A new Blockchain-based initiative in West Africa aims to stamp out corruption and is touting to “free up trillions of dollars” in locked capital for infrastructure development. It’s a bold stab by a bunch of tech pioneers from the US, Denmark, Ghana and further afield at fighting government corruption and empowering people through legal ownership.
Blockchain technology, which underpins Bitcoin and has been the inspiration for other cryptocurrencies, functions as a powerful decentralized ledger that records every transaction and stores information on a global network that cannot be interfered with. Not surprisingly a number of banks see blockchain technology as being ripe to be leveraged in areas including exchanges and remittances.
As such, the blockchain offers huge advantages in cost, transparency and reliability thanks to the “immutable nature of decentralized ledgers” according to one of the pioneers behind the new initiative, Ronny Boesing, CEO and founder of Danish cryptocurrency exchange CCEDK.
However, these benefits often fail to resonate due to the markets targeted and the way in which they are communicated. Still, the project from Bitland, a development platform embracing an educational initiative, aims to show the local population how the new technology can bring their country into the future. The mission itself has been outlined in a 22-page white paper.
“Bitland puts the human element back into the decentralization movement by bringing blockchain technology directly to the people, face to face,” says Boesing.
The organization reveals that its goal is to provide services that allow individuals and groups to survey land and record title deeds on the Bitland blockchain – providing a permanent and auditable record – as well as acting as a liaison with the government to help resolve disputes.
Specifically, the project is being piloted with 28 communities in Kumasi, a city in southern Ghana that is among the largest metropolitan areas of the country (c.2 million pop.), with the intention of expanding it across the African continent.
But Why Ghana?
So why has Ghana been chosen and how did this latest initiative come into play? Well, the Land Administration Project has been working in Ghana for the past 17 years to try to solve the land dispute problem. But corruption and nepotism have plagued every area of the public sector here, so that they have had difficulty accomplishing their goals and consolidating the land title tracking system.
Bitland, however, is aiming to register land titles to a public blockchain, so that ownership is not only public – but immutable. In this ecosystem, land could be held as equity, as currently no banks are really willing to lend against unregistered lands.
“Since Ghana has been trying to solve this problem, it’s a natural place to start trying to implement these types of solutions,” says Larry Christopher Bates, Bitland’s Chief Security Officer who is based in Bloomington, Indiana, and recently gave a presentation on the project at Netexplo 2016.
He adds: “Given that the Lands Commission wants to solve transparency problems, utilizing blockchain-based solutions will bring the transparency and immutability that is needed to ensure the integrity of the public ledgers.”
Education and Infrastructure
Bitland is aiming to both inform citizens in Ghana about blockchain technology and how the technology can change their lives for the better. It is estimated that today in Ghana around 78% of land is unregistered.
“Bringing clarity to land ownership rights will not only reduce corruption, but will also open up trillions of dollars in locked capital, since land that does not have a functional title cannot be used as capital. And, securing a mortgage to build or purchase homes is not possible,” the Danish exchange head explains.
That latter assertion is based on the theories and real-world examples presented by Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto, who is known for his work on the informal economy and the importance of business and property rights.
In low-income countries like Ghana, people are concerned with basic needs and infrastructure such as running water and paved roads.
Boesing says: “The Bitland team will use blockchain technology to help accelerate infrastructure development by freeing up capital – without the corruption and abuses of power that have plagued such projects in the past.”
However, Bitland cannot rely on the existing local infrastructure alone due to ‘rolling blackouts’, which if you are not familiar with are a major problem in Ghana. In many areas of the country, the infrastructure is completely unreliable, and there may be 24 to 48 hour periods where large swathes of the population have no electricity. In this situation, using electronic solutions would not be feasible unless there was a fail-safe as part of the ecosystem.
Therefore the team has a plan to build solar-powered Bitland centers in Ghana that will function as hardware hubs for the Bitland wi-fi network, which won’t go down due to power outages. These hubs will double as education centers for locals to learn about digital solutions and how to get involved in the project.
Bitland Teams With OpenLedger
Bitland’s team is using the OpenLedger platform as the basis of their blockchain infrastructure. “OpenLedger is built on top of the BitShares platform and its MIT-licensed Graphene blockchain technology,” explains Boesing, who is also the Danish registrar ofOpenLedger, the Decentralized Conglomerate (DC) that will serve as the main platform hosting the Bitland protocol.
