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Virtual governance: A young man’s blockchain solution to elections

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Ibrahim cast his votes for representatives in state legislature and governor in Lagos Nigeria on Saturday April 14, 2007
Ibrahim Shehu cast his votes for representatives in state legislature and governor in Lagos Nigeria on Saturday April 14, 2007

“Elections in Africa are a fading shadow of democracy”. A lot of Africans will agree with Jerry Ojumah on this. The problem of leadership in Africa is one that has bedevilled the continent for many years. Today, Africa remains the poorest and least developed continent in the world. The third world continent has not spawned leaders who will drive citizens wounded by poverty and scarred by terrorism, out of their misery. Perhaps, the continent has spawned these potential leaders, and the true problem is that they have not been given a chance at the wheel of governance. 

When it comes to elections in Africa, the tales carry enough tragedy— from deep electoral malpractices to violence. Jerry Ojumah has one of such tales, and this is why he used his ingenuity and creativity to create an election process that could afford Africa a chance at the limelight. 

Jerry is a Nigerian designer, developer and entrepreneur, who is passionate about building sustainable solutions for the future. Technopreneur is a more accurate term for what Jerry is. Using technology to find solutions to the problems of the world is what pushes Jerry as an entrepreneur. 

i-Elect

The i-Elect platform is one of the solutions Jerry is bringing to the world, specifically to Africa. i-Elect uses blockchain technology to bring ease and transparency to voting. The mission of the platform is to “To use decentralized technology to simplify public information for organizations and government parastatals, thereby, stimulating a community of active citizens and enabling their right to demand accountability, institutional reforms, efficient service delivery and an equitable society.”

The decentralized system of voting which i-Elect brings to the table, ensures that no one has the power to alter or make changes to the data on the blockchain, not even the creators of the i-Elect platform. This is essentially the beauty of blockchain. 

What is blockchain?

Since blockchain technology is the spine of the i-Elect platform, a simplified understanding of the technology is necessary. According to Jerry, blockchain is a “decentralized system or decentralized technology that ensures credibility…a distributed ledger technology that records the movement of data assets on a decentralized ledger”. 

A simple analogy of blockchain is a ledger owned by everyone. Everyone has a copy of this ledger, whatever data that is recorded in the ledger, reflects simultaneously in everyone’s ledger. To make alterations to the ledger, you have to repeat the process across everyone’s ledger— a process which is practically impossible. 

The  birth of i-Elect

Jerry’s motivation for the creation of i-Elect is the sketchy nature of elections in his country, Nigeria. But the motivation runs deeper. Jerry has one of those tales weighty for the tongue to tell. In 2011, Jerry lost a close friend to the election that year. The elections in April that year, were heralded as one of the bloodiest in Nigeria. Over 800 were feared dead in the violence. 

According to Jerry, “how can performing your civic right and duty be an endangerment of your life?” 

Jerry told Decentralize Africa that people wait in line for hours just to cast their votes, and unfortunately, some still end up not being able to cast their votes after hours at the polling unit. 

This, and many others, are the problems Jerry solves with i-Elect. 

Tamper proof

Ballot papers can be altered, manipulations are possible and mistakes can be made in the physical process of voting. The snatching of ballot boxes and other electoral malpractices are frequent occurrences during elections in Africa. I-elect eliminates the possibility of tampering with results, citizens can see real-time results during the course of the elections. 

Privacy 

Voters’ identity and who they vote for is not made public. “Everyone is anonymous on the platform, you don’t know who is voting for who”, Jerry said. 

Accessibility. 

The need for leaving the comfort and safety of your home to perform your civic duty is eliminated. Voters can register and vote from anywhere in the world. “Blockchain makes that happen, voters can participate in a modern and convenient way,” Jerry says. 

Affordability

In 2019, the President of Nigeria sent a budget of N245 billion to the Senate for approval, while the electoral body, INEC(Independent National Electoral Commission), had  N194 billion of the total sum. According to a statement made by the INEC director, he said, “the cost of election operation and logistics is enormous…”. 

A digital voting platform like i-ELECT eliminates several costs incurred by the analogue process of voting. For example, N407 million was spent on vehicle maintenance and N499.5 million was spent on the acquisition of speed boats. These expenses can be eliminated by adopting Voting on the Blockchain. Jerry also says, “These expenses can impact several other sectors of the economy. Pumping them into education, for example, will create significant change in the country.” 

Practical use case

A practical use case for i-Elect is the Covenant university alumni association election. “The election was open for 72 hours, where people could vote at any time within the 72 hours.” Jerry stated  that some members that were outside the country had the opportunity to vote. Voters could see who was leading in real-time. The election was a success, and all participants attested to the fact that the process was tamper-proof and seamless. 

No need for INEC?

