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IBM eyes Blockchain technology deal for Kenya’s public records

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IBM East Africa general manager Nicholas Nesbitt (left). PHOTO |FILE

Summary

  • Kenya mulls roll-out of new blockchain technology to boost service delivery.
  • The technology stores information on transactions in a publicly shared ledger — in a way that cannot be altered.
  • It has primarily been used to record financial transactions that underpin the virtual currency, Bitcoin.

Global tech giant IBM is in talks with the government to introduce blockchain technology in management of records in the health, education and real estate sectors to boost transparency in public information.

Blockchain technology stores information on transactions in a publicly shared ledger — in a way that cannot be altered.

The technology has primarily been used to record financial transactions that underpin the virtual currency, Bitcoin.

Recently players in the technology sector have been exploring the application of blockchain beyond virtual currencies.

Locally, the government says it is running pilots to keep track of the educational records and to trace land transactions.

The Ministry of Information and Communication argues that the introduction of blockchain into these sectors will make it harder for Kenyans to print fake academic certificates or to fraudulently sell land.

“The government of Kenya, working with IBM, is currently implementing a blockchain-based education certificate management system so that if you’re a Kenyan student you can’t fake your exam outcomes,” said ICT ministry innovation adviser Nyimbi Odero.

He said the pilot programmes have been ongoing for the last three months.

Mr Odero was speaking Thursday at the launch of a workshop on blockchain technology hosted at the Strathmore University in Nairobi.

IBM East Africa general manager Nicholas Nesbitt told the Business Daily that the government project was still at its early stages although the company is eyeing the region with blockchain solutions.

“This is about bringing trust to untrusted networks. Where people are not sure about the validity of their title deeds, where people are not sure how many students are in school… that’s where we see great capabilities with blockchain,” said Mr Nesbitt.

Yet the technology may prove tainted by its association with bitcoin.

The Central Bank last year cautioned Kenyans that “Bitcoin and similar products are not legal tender”.

This was detrimental to local companies such as BitPesa that had been hoping to capitalise on the new technology.

ICT Cabinet secretary Joe Mucheru, one of the original investors in BitPesa, earlier said he would divest his stake in the company.

The security of blockchain technology partly arises from its transparent nature.

The digital ledger is distributed, with copies of information held simultaneously on multiple computers.

Users can track the transactions and any intent to corrupt or hack the system would have to be carried out on all computers at the same time.

Kenya would be following in the footsteps of other governments that are incorporating blockchain technology in public service delivery.

Honduras has commissioned an American firm to develop a blockchain-based land registry while a recent report by the UK’s chief scientific adviser highlighted that blockchain has the potential to help governments in tax collection and improve healthcare delivery through better record-sharing.

Elsewhere, trials are using blockchain technology to trace the origins of diamonds and to track fish from sea to market.

Mining giant BHP Billiton has said it would begin using blockchain to keep track of rock and fluid samples while NASDAQ has said that it is considering incorporating blockchain into its processes.