The first time I started thinking about how blockchain solutions in the African continent would be a game-changer for economic growth, I did not know exactly what role I would play in this development. But I knew I wanted to be part of leading the way into this new era.
Recently, I was thrilled that the company I lead, Sankore, announced our launch of Kenya Regional Hub in partnership with NEAR Foundation, with the mission to accelerate blockchain innovation, education, and talent development across the African continent. This has been a long time coming and has been built up over time through grassroots efforts.
In the past, our Sankore-led NEAR Meets consistently boasted overwhelming attendance and have been popular hubs for locals gathering for blockchain and NEAR protocol education. While they were at first primarily about education, they immediately became a much-needed networking and idea exchange space.
After all, Web3 is spreading across the continent, and we need more local communities in which we can celebrate and build upon this. This change is being driven by people who know that embracing Web3 is already happening throughout the continent.
During the first two phases of the Internet, we can look back now and say that Africa largely missed out due to the lack of internet infrastructure and technical know-how to create value on the same level as those in the West and some parts of Asia. However, this time is very, very different.
Now, Africa has seen not one, not two, but six of its countries (Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Togo and Tanzania) earning spots on the 2021 Global Crypto Adoption Index Top 20 list. So the continent is in a completely different position this type around.
To back up those impressive continental statistics, we can see there are plenty of web3 and blockchain innovations unfolding on the ground every week. Not only is more international interest pouring into Africa as the world’s last frontier but so too are funds, investors, incubators and corporate interest.
In the startup scene, Cameroon’s Ejara, started by Nelly Chatue-Diop, recently raised $2 million to offer crypto and investment services in Francophone Africa. Their mission is to help democratise the cryptocurrency playing field for the average French-speaking African so they can invest as little as 5,000 CFA (~$9). CoinShares Ventures and Anthemis Group led the round, joined by Mercy Corps Ventures, Lateral Capital, LoftyInc Capital and NetX Fund.
On the corporate level, De Beers launched the world’s first blockchain-backed diamond source platform at scale through Tracr, which helps to track jewellery activities from the continent. It is the world’s only distributed diamond blockchain that starts at the source and provides tamper-proof source assurance at scale.
Besides these initiatives are innovations like BitPesa, which aims to decrease the cost of cross-border currency transfers. BitPesa is just one example of how blockchain solutions can help solve critical issues for African people, such as remittance.
Currently, there are approximately 30 million individuals living outside their African countries of origin, who collectively send US$40 billion in remittances annually to their families and communities. Blockchain solutions can make this process much more cost-effective and efficient, leading to greater economic freedom and peace of mind.
A whole new brand of economic opportunities also abound in the NFT world. Nigerian NFT artist Osinachi has become one of Africa’s most prominent crypto-artists and last year became the first crypto-artist from the continent to have his work sold by the infamous Christie’s auction house in Europe.
However, despite all this potential opportunity and the widespread excitement that comes with it, there are challenges to Web3 adoption in Africa (although these challenges are not limited to this continent). These obstacles include technical challenges like scalability and interoperability alongside people-focused challenges such as education and talent.
Education needs to occur not only among aspiring users of Web3 but also among aspiring developers. From a user perspective, while learning how to use web browsers and connecting to the Internet can be relatively straightforward, Web3 is naturally more complex with higher barriers to entry. It requires users to understand how the blockchain works, smart contracts, protocols, and so on. In terms of development, learning to build in Web3 is also a whole new area, where we need plenty more developers as well as teachers and instructors.
So while challenges remain for Africa as it unlocks this exciting new chapter of Web3, I know that with a partnership like the one that Sankore has just announced with NEAR, these issues can be addressed directly and effectively over the coming years.
NEAR’s track record demonstrates its reliability as a protocol that people can trust, which helps to make it very successful in Kenya. I also believe that NEAR is especially suitable for Africa because of its user-friendliness and the tools that facilitate developers in building applications on top of it. Tools like the NEAR Academy and the NEAR Certified Developer Program help new developers and those that want to transition into this new field.
With even more educational programs for developers and educational content for the wider public on the way, the future looks brighter than ever for a young generation of African developers who are hungry to learn and to play their own role in helping to build this exciting new chapter for the continent.