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Boom and bust

Will Kherbek
art critic
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Will Kherbek
Community piq
Wednesday, 09 January 2019

The Agency of Data: Blockchain Advances into African Economies

The exploitation of the African continent's natural resources - and the theft of the Africa's human resources - by coloniser states is well known, but as African economies increasingly are integrated into the contemporary globalised financial system, the question of how Africa's digital resources will be treated is one of the most important facing businesses and governments. Andile Masuku, the presenter of African Tech Round-Up, here discusses the status of data produced by Africans in the digital marketplace with Lee Naik, the CEO of TransUnion Africa, one of South Africa's largest credit bureaus. 

The conversation begins with background on the company, which started life in 1901, under the name ITC, during the Second Boer War. Naik has a more optimistic vision for a company with such grim circumstances of birth, and he seeks to present TransUnion Africa as a mechanism for bringing "rural communities into the financial mainstream" (to his mind, a good thing). In Naik's vision, this will entail the use of what he calls "alternative data" - non-traditional markers of financial potential that can be included in credit reporting. Masuku is an impressively genial interrogator; while, at times, he allows Naik to get away with extended perorations in MBA-speak, he continues to press the CEO on the tensions between the advance of private companies and intellectual property rights and the promise of democratisation that tech like blockchain presents. Ultimately, there is no resolution to be had in the podcast, but the articulation and framing of this increasingly critical problem for the emerging economies of a plundered continent is an indispensable first step for all who care about the future of Africa, and Masuku's quiet doggedness offers a model of how not to be taken in by corporate happy talk. Digital democracy may likely prove just as crucial as political democracy to the future of a free Africa that acts, first and foremost, for the interests of Africans. 

The Agency of Data: Blockchain Advances into African Economies
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