can spark off legal aid assistance.

You court cases will be heard quicker and be more efficient.  Protection registers can also be protected with tokenisation rendering it more secure.

Blockchain technology offers quality assurance making sure that no shortcuts are taken. The smart contracts specifically, trigger any possible malfeasance.

This will enable the monitoring and tracking of any data sharing to third parties once it is tokenised. The third party apps would only gain access to the data once the trigger has been activated.

Like other pioneers and visionaries, Brown’s futuristic hope that every child being born will have their name, date of birth, blood type data being tokenised, might seem farfetched. However, given the nature and rise of data breaches it is evidently necessary.

Zortrex wants to use their technology to put the hackers out of business! 

Tokenisation cannot be mathematically reversed and thus it will least it will stop the hackers for a while.

Scalability

For such high ambitions, the creators of Zortrex’s software have adequately ensured that the technology used is fully scalable. One stumbling block many Blockchain projects now face is what is referred to as scalability – which in tech terms, is the ability of a network or software to grow and manage increased demand.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 250x250.gif

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum specifically – which is used to build a lot of Distributed Applications, however, have massive scalability issues.

The growth in demand for DApps is crippling those systems. They need to investigate the incorporation of alternative technologies, upgrade or split their platforms to cope with such high demand.

Someone must take the first step in securing this data forever. You should be able to purchase what you want without being harassed by trackers and cookies.

The need for tokenisation is endless and further, down the line, celebrities and government official’s PII can be secured by it to protect them from damaging schemes, ‘bad press’ and scandals.

In a previous blog, we “prophesized” that data is the new commodity – like gold or oil. However, the actual value with that data will lie in its privacy, the ability to store it securely and unlock it only with legal permission by its rightful owner.

Digital Dribs & DApps!

We have barely scratched the surface with the Internet (introduced in the early eighties) and it is already seemingly being threatened with competition. A possible replacement by a new phenomenon.

Well, for lack of a better word, “replaced” has connotations of a dying Internet. This is far from accurate.

This new phenomenon – fostered by blockchain technology, will change the way you use and consume the Internet as a service.

So, what is this new Internet-like system creating waves online and making online marketers quiver at the prospect of them losing out on the exponential revenues they have previously enjoyed?

Well, without hyping it up any further, it is called Distributed Applications or ‘DApps’ for short.

A brief history of Apps

Before we delve further into its meaning and use in the cyber world, perhaps some background context is required.

The use of online or mobile applications software or “Apps” has boosted the way you consume products and services online. Companies jumped onto the bandwagon when they discovered that we mostly use Smartphones for the Internet – a lot more than on desktops.

App developers were then subsequently sought after to create mobile Apps for practically anything.  What started as something mainly for gamers moved quickly onto Apps for any commercial activity.

We now use Apps (the Internet) for shopping; fitness; travelling; online bookings and banking. Developers now create customised software to help with anything.

There is now an App store for every significant tech provider – Microsoft, Google and Apple to mention a few. This has naturally fattened their pockets and created an additional stream of income from an eager market.

The ‘catch’ for using mobile apps is that though it costs you nothing to download, using them still require some form of ‘registration’. You can do this by providing personal data or linking to an existing account such as your Facebook or Google account.

The benefit to App providers

The Apps, which are also embedded in social media, create a data goldmine for marketers to study and track your browsing habits. Through them marketers can gain valuable insights into your interests and then customise their products/services to sell to you.

Data mining has become more lucrative and more accessible with the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning. Ever notice how after browsing online or having a conversation or a chat application like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, you go online afterwards, and you see Ads displaying the items you discussed?

Creepy isn’t it? Well, that is the future of Web 4.0 for you!

Staying ‘woke’

Luckily for us, there is a school of knowledgeable and security conscious programmers who are not ‘giving in’ to the way the Internet has become a centralised cesspool for marketers to harvest data from.

Social media platforms, search engine providers and mobile application providers facilitate them immensely with this.

Watch a video explaining the mechanics of DApps

The impetus behind a distributed application system is that it serves to distribute plough some of wealth garnered from your data via application providers back to you – the end user.

Imagine getting paid to surf the web for hours. The way you get paid for taking on a survey, partaking in a social experiment, donating an organ or sperm?

This is the way distributed apps are touted to work: by rewarding you for the use of specific applications (in a peer-to-peer review like setting) with cashable tokens. Seems only fair right?

Now you can imagine how companies like Cambridge Analytica would react to having to pay you for their use of your data. There will be reluctance and resistance but if they could pay companies like Facebook for the use of data, why not pay us directly?

Early adoption

Joining the DApps revolution is a no-brainer. Companies at the forefront of building and supporting DApps will end up getting a more substantial chunk of the market.

DApps will primarily provide you with the use of payment (remuneration) systems. These are specifically known as Smart Contracts and Proof or Work systems.

There are currently also web-browsers (built as DApps on blockchain platforms such as Ethereum or EOS) that will reward you for merely using their DApps.

For instance, you are rewarded in cashable tokens to surf the net over applications like Google Chrome, Opera, Microsoft Edge or Mozilla Firefox.

It is therefore, only a matter of time that this form of Internet-browsing and use of applications becomes the norm.

The Internet revolutionised the way you communicate, socialise, learn, shop and do business online.

DApps however, will determine the way you get compensated for doing the very same things you love to indulge online while making it worth your while.