Ethiopia is suffering a humanitarian disaster. After months of armed conflict, roads and bridges across the Tigray province are in ruins. Electricity and telephone lines have been cut. Only 15% of Ethiopians have access to the internet at the best of times.
With a civil war in full swing and essential infrastructure in tatters in remote areas, it might seem to be a strange time to kick off the country’s digital revolution. But the developers behind the Cardano cryptocurrency, IOHK, have announced that the U.S. tech firm will help Ethiopia rise from the wreckage. The Colorado-based company has been here for over four years planning blockchain-based citizen ID and educational record systems, as well as various supply chain management tools.Pete Howson is a senior lecturer in International Development at the University of Northumbria, where he has researched tradeoffs in “crypto-giving” efforts.
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The initial plan is for a Cardano application to be used to digitally track students’ grades and academic performances across the country. The developers then hope to expand the system incorporating an Ethiopia-wide cryptocurrency payment system, before connecting the entire African continent together with Cardano infrastructure. The platform could possibly enable access to crypto loans or “DeFi” (decentralized finance).
With COVID-19, war, famine and much of Ethiopia’s population already living “well below any reasonable conception of a life with dignity,” a United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty said, the project might seem like a pie in the sky idea. The company’s optimistic investors think otherwise. The deal’s announcement pushed Cardano’s ADA token to all-time price highs in May.
Blockchain projects can do very little to repair the roads and build strong political institutions in places like Ethiopia. Innovators are not drawn to fragile states because they...