The rising number of social impact projects using digital art to fundraise for charitable causes marks a powerful development in the nonfungible token (NFT) space. One such project leveraging technology for social good is Orica, an ethical funding platform supporting artists and social impact organisations, or SIOs, to create and sell NFTs.
Orica launched Thursday at the Malta AI & Blockchain Summit, or AIBC Malta, and announced its collaboration with an NGO to drop NFTs on its platform and use those funds to build a school in Uganda.
WE ARE LIVE @AIBCSummit
Join us & celebrate the #launch of Orica, the ethical #NFT platform
The ‘A Fairer World’ collection of #socialimpact NFTs just dropped ‼️
Don’t miss out!#NFTCommunity #AIBCMalta #NFTplatform pic.twitter.com/UEJVtPNLWU
— Orica #NFT Platform (@orica_io) November 18, 2021
The school is in the Ssese Islands, an archipelago of 84 islands in Lake Victoria, Uganda. The NGO, Bbanga Project, is a charitable organization registered in Austria with NGO status in Uganda. This means that all the receipts are audited by the Viennese charity and tax authorities.
In an announcement shared with Cointelegraph, Orica founder Danial Nanaei said:
“Seventy billion dollars of cryptocurrency moved through Malta after it became ‘Blockchain Island’ so it doesn’t make sense that 4,400km away, Ssese Islands families struggle on less than a dollar a day. We decided to use the launch of our NFT platform at the Malta summit to start making positive change.”
Related:Vitalik Buterin: NFTs can be a social good, not just a casino for rich celebrities
Bbanga Project collaborated with German digital artist Mellowmann to release a collection of Uganda-inspired NFTs. Collectors of Mellowmann’s work include Dima Buterin, the so-called grandfather of Ethereum. His latest Ssese Islands NFT collection on Orica is called ‘A Fairer World, ’ and was previewed by the school children before going on auction. Bbanga Project hopes to raise at least $6,815 (6,000 euros) and finish construction of the children’s school on the remote island of Bugala, according to Nanaei.
It all started when Nanaei and Sani Hayatbakhsh, Bbanga Project’s founder, met in a cafe in Vienna in 2009. Having kept in touch since, Hayatbakhsh shared with Nanaei that even though the main hall of the Uganda school had been built this year thanks to funds from the City of Vienna, they were still short.
“Sales from the NFTs mean that we can finish the building,” explained Hayatbakhsh. “Two hundred more children will gain access to primary education. And of course, Bbanga Project children were excited to be part of a technology launch and see an international artist create artwork especially for them,” he added.
‘A Fairer World,’ NFT collection is now available on Orica. In addition to fundraising, Orica ultimately hopes to bring greater awareness to many important social causes. Later this year, Orica will release an initiative called Orica Projects to make such artist-SIO NFT collaborations standard practice on its platform.
The African arm of the company behind the Ignis, Nxt and Ardor blockchains will be launching a multi-country tour to provide blockchain education in the public and private sectors.
According to information provided to Cointelegraph, Jelurida Africa said it would begin a blockchain expedition starting with Tanzania’s self-governing state of Zanzibar on Oct. 23 before continuing on to Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. The group aims to promote blockchain education with meetups in universities, financial institutions and public offices. The team of distributed ledger technology and smart contract experts said it plans to reach out to local lawmakers and private firms as well as developers and blockchain enthusiasts in the respective countries as part of the tour.
“If you look at our relationship within the country or even outside the country you realize there is a need for trust before we can easily scale before we can easily improve on our dealings with our neighbors so there is need for trust, there is need for the immutability of data,” said Jelurida Africa managing director Adedayo Adebajo in a Tuesday interview with KUTV Kenya.
“When it comes to deploying solutions on the blockchain, it becomes easy for anybody to trust you even without knowing you because they have your digital identity and they can verify your previous transactions without having to rely on total party participation.”
Some of the countries along Jelurida Africa’s planned route have a mixed relationship with regulating crypto and blockchain. The Bank of Tanzania has banned cryptocurrencies since 2019, but in June, President Samia Suluhu Hassan called for the central bank to not be “caught unprepared” when dealing with innovative financial technology.