“We need an electoral body, they will be able to verify who is qualified to participate in the election”. This was Jerry’s response when he was asked if the digital-based voting will eliminate the need for an electoral body. 

Fast internet connection, which is also a major impediment to any virtual process, is also solved with USSD codes. This means that voters do not need the internet or an internet-ready device to participate in the election exercise. The platform, which is also language-based, caters for citizens who do not speak or understand English.

No doubt, Jerry has presented Africans with an innovative way to choose their leaders. Maybe with it, the right people will be put at the wheel of governance and Africa will have a chance at gearing full economic development. 

However, the question still remains: Will the current political ecosystem give way for an innovation that will make it less toxic and bring about true democracy?

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Bolu Abiodun is a recent graduate of Theatre and Media Arts, Federal University Oye-Ekiti. A journalist with over a year's experience on the job. A former editor at American Media company Project Forward, he is a skilled content creator, social media manager and digital marketer.

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From Libra to Diem: What happened to Facebook’s Digital Currency plans

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Facebook digital currency
Source: Getty Images (modified)

In 2019, Facebook Inc. announced the Libra, a digital currency project being developed by the company. Libra was unveiled to be a blockchain based stablecoin backed by bank deposits and short-term government securities and was to be integrated into Facebook’s services like Messenger and WhatsApp. The Libra blockchain was said to be able to handle 1000 transactions per second, in stark contrast to Bitcoin’s 7 transactions per second. Needless to say, the news that the largest social media company was working on a cryptocurrency rocked the market for a while. But for some reason, we haven’t seen anything really significant happen since then. Why?

First off was the regulatory hurdle. It would appear that Facebook realized that it didn’t have top marks in the trust department, especially in public opinion. To this end, the Libra project was grilled by U.S lawmakers in July 2019 and the central theme was the issue of trust and data privacy. Other regulators also commented on the issue, with European Central Bank board member Benoit Coeure reportedly saying that digital currencies such as the Libra could challenge the supremacy of the U.S. dollar. Similarly, France’s and Germany’s finance ministers at the time had expressed concerns over the Libra, citing risks around financial security, investor protection and anti-money laundering laws.

Libra also faced the hurdle of its project partners dropping out of the initiative. Founding members eBay, Visa, Mastercard as well as PayPal withdrew from the project which may have had a hand in stalling it. The regulatory scrutiny surrounding the project and Facebook’s own unpalatable reputation might have influenced the decisions of the partners who left the project.

This story would be incomplete without mentioning the efforts at rebranding which morphed the project from Libra to Diem in late 2020. These efforts may have been subtly aimed at distancing the digital currency from the scandals and scrutiny that plagued Libra as a result of its association to Facebook. However, those efforts haven’t been particularly successful. As a result of these factors and more, the Diem association scaled back its earlier hoped for global launch and instead settled for a U.S. stablecoin. That doesn’t seem to have happened.

All in all, it would appear that Facebook is adamant in the pursuit of this blockchain system. However, regulators aren’t completely convinced. The headache seems to be about the issues around it’s possible widespread use, considering the amount of Facebook users. The apprehension is about such a currency’s competitive power with other fiat currencies as well as privacy concerns.

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Africa Blockchain Institute

Africa Blockchain Institute Organized The First African Blockchain Summer Bootcamp For Teenagers In Ghana

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In the spirit of catching them young, the Africa Blockchain Institute organized the first-ever Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for teenagers (age range 13 to 19 years old). A successful Bootcamp, according to the participants’ testimonials and stakeholders, held at the OpenLabs, Ring Road, Accra Ghana, between Monday 2nd August, and Friday 6th August 2021. 

The teenagers applied from across Africa, and selected participants all converged at the OpenLabs, Ghana, for an intensive five days of learning, interacting, and implementing personal  Blockchain projects. The participants were divided into three significant tracks, thus; Blockchain Development, Blockchain for Creatives and Blockchain Entrepreneurship. 

Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for Teens by ABI
Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for Teens by Africa Blockchain Institute

Across these three tracks, the teenagers learnt introductory units to Blockchain Development for societal challenges, Blockchain evangelism, Non-Fungible Tokens, and how Cryptocurrency works. Another highlight of the program was the excursion to the Accra Digital Centre, where the Boot Campers were introduced to the tech ecosystem and feel of the Ghana Tech Lab and Accra Innovation Hub spaces. A visit was also made to the Museum of Science and Technology, and the teenagers got to understand the history of technology in Ghana. 

Worthy of mention was the panel session aimed at motivating the students to pursue a career in technology. While making his comments during the panel session, the founder of BankLess Africa, Mr. Muntala Mohammed Shaibu, urged the teenagers to stop seeing themselves as too young to experiment with new technologies. In her remarks, Ms. Elohor Thomas, CEO & Co-Founder of CodeLn, urged the teenagers to continue to explore their interest in technology and blockchain early.

Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for Teens by ABI
Panel Session, Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for Teens by ABI

The Bootcamp ended with personal project presentations from the Blockchain Development and the Blockchain for Creatives & Entrepreneurship tracks. Projects such as NFT blogposts, Blockchain product reviews and Blockchain for transport and logistics were presented. The best presentation won the OpenLabs scholarship for Robotics Course. Thanks to Dr Sujith Jayaprakash, the Director of OpenLabs, Ghana, for the offer of scholarship. In his closing remark, the Executive Director of the Africa Blockchain Institute, Mr. Kayode Babarinde, urged the teenagers to continue using the  skills and knowledge gained during Bootcamp to explore Blockchain-related solutions further. We also appreciate Mr. Ganzaro Omar, Chairman, AfroBlocks, for his supports, and fostering collaborations with the Ghanian Blockchain community.

The Africa Blockchain Institute will continue to hold future Blockchain Summer Bootcamp series in various African cities to drive Blockchain knowledge into innovators early enough. 

Oluwaseun David ADEPOJU

Head of Research,

Africa Blockchain Institute. 

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CBN Crypto Ban Increases P2P But Is It Also Increasing Crypto Scams?

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Crypto ban

The Central Bank of Nigeria CBN on the 5th of February 2021 caused an uproar within the crypto community in Nigeria and globally. The Apex bank released a circular that prohibits financial institutions from processing crypto-related transactions. Banks and other financial institutions were also directed to close accounts that made crypto-related transactions.

As expected the directive did not sit well with crypto enthusiasts, traders and most Nigerians alike. In the CBN’s defence, they were protecting Nigerians from crypto-related scams, volatility of the crypto market and several evils perpetrated with cryptocurrencies. Though valid reasons, many Nigerians still express their resentment of the directive. Cryptocurrencies which serve as an alternative to the weakening Naira are faster and easier at facilitating cross border transactions. 

However, the ban has not hindered crypto transactions in the country. The country still ranks high when it comes to crypto transactions globally. Business Insider reports that between January and March 2021,  p2p trading value of bitcoin in Nigeria was worth $99.1 million. This is $9 million more than the value of bitcoin p2p transaction in Kenya for the whole of 2020. Cleary p2p has increased significantly since the ban. It is therefore safe to say that the ban has increased crypto activity in Nigeria. But has it increased crypto scams too?

The dark side of p2p

While volatile nature cryptocurrencies might in truth lead to loss of funds, the ban by the Central Bank of Nigeria could make Nigerians more vulnerable to crypto scams as they now purchase these digital currencies from unregulated sources hence, p2p.

“It was very easy just buying bitcoin straight from the Luno app but now I need to find someone who is willing to sell me bitcoin and there is really no way to ascertain the person’s trustworthiness.” This statement by crypto newbie, Adekunle Agbetiloye sums up the troubles and vulnerabilities crypto newbies go through to buy and sell crypto assets.

Kunle has been fortunate to have friends that are more grounded in trading cryptocurrencies. This has prevented him from falling into the hands of scammers that find newbies like him, easy picking. In his words “I know people that have fallen victim to crypto scammers that is why I only transact with people that I know personally”.

Ezekiel Juwon wasn’t lucky enough to buy from someone he knew personally. He recounts how he unsuspectingly sent money to a crypto scammer. In his words, “as a beginner I think it is more convenient to buy directly from crypto apps than dealing peer-to-peer. As someone who has experienced crypto scams first hand, I know this for a fact”. Juwon also adds that regulated p2p platforms created as an alternative to trading crypto can also be dangerous. He is convinced that more people will suffer his fate if the ban isn’t lifted. “Everyone wants to get in on crypto, it saves you from poverty so the ban just makes newbies vulnerable”. 

Just like Adekunle, Oyin Komolafe is fortunate to be surrounded by crypto veterans. She says “aside from the grace of God, what is helping me is that I am surrounded by people who know their way around crypto. However, I am sure that newbies will be susceptible to crypto scams because of the CBN ban”

What experts have to say   

However, Crypto expert and blockchain stakeholder, Samuel Attah feels crypto platforms have created alternatives that should keep crypto newbies safe. He sights Bundle as an example of these platforms. In contrast, some of these new users have said they do not find these platforms easy to use. 

Another crypto trader who identifies himself simply as Smogz, says these alternatives by crypto exchanges and crypto platforms require a lot of expertise. Smogz believes that the ban will increase crypto scams. “Crypto platforms serve as a shield to protect crypto beginners from scams. Now that these beginners have to look outside of the confines of these platforms they are open to being ripped off”

It is clear the crypto ban cannot stop Nigerians from using cryptocurrencies. Although a risky investment venture, crypto assets are known to be a source of wealth. Ensuring the safety of Nigerians while they use these crypto assets should be a priority.

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