And, as more organizations join the OpenLedger/BitShares platform, the team behind this latest initiative contends that you can be sure that this DC will “exemplify the future of global economics.” The Bitland project is reflective of a whole host of opportunities emerging as more mainstream companies realize that this is what they have all been waiting for.
Cadastrals – New Digital Token
Bitland plans to issue a new digital token or currency called Cadastrals, which will act as the entry token for their blockchain platform in the African continent – starting initially in Ghana, a country with a population of around 26 million and GDP per capita of $1,858 according to recent figures from the World Bank (2013).
In fact in Africa today, cryptocurrency is being seen as a technology that could help empower people and improve democracy and it has become a major point of hope for Africans in developing countries.
“To get through the first year of operations, the team has allotted 20 million (m) Cadastrals to be used in an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) to establish the first operational Bitland Center,” explains Bitland’s Bates. He adds: “The ICO will be hosted by Danish exchange CCEDK, and the funds will be held in escrow on the OpenLedger platform.”
As the OpenLedger platform is developed further, it will add the capacity for a voting system to be part of the project, thus enabling communities to become directly involved in decision making.
In addition, the infrastructure of the OpenLedger system will grow to include real estate, commercial property investments and development of third world countries as part of its future plans, and the platform will add Bitland to the Decentralized Conglomerate.
Cadastrals have been specifically created to be the token that represents the Bitland Ecosystem and have not been used before. Bates reveals that the price in Phase 1 will be 10,000 satoshi ($0.04 USD) and in Phase 2 it rise to 30,000 satoshi ($0.12 USD).
Through this ICO the team can raise funds for the Bitland project, while allowing those who purchase Cadastrals to be the first that will have access to invest in developing areas through the Bitland protocol.
“Because the ICO does not represent shares in the company, purchasers of Cadastrals will be able to directly support development projects through Bitland, while having their ROI protected by an escrow service,” he adds.
The Bitland Fund, which will have oversight from the relevant governments, will collect network fees and any money taken into the main reserve and redistribute them to projects within the Bitland communities, thereby directly funding infrastructure provision.
“In Ghana, Bitland will be working with the Land Administration Project, which was created by the Lands Commission and the World Bank. Every country that Bitland operates in will necessitate government cooperation,” Bates explains.
He adds: “The Bitland protocol will eventually allow micro-loans and contracts to be created so that investors can use their Cadastrals to simultaneously help build up an underdeveloped area, and receive a guaranteed return on their investment.”
Working With Governments
Given that Bitland will be working with governments, their backing will ensure that investors are not taken advantage of, and the oversight will ensure that development is in line with the direction of the country. At least that’s the theory.
As Bitland plans to work with governments around the world to register land titles on the OpenLedger blockchain, the ecosystem will represent not just smart contracts, but smart cities too.
“The OpenLedger platform will help bring transparency to nations where corruption has been the main impediment to progress,” Boesing asserts.
Furthermore, it is hoped that it will allow remittance and investments to flow into underdeveloped areas without big companies taking a large cut. But, at heart of this whole Bitland project is about more than registering juts land titles according to the Dane. “This is the first step to bringing true democracy and meritocracy to the world,” he argues.
Ultimately, people could even be able to use their mobile devices to register a plot of land with GPS accuracy, file a claim, register a dispute, or even buy or sell land.
Bitland’s First & Second Phases
After the first phase of the project is complete, the idea is to use Bitland to encourage governments and private organizations to offer smart contracts, which OpenLedger allows and to give people the chance to invest in development. (Note: The team is looking to have the pilot project running within the next 6-9 months).
Organizations such as Kiva already have established methods of issuing micro-loans and realize rates of over 90% repayment. Since the blockchain will be able to directly track the investors and recipients of funds, the ROI (Return on Investment) will go directly to the investor.
This is a major benefit of utilizing blockchain technology, as the smart contracts and smart money make it much easier to trace – even the smallest amounts of money – through a series of transactions.
As blockchain technology develops, initiatives like the Bitland project are taking the tech beyond novelty and bringing transparency to government. And, with more projects focusing on efficiency, transparency and fairness, Boesing has high hopes and a vision where the economy of tomorrow will be “accessible to the people, built for the people, and run by the people.” Watch this space.