UN Holds Conference On Blockchain, Crypto In Africa

On November 24, a conference on blockchain technology in Africa, organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), concluded its proceedings. The multi-day meeting, which took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was more of a platform for participants to learn about the technology than a venue for crafting any kind of specific or binding policy.

Among the possible use cases discussed were “the supply chain, shipping logistics, food production, luxury manufacturing, pharmaceuticals,” and “identity registration.” One or more presenters cited cases in Kenya to bolster the argument that blockchain technology can promote “financial inclusion and bottom-of-the-pyramid business efforts.”

Much of the meeting was spent discussing bitcoin specifically, and attendees were told that, based on trends observed in Zimbabwe and South Africa, the digital asset “has value even in the context of poor developing African countries.” The cryptocurrency may also prove useful “as a means to facilitate low-cost remittances,” “as a means for an otherwise excluded individual to have a decentralized global bank account,” and in “providing the basis for a richer set of financial services remittances and small-scale international trade” by acting as an “intermediary currency” between fiats.

Following the conference, participants, including UNECA’s Chief of New Technologies and Innovation Kasirim Nwuke, noted some of the challenges that they anticipate might hinder the implementation of blockchain projects on the continent. These include the lack of a “common data structure;” the necessity of coordinating laws and regulations in order to allow projects to flourish; and certain unspecified “cybersecurity concerns” and “cultural issues.”

Nwuke summarized the lessons that attendees drew from the gathering, saying,

“We have learned that [blockchain technology] is an emerging technology with a breakthrough potential. We have learned harnessing this technology will require huge investments and that careful evaluation by member States and firms is needed not only to determine the suitability of the technology to help mitigate identified needs but also return on investment.”