Countries in Africa have always been early adopters when it comes to financial technology. Emerging tech has been at the forefront of major solutions across the continent. Most recently, IOHK announced its major projects as part of what it says is the biggest blockchain deal in history.
Solving problems with emerging tech
Despite the common idea that Africa is lagging in technological innovation, the continent is home to many forward-thinking start-ups and tech solutions.
For example, in Kenya, M-Pesa has been revolutionizing cellphone banking since the 1990s. This product has made it easier to send money and reach the unbanked. Meanwhile, South Africa has grown to become the fintech hub of the region. Its cities like Cape Town are fertile ground for new start-ups to build from.
When it comes to cryptocurrencies, the uptake hasn’t been quite as enthusiastic. However, despite some regulatory setbacks, exchanges like Luno have grown year on year. In February, Nigeria became the second-largest bitcoin market in the world after the United States.
Cardano launches blockchain projects in Africa
When it comes to blockchain technology outside of cryptocurrencies, however, the biggest announcement came recently from IOHK.
The company plans to implement a variety of projects. It will utilize its blockchain to improve services in countries like Ethiopia and Tanzania.
Blockchain for education in Ethiopia
IOHK has partnered with the Ethiopian government to transform the education system using their smart contract platform Cardano.
As part of the deal, students across Ethiopia will be given a digital identity (DID). This metadata carrys all the information about their academic performance throughout their schooling. It uses Atala Prism technology integrated with the Cardano blockchain.
IOHK CEO Charles Hoskinson explains how this will benefit them later down the line:
“When these millions of students graduate, as they go into the economy, eventually this infrastructure can be used for buying property, for payments, for voting and all other matters of their economic life.”
The system is revolutionary because it tracks every step of a student’s academic development.
A student who achieves top mathematics grades throughout their school life in a traditional school system but flunks in their final paper might not get into their desired university.
This has knock-on effects that can severely harm their future. With the DID, this one strike system is replaced by a holistic view of their abilities.
This system also protects against fraud or fabrication. The trustless system of a blockchain makes it immutable and easily accessible by all.
Ethiopian Education Minister Getahun Mekuria, who was tasked to digitize Ethiopia’s education system, explains how the DID system will keep track:
“You cannot really get the level of understanding of somebody by simply providing a test twice a year or once in a year. One thing we decided is to have a digital ID (DID) for our students especially focusing into the secondary school so we started providing digital ID for all of our 12th-grade students.”
Mekuria believes blockchain is the only system that could facilitate their ambitious education reform strategy.
“I don’t think other technologies are able to really perform on that level of analytics, that level of accuracy, that level of privacy, and that level of security,” he says.
Criticism of Cardano
As positive as the Ethiopian government and IOHK sound, there are some vocal critics of their past dealings.
Ethiopian businessman Kal Kassa labeled Cardano’s work a “scam” in a blog post. In addition, he calls Hoskinson, a “snake oil salesman.”
This is because Kassa doesn’t believe that IOHK and Cardano’s plans will come to fruition. He references a lack of concrete, legal steps taken by the company in the country in the past.
Kassa also accused IOHK and Hoskinson of undermining the Ethiopian international economic outlook.
“Although he may not be directly milking Ethiopia of its foreign currency, he is indirectly contributing to my country’s non-existent role in global finance and a childish ethos of ethnic borders beyond sovereign human rights.”
However, the recent Cardano deal was announced after this blog post was published. While Kassa references the Cardano Africa conference, there isn’t evidence to say the system won’t be implemented so soon after the plan’s release.
Looking beyond education
Despite these criticisms, Cardano is going all out in its promises to these African countries. Deals considering mobile technology and healthcare are also on the table.
Global digital healthcare platform, Ask The Doctor, is planning a switch from Ethereum’s blockchain to Cardano’s.
Ask The Doctor enables users to earn crypto by learning about basic healthcare. They can then use what they’ve earned to pay for doctors and medication. Part of the reason for Ask The Doctor’s move is because of Cardano’s strong presence on the African continent.
They have also partnered with World Mobile Group to provide vital services to Tanzania and Ethiopia. The companies are working together to bring sustainable internet to Tanzania through renewable energy.
Together, they will provide affordable network nodes based on the Cardano blockchain infrastructure.
These network nodes will act as local relays for internet connectivity. This will also allow subscribers to access the identity solution being used in Ethiopia, but instead of education, it will allow them to access services such as digital banking.
Plans for the future
Much of Hoskinson’s vision for the African continent lies in his belief in the continent’s acceptance of new technologies. He considers the demand is greatest in developing countries, making them the best nations for these kinds of innovations.
In a YouTube video about the road ahead for Africa, Hoskinson explains that big powerhouses like the US will not be where the growth in this tech comes from.
“So if we say … where will the greatest demand for the type of technology we build over the next 10 years 20 years 30 years, it’s going to start in places like the continent of Africa,” he explains.
“Everything is on the table, new voting systems, new property systems, new payment systems, new ways of identifying people, new ways of trading securities,” he says.
How exactly all these projects pan out is still to be seen, but Cardano is making a big push that is exciting for a continent that is often overlooked.