The political system in Africa is still struggling to attain a full-fledged democracy. Elections are still being rigged, and freedom of expression is still significantly non-existent in a lot of African nations. The state of democracy in many African nations is still miles away from the true definition of democracy.
One of the major challenges that affects democracy in Africa is the issue of electoral fraud. A democratic government is supposed to be one that is elected by the people, and not one where public office holders rig their way into political offices. Bitcoin, via blockchain technology, can be instrumental in ensuring that electoral processes in Africa are transparent and fair.
A blockchain is basically a time-stamped series of immutable records of data that is managed by a cluster of computers not owned by any single entity. Each block of data is secured and bound to another using cryptography. This makes the blockchain network independent of a central authority. This unique characteristic of blockchain makes it a good fit to serve as an electoral tool because no central authority, including the government, has control over it.
An election that is conducted using blockchain would provide each voter with a secure unique ID that grants them access to a smart contract which they would use to vote electronically, without having to be present at a polling station or worrying about the security of the online voting system. Blockchains would ensure that votes are traceable, verifiable and immutable. This would prevent any form of electoral fraud and could play a significant role in strengthening democracy in a continent like Africa.
Beyond serving as a tool for transparent elections, Bitcoin could also shield the activities of protesters— in cases where the citizens of a nation demand better governance— from government attacks that may ruin these efforts.
In October 2020, Nigerian youths united to stand against the disheartening issue of persistent police brutality and harassment in the country, through the #EndSARS protests. To sustain and coordinate the protests to ensure that a true reform of the Nigerian police was achieved, a structured system with a fully coordinated financial pipeline was set up. As the fundraising for the protests began to gain traction, the government launched an attack to cripple the financial pipeline by halting the collection of funds through the payments platform that was being utilized for raising funds. In response to this, protesters turned to the use of bitcoin to raise funds without the fear of being disrupted by the government.
For the many Nigerians that fought against police brutality and utilized their freedom of expression by lending their voices and contributing their funds towards the call for police reform, bitcoin was a tool that helped them overcome the attack that the government launched on the financial system of the coordinated protests. Thus, in this sense, it provided a means to uphold democracy.
In a similar vein, Bitcoin could also be used to prevent the government of a country from restricting the freedom of expression of its people—which is an important fragment of a democratic system—through social media and internet censorship. In Africa, quite a number of governments impose restrictions on the use of social media and the internet, in order to prevent citizens from publicly criticizing the government.
Uganda, in January 2021, restricted the use of the internet and social media platforms, ahead of the country’s 14th parliamentary and presidential elections. Ugandans were denied their fundamental right of free expression at such a crucial time. With a technology like blockchain, through Bitcoin, Ugandans, and the many other Africans that are restricted from utilizing social media platforms to freely express their thoughts, could get access to a censorship-resistant system for communicating.
It is true that democracy in Africa still has a long way to go. However, with Bitcoin and blockchain technology, Africa can begin to forge its path towards attaining a fully mature democracy.