Despite disapproval from many African governments and central banks, crypto usage in the region has continued to grow. Digital analytics firm Chainalysis reported in September that the cryptocurrency market in Africa has grown by more than 1,200% since 2020. In particular, P2P transactions provide a quicker and cheaper way for many crypto users in Africa to pay for international commercial transactions.
Related:Federal High Court of Nigeria approves eNaira CBDC rollout
Other drivers for crypto adoption in the region may include remittances as a means to get around governments that limit the amount of money that people can send abroad. Some nations in Africa have also considered developing central bank digital currencies, with the central banks in Nigeria and Ghana announcing their CBDC plans earlier this year.
The Ugandan Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) requested the Ministry of Finance to establish a legal framework by which digital currencies can be regulated, local media reported Monday.
According to a local media channel, the Daily Monitor, the proposal was submitted by the FIA Executive Director, Sydney Asubo, who noted that all the efforts to request digital currency operators in the country to register have proved abortive. Asubo said the majority of these businesses in the country are operating illegally.
The matter of regulating digital currency activities is polarizing around the world. While crypto proponents believe the new asset class offers liberation, getting free from the redundancies in traditional payment systems, the government argues that digital currencies are subject to a conduit for illicit monetary movement. By the nature of the crypto, this latter assertion is convinced that cryptocurrencies are designed with high encryption, and transactions are anonymous.
In Uganda, the FIA has placed the startup’s companies to provide crypto services as part of the list of outfits susceptible to money laundering.
“Virtual assets service providers are now in category 16 of the most vulnerable to terrorism financing and money laundering. Last year we gave them one month to register, but only a few responded,” Asubo said, noting many cryptocurrency operators continue to operate illegally.
As per the media report, the growth of pyramid schemes is not uncommon in Uganda, prompting the FIA boss to posit that it is vital to know those who offer digital currency services to offer the right protections to investors.
Crypto has met with a strict stance in different proportions from various countries of the world. While Nigeria, India, and China are among the few, who have made headlines about banning crypto activities. The latest move from China led to shockwaves through the cryptocurrency ecosystem and stirred the massive price dump in the global market cap experienced over the weekend.
Senegalese-American rapper and businessperson Akon is set to begin building another crypto city, this time in the East African nation of Uganda.
According to a report by Uganda’s flagship television network NBS, the country’s government has announced the allocation of land for the project.
Akon City in Uganda will reportedly occupy one square mile half the size of the City of London (not to be confused with Greater London, which makes up the majority of the U.K. capital).
Akon is also building a much larger crypto city in Senegal for $6 billion, with the project covering 2,000 acres or about 3.12 square miles. Both futuristic cities will utilize Akon’s Stellar blockchain-based cryptocurrency Akoin (AKN).
Responding to questions about whether Uganda will be able to fund the crypto city developmental project, Akon responded:
“I know if I put it there, they are [Ugandans] are going to find a way to afford it because it’s going to motivate them […] Ultimately when you create an opportunity, people learn with that opportunity [and] people are motivated with that opportunity.”
VIDEO: Akon answers a question on whether Ugandans will be able to afford services in ‘Akon City.’
Akon is set to build the futuristic city in Uganda by 2036 after the government agreed to allocate him 1 square mile of land. #NBSUpdates pic.twitter.com/YDqqQ9cZhg
— NBS Television (@nbstv) April 5, 2021
Neither Akon nor the Ugandan government provided any information about the estimated cost of the city during the press conference announcing the project.
However, Akon stated that the crypto city will help to attract more investments to the country while also creating employment opportunities for Ugandans. Akon City in Uganda is expected to be completed by 2036.
Apart from crypto cities in two African nations, the Akoin project is also partnering with the $2 billion Mwale medical metropolis in Kenya. As previously reported by Cointelegraph, AKN is set for full deployment within the medical and tech city and will be used for staff salaries as well as everyday payment transactions.
As part of the rollout, the Akoin team also debuted an AKN debit card that allows holders to spend Akoin across 40 million online merchants around the world.
