Kenya Creates Task Force to Explore Blockchain Technology
Kenya’s government announced plans last Wednesday to set up an 11-member task force to explore the use of blockchain technology over the course of three months.
The new announcement breaks Kenya’s pattern of resistance to blockchain. Just eight days before the announcement, the Capital Markets Authority, Kenya’s independent government regulating agency, warned the public against investing in initial cryptocurrency coin offerings (ICOs), which use blockchain technology.
“Previous industrial revolutions have passed us by,” President Uhuru Kenyatta remarked at a university symposium on digital technology. “This time, however, it is my hope that the fourth industrial revolution driven by digital transformation will not leave Africa behind.” The task force will look into ways in which the nascent technology can benefit Kenya in areas such as technological innovation, land registry, and education, as well as exploring its potential drawbacks.
The team was established by Joe Mucheru, the Information, Communications, and Technology (ICT) Cabinet Secretary. “There are no laws today to do with [blockchain],” Muchero said in a press conference, citing one of the largest concerns shared by potential users of blockchain technology, “I’m hoping that this task force is going to give us guidance.”
Kenya is home to the world’s most successful money transfer service, M-Pesa. Blockchain technology may further Kenyans’ ability to send and receive money at home and abroad. This has been tried before, but, in 2015, Safaricom, Kenya’s dominant mobile network, barred the bitcoin trading platform Kipochi from using M-Pesa, citing concerns about its weak legal footing. Whatever discoveries may come from the task force will determine what moves mobile services make next. With Safaricom’s head of corporate affairs, Steve Chege, acting as a member of the task force, perhaps their views will change.
Interest in Bitcoin, which uses blockchain technology, has already been growing for years in Kenya. Two years ago, Michael Kimani, chairman of the Blockchain Association of Kenya, told Bitcoinist of Kenya’s cryptocurrency enthusiasts: “The Bitcoin community has been growing and their passion is infectious. Back in 2014, we used to gather for meetups on Ngong road....But, every day, there’s someone new sending me a text or a call to ask – what is this Bitcoin?"
Bitcoin trade has been getting attention in Zimbabwe and Nigeria too, with some misadventures in the technology, including one involving a Russian Ponzi scheme that ensnared over two million users, including some in Kenya. However, blockchain enthusiasts, like Kimani, hope for a brighter future, inspired by visions of increased activity among consumers and startups looking to use Bitcoin for money transfers, as well as harnessing the blockchain technology behind Bitcoin for other uses.
Blockchain technology is new -- experts like Bettina Warburg say it’s still in its infancy. To consider it from a different perspective: blockchain is about as old as the Internet was when the public was just beginning to use email.
Blockchain technology will have many roadblocks ahead of it: “The obscurity and decentralization associated with blockchain have discouraged the government from thinking of the technology as viable,” Kimani says, according to Quartz Africa. Nevertheless, this new Kenyan task force moves the country one step towards bringing unknown opportunities into the light.