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UN Looks to Blockchain to Aid Sustainable Urban Development in Afghanistan

The UN is developing blockchain solutions for development in Afghanistan.

The United Nations is working on blockchain solutions for sustainable urban development in Afghanistan, according to a report from tech news site The Sociable, published on July 2.

Stephane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General reportedly told The Sociable that the United Nations Office of Communication and Information Technologies (UN-OICT) is developing blockchain solutions for land records and services transparency as part of the UN’s “City for All” initiative. 

The UN’s “City for All” program began in 2016 with a charter set to continue through 2020 and aims to advance 12 of Afghanistan’s cities, including the capital, Kabul. The initiative anticipates Afghanistan’s population becoming majority urban within the next 15 years. Its three stated priorities are effective land management, strategic urban planning, and improved municipal finance.

The new move to experiment with blockchain technology to solve Afghanistan’s infrastructural challenges is the product of a recent memorandum of understanding between the UN-OICT and UN-Habitat, the latter of which is responsible for technical support on “City for All.”

Per the memorandum, the two offices of the UN are looking to expand collaboration across South Asia and to work on “the development of emerging technology tools and digital platforms for urban design and planning.”

The UN has previously used blockchain in development in such areas as health services in East Africa, as Cointelegraph reported in December 2018, and to establish a blockchain-based credit bureau in Sierra Leone at the UN’s General Assembly in September 2018.

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Local Media: Afghanistani, Tunisian Central Banks Consider Issuing Bitcoin Bonds

Afghanistan and Tunisia’s central banks are reportedly looking to issue a bitcoin bond.

Afghanistan and Tunisia’s central banks are looking to issue a bitcoin (BTC) bond, Hong Kong-based news outlet Asia Times reports on April 17.

Per the report, the governors of the two country’s central banks spoke at the annual Spring Meetings of the Boards of Governors of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund in Washington between April 8 and 14. Afghanistan’s central bank governor Khalil Sediq allegedly told Asia Times that the institution is considering issuing a sovereign crypto bond to raise $5.8 billion.

The funds would be used for private-sector investment in mining, energy and agriculture. Alongside bitcoin, Sediq reportedly mentioned metal futures (for instance lithium) and pointed out that the country’s mineral reserves are estimated to be worth over $3 trillion.

On the other hand, Marouane El Abassi, governor of Tunisia’s central bank and former World Bank official, purportedly declared that the institution is looking into the issuance of a bitcoin bond. According to the report, Abassi also claimed that the country was one of the first to issue a digital currency and already implemented payments through a digital system.

Furthermore, Abassi also reportedly lauded bitcoin, blockchain and Hyperledger as a tool for central banks to combat money laundering, manage remittances fight terrorism and limit grey economies. Lastly, the article also notes that Uzbek ambassador Javlon Vakhabov mentioned that Uzbekistan does not rule out the development of a bitcoin bond either.

As Cointelegraph reported in September last year, Austria’s government also launched €1.15 billion ($1.35 billion) of government bonds on the Ethereum (ETH) public blockchain.

More recently, in March, Germany’s justice and finance ministries have proposed to launch a state-run register to boost the use of blockchain for electronic bonds.

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Forget Prices, Ethereum Is Offering a Different Value in Afghanistan

Young women coders in Afghanistan are getting a chance to use ethereum’s cryptocurrency.

Revealed exclusively to CoinDesk, Code to Inspire (CTI), a non-profit for teaching women in Afghanistan to write code, has partnered with the Bounties Network to allow students to accept ether (ETH) for fixing vulnerabilities for businesses or projects posting bounties. And according to Fereshteh Forough, the founder of CTI, the women have already begun earning the second largest cryptocurrency by total value.

The partnership was first inked in May, and once the women were set up with MetaMask accounts and software wallets, they began earning between $10 and $80 per bounty (depending on the project) they completed, Forough said.

While Forough didn’t expand on how much ether altogether has been collected by the women, this isn’t her first foray into facilitating crypto payments to remote workers in Afghanistan.