From the United States to Uganda, allegations of vote rigging have become part and parcel of elections worldwide.
Some of these claims are legitimate, with strongmen leaders suppressing the will of the people in a desperate attempt to cling on to power. But in other cases, such accusations are made with little evidence. Fake videos swirl online that paint a picture of manipulation on an industrial scale — depicting a world where ballot papers are dumped in bins.
Whether true or false, even the mere suggestion of vote rigging is enough to undermine confidence in the democratic process — dividing communities and triggering violence, as we saw at the U.S. Capitol back in January. A recent poll performed by Morning Consult and Politico suggested that just 33% of Republican voters now trust U.S. elections.
In this age of uncertainty, talk has inevitably turned to how blockchain can help modernize elections — amid hopes that this technology can deliver a sense of finality to proceedings. Proponents also believe these immutable databases could also enable national votes to be run far more efficiently. We often take elections for granted, yet forget about the sheer manpower and organization that’s required to ensure tens of millions of people can vote on the same day.
But it isn’t enough to just say the word “blockchain” and trust that the pain points in global elections can be resolved. Instead, a great deal of thought is required to determine how this technology should be applied. Should voters be casting their ballots electronically, meaning their choice is automatically recorded on one of these networks, or should the technology be brought in when results are being validated?
A flurry of blockchain-based voting systems have emerged in recent years — including the likes of Votem, Voatz and Horizon State. Some have struggled to achieve adoption, while security vulnerabilities have been uncovered in others.
When it comes to the prospect of voting on the blockchain itself, some academics have expressed fears that this technology might not be the silver bullet people are hoping for. A November 2020 paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology warned claims that blockchain would increase election security are “wanting and misleading.”
The four co-authors cast doubt on whether voting from a computer or smartphone would make the process more convenient and accessible for the public — with some studies suggesting that it might have “little to no effect on turnout in practice.” They also argued that malware and denial-of-service attacks could undermine a person’s ability to cast their ballot. Paper and a pen may be old fashioned, but at least it can’t be commandeered by a hacker.
“Online voting systems are vulnerable to serious failures: Attacks that are larger scale, harder to detect, and easier to execute than analogous attacks against paper-ballot-based voting systems. Furthermore, online voting systems will suffer from such vulnerabilities for the foreseeable future given the state of computer security and the high stakes in political elections,” they wrote.
Even if blockchain technology was rolled out nationwide in a major vote, polling places would still need to be dotted across the country to cater to those who don’t have the technology or knowhow to cast their ballot digitally.
However, such criticism doesn’t necessarily mean that blockchain should be written off altogether — and that these cutting-edge networks have no place in the electoral system.
Counting on blockchain
Free TON is one community that has been looking into this issue in greater depth — and rather than devising a system to ensure blockchain is used during voting, it is working to create software that delivers value after voting.
In November 2020, a contest was held to produce the specifications for software that would pave the way for votes to be audited in a crowdsourced, tamperproof fashion. Crucially, this technology would enable anyone to verify the counts of existing election authorities — helping to boost confidence in the final results.
Luca Patrick, who ended up winning the contest, created specifications for software that is tailored toward Latin American countries such as Guatemala, where vote rigging claims have gone hand in hand with political instability. He received 30,000 TON Crystals for his contribution.
“The election process is such an obvious problem in so many countries. I’ve been thinking of solutions and their different applications for a few years now. When I saw that I could actually put some of them into action through Free TON, I was quite excited,” he explained.
Game mechanics are a key part of his concept, where those counting the results mine tokens which are locked up. Those who check the vote counters’ work then unlock these digital assets if the results are correct — an on-chain model that rewards honesty.
The next stage of the process will focus on bringing Luca’s concept to life — and a contest has been launched to find the team that will be responsible for development and following the specification closely.
For Carlos Toriello, a Free TON jury member who backed Luca’s winning entry, the magic of his proposal centered on how countries wouldn’t require existing voting systems to be changed — nor does it attempt to introduce electronic voting.
“There is too much waste by elections authorities that haven’t realized that blockchain can save them millions while also dramatically increasing the speed of independent audits,” he added.
