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Is Decentralized Governance Even Possible For Africa?

"That's what it's like, when someone becomes the President they have to go around and kiss the ring of every tribal leader... nobody respects the government"

At the most recent Cardano Catalyst town hall meeting, I had the good pleasure of speaking with Quadee Kpar who offered up a pioneering solution for implementing decentralized governance on the African continent. The son of a Liberian Senator, Kpar regaled the town hall with what he perceived as some of the fundamental issues with democracy in African nations, focusing on an attempt to explain the incompatibility of colonial western structures of power with modern-day Africa.

Blockchain Is For Everyone

The issue, as he put it, is that the existing government of most African nations commands little respect from the people it purports to govern. Modelled after the United States, Liberia is a unitary state and a presidential representative democratic republic with a multi-party system. The head of state and head of government is the President, and a cabinet is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

This poses some fundamental issues, namely a disregard for the tribal sovereignty supplanted by inter-tribal party political affiliation. This strikes at the very core of Liberian culture, severing the traditional connections between tribes and their citizens, and creating a mishmash of competing de jure and de facto political systems. Kpar during our townhall meeting stated: "That's what it's like, when someone becomes the President they have to go around and kiss the ring of every tribal leader... nobody respects the government"

The Rich Cultural History Of Tribal Liberia

While revolutionary rhetoric, Kpar is right. The western-backed central government of  Liberia is wholly incompatible with the complex tribal history of the nation. An American colonial experiment funded and organized by the American Colonial Society, it had the highest mortality rate of settlers in recorded history. With settlement came the disenfranchisement, and the native tribal governance of Liberia through the traditional tribal means was ignored with American settlers instituting policies of segregation.

As late as the 1920's American-Liberians were accused of enslaving native Liberians for sale as labourers as this damning report from the League of Nations outlines:

"systematically and for years fostering and encouraging a policy of gross intimidation and suppression of the native, prevent him from realizing his powers and limitations and prevent him from asserting himself in any way whatever, for the benefit of the dominant and colonizing race, although originally the same African stock as themselves."

Liberia received vast financial aid, but ultimately government officials embezzled away enough to cause a devastating economic collapse.

The Colonial Flag of Liberia

Can Blockchain Fix This?

Quadee Kpar believes it can. Identifying five key growth sectors; social wellness, healthcare, identity, education, and legal documentation - Kpar aims to spearhead a free-to-use DAPP network to drastically improve the flow of information and transparency and accountability of governance throughout Liberia.

The disenfranchised tribal leaders are to have greater control over the governance of their nation, the integration of Cardano's Atala-Prism technology Kpar aims to to use the distributed ledger to implement a decentralized identity solution for the people of Liberia overseen not by the central government, but by the devolved powers of the de jure government of Liberia, their historic tribal leaders.

Kpar calls his effort the African Union SHEiLD Foundation and has received support from the University of Liberia and is seeking support from the Cardano foundation for this endeavour.

With a focus on bringing a free, open, and transparent tool to an otherwise deeply corrupt nation SHEiLD aims to provide essential services to all Liberian citizens through securing the digital public storage of all legal deeds to aid in dispute resolution and better establish fundamental property rights. In addition, the torrent of data produced by this grand governance experiment hopes to compensate individuals with digital currency for their participation, actively incentivizing adoption and improving the network for future generations of Liberians.

Atala Prism Aims To Provide A Decentralized Identity Solution

Will It Work?

There is already concern that there may be substantial pushback by the corrupt Liberian government. Only time will tell how the blockchain can serve to improve the lives of the average person anywhere on Earth. I remain quietly confident that Kpar is on the right track with his grand vision but advise caution with any approach that attempts to undermine a US propped nation-state government without first acquiring powerful allies while avoiding the ire of certain three-letter agencies.

Through collaboration with the Cardano Foundation and other talented builders and innovators in the decentralized identity space, I have no doubt this is possible - if not inevitable.