Experts meet in Addis Ababa to discuss blockchain technology in Africa

Printer-friendly version

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 22 November 2017 (ECA) – Experts are gathered in Addis Ababa to review a new Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) report which aims to explore opportunities for blockchain technology in Africa.

Blockchain is an ingenious invention that allows digital information to be distributed but cannot be copied.

Originally devised in 2008 for the digital currency, Bitcoin, by an anonymous person or group known as Satoshi Nakamoto and implemented in 2009, the tech community is now finding other potential uses for the technology.

Addressing an Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on Information and Communication Technologies on the theme “Exploring opportunities for Blockchain technology in Africa”, Kasirim Nwuke, Chief of the New Technologies and Innovation Section (NTIS) in the ECA’s Special Initiatives Division (SID), said there currently was a lot of hype about blockchain though much remains unknown about the technology.

“Like every new technology, blockchain faces many barriers which must be understood and overcome in order for Africa to take full advantage of it,” he said.

Mr. Nwuke said Africa lacks extensive infrastructure, advanced financial institutions, a high degree of political stability and large pools of capital that enable rapid adoption and diffusion of technologies, adding there are also technical constraints to widespread adoption of blockchain technologies in Africa.

These include, scalability and transaction speed of distributed ledger systems, interoperability of different ledgers, network security and resilience of the system against potential cyber-attacks from cyber-criminals. And regulatory and cultural barriers as well.

“It is with the above in view that we commissioned the report which we are presenting to you today, as experts in the field, to review and advice. Our aim in the report is to explore the opportunities and challenges that blockchain technology presents in the context of skills and resource limitations as is the case in most African countries,” said Mr. Nwuke.

“We hope that this report will contribute to ongoing efforts on our continent to understand blockchain technologies, to harness it and to fashion adequate responses to it. We hope that the report will help governments and firms to begin to identify where to begin to build blockchain capacities or capabilities, to ensure that higher education and skills training institutions begin to offer programmes that incorporate this new technology, to ensure that employees, regulators, and citizens understand not just the possibilities of blockchain technologies but also the risks.”

Mr. Nwuke noted that Africans were increasingly participating in the use and development of blockchain technologies with Tunisia being the first African country to put its national currency on a blockchain. 

For his part, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Africa Director, Andrew Rugege, said blockchain is one disruptive technology that although still under development, has been proven to work, adding Africa cannot afford to ignore it.

“It is one instrument that Africa can use not only for financial digital inclusion but to accelerate to attainment of all SDGs. As the Specialized Agency for ICTs and telecommunication, ITU stands with Africa in this endeavor,” said Mr. Rugege.

He said it is important to note that ICTs cannot play the role of an enabler in the implementation of SDGs if people do not have trust in their use. In this regard, said Mr. Rugege, blockchain, which falls under the broad category of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), offers a very promising method of ensuring the trusted use of ICTs in a wide range of domains.

The final report will help guide African policymakers in this critical area.

 

Issued by:

Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
Ethiopia
Tel: +251 11 551 5826
E-mail: eca-info@un.org