Toriello has been campaigning for this sort of technology as part of a wider initiative called Fiscal Digital, following concerns of voter fraud that arose in 2019’s Guatemalan election. The group’s goal is to publish fully audited election results that are replicable before election authorities publish their own — and it has the ambition of verifying results in real time by 2023. It’s hoped that Free TON’s infrastructure will help turn this target into a reality.
He explained: “This year, Latin America will see presidential elections in Chile, Perú, Nicaragua and Honduras — while there will be legislative elections in Mexico, El Salvador and Argentina. I believe we will see much violence as a result of lack of trust in the voting systems, giving autocratic leaders the excuse they need to curtail democratic rights. Much of this could be prevented if better technology was used to enable anyone to verify election results.”
Faster results and reduced cost would be compelling reasons for countries to embrace blockchain in the vote auditing process. The fact that anyone can verify results for themselves could also help restore much-needed confidence in an election’s outcome — and in some countries, this could end up saving lives.
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The new military government in Myanmar has reportedly ordered telecommunications companies to temporarily block access to Facebook citing the platform is a threat to the restoration of stability in the country, as part of a broader effort to restrict internet access following a coup last month.
The nonprofit internet shutdown tracker NetBlocks confirmed that access to Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp servers was now restricted in the country. Internet disruptions were also recorded on Jan. 31, 2021, when Myanmar’s military seized control in the coup that brought them to power.
When it comes to politically motivated internet shutdowns, 2021 is already off to a miserable start. In January alone, India, Myanmar and Uganda all suffered internet disruptions tied to political events.
In Uganda, the state completely shut the internet down on the day of its presidential elections in early January. Last week, Indian authorities restricted internet access in multiple areas near its capital, New Delhi, as local farmers protested agricultural laws that were passed in September last year.
According to Hanna Kreitam, a technical expert at the internet policy NGO Internet Society, apart from the violation of basic human freedoms, internet shutdowns are detrimental to growth as they have an immediate financial impact on a country’s economy. Kreitam explained that internet shutdowns dampen economic activity, which consequently reduce profits for local businesses and lower tax revenues.
“Furthermore, many individuals, organizations, and businesses around the world rely on Internet-based services that depend on critical functions like data storage, data processing, and financial transactions based in various countries. Disrupting access to these services inevitably reduces productivity, resulting in significant economic losses,” Kreitam said.
A 2020 report by Top10VPN revealed that regional internet disruptions combined with prolonged internet blackouts in Kashmir may have cost India $2.8 billion in 2020, while disruptions in Myanmar may have cost the country’s economy $190 million.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is a critical year, and emerging economies cannot afford the economic and infrastructure costs that Internet shutdowns often cause on top of the pressures of the ongoing pandemic, Kreitam said.
India, for instance, aspires to be a tech hub but has a complicated history of policing the internet to quell dissent and protests. Kreitam said internet shutdowns will have an impact on those aspirations.
“We believe that Internet shutdowns erode the trust people place in Internet infrastructure to be available and to work reliably when needed. Over time, people stop using unreliable networks, leading to reduced investment and further decline in investment in infrastructure and buildout,” Kreitam said.
Authorities in India, Myanmar and Uganda have previously disrupted the internet at critical times, according to Samuel Woodhams, Digital Rights Researcher at Top10VPN.
“The recent shutdowns in Uganda, India and Myanmar show that elections, protests and political upheaval continue to be a trigger for internet restrictions around the world… We know countries that disrupt the internet once are likely to do so again,” Woodhams told CoinDesk via an email.
Woodhams added that to date, pressure from the United Nations, civil society and legal practitioners have not prevented governments from restricting access to the internet and stifling citizens’ freedom of expression at pivotal political moments. In fact, he said it’s unlikely that a supranational body that’s capable of stopping these disruptions at the local level would ever materialize.
“With more elections scheduled in countries that have previously implemented shutdowns and the damaging economic and political impacts of the pandemic still emerging, unfortunately I think we can expect a lot more internet disruptions in the coming year,” Woodhams said.