In 2014, Forough collaborated with fellow Afghan entrepreneur Roya Mahboob to offer Afghan women the ability to earn bitcoin by blogging. But the program ran into roadblocks since there wasn’t a local cryptocurrency exchange to provide liquidity (cash for crypto) and most of the bloggers didn’t have bank accounts anyway, whereby they could get a global exchange to transfer the converted crypto into.

“The challenge was how to exchange [bitcoin] to the local fiat currency,” Forough told CoinDesk.

At the time, Forough and other CTI representatives would accept the women’s cryptocurrency and give them cash in return, but this process had its drawbacks.

Forough continued:

“Even now, when they are saving crypto in any form, there is still the same challenges of how we can exchange them with the local currency or dollars.”

Ether is unlikely to fare much better in these conditions, but regardless, Forough believes exposing the women to ether (and cryptocurrency broadly) has priceless educational value.

“I personally think it is good to have digital literacy or financial literacy, the knowledge, especially for women in Afghanistan that are limited from accessing a lot of financial resources, such as banks,” Forough said. “It’s an amazing technology, not only in case of financial aspects but also in terms of using blockchain technology to create different products that could tackle, maybe, one of these [local access] issues.”

Plus, because the Bounties Network doesn’t only offer technical assignments (there are translation jobs and other projects on the site), the girls might better engage with the ethereum community as they learn to code.

“Because it’s a task, which you can create for anything with a reward at the end, you could potentially use it for so many different collaborations,” Simona Pop, head of community at Bounties Network, told CoinDesk.

Case in point, the partnership has launched a MetaMask course for CTI students and will soon create an online store where students can buy and sell the products and services they and their classmates develop in the broader course.

Circular economy

Speaking of what’s called a circular economy – whereby the women can be compensated in ether and then use that ether to buy other products – this has been the real problem with crypto adoption in the developing world.

And it’s a problem that often requires systemic change.

Whereas Venezuelan cryptocurrency enthusiasts can use bitcoin, ether and even zcash to buy rice, diapers and other essentials online, then have those items shipped to their homes, this isn’t the case in Afghanistan, where Forough said the postal service isn’t reliable and many roads and houses aren’t marked like they are in other parts of the world.

Still, cryptocurrency has gained some traction in the country since Forough first started experimenting with it in 2014.

For instance, a few Facebook pages and other websites show that money traders are looking for more information on accessing cryptocurrency.

But Janey Gak, an Afghan-American bitcoin enthusiast who works with communities in her homeland, isn’t super optimistic about the prospects for ether in Afghanistan. People in the country are still asking pretty simple questions about the industry – mostly bitcoin – at this point; and she’s only had one Afghan trader ask about ether, she said.

According to her, one thing that could help, though, is if the in-person money sellers, called sarafis, were to start trading cryptocurrencies.

Afghans rarely trust financial institutions or corresponding mobile apps to convert currency, and instead prefer to use sarafis, who deal with the multitude of fiat currencies used across war-torn Afghanistan. And if sarafis got involved, people might move over to cryptocurrency as a long-term store of value rather than putting their savings in gold and other physical goods, which can lead to a number of issues, like they do today, Gak said.

Global access

Still, even with much development to be done in Afghanistan to make it ripe for cryptocurrency adoption, Forough sees the partnership with Bounties Network to give her students an introduction to ether is a beneficial step on a long road towards financial independence.

“A lot of women are not able to travel to other cities, some families don’t want their daughters to travel alone by herself or to work in other cities,” Forough said, adding:

“If there are single digit chances for them to work in Herat, there are a million opportunities online.”

Herat is the third-largest city in Afghanistan and home to CTI, although the nonprofit will allow women to take classes or work online, instead of coming into the office. As such, CTI provides them with employment opportunities they might not have in their home cities.

“I think it’s a good thing for our students to do projects online and get paid. It can be very useful for our students, especially our web design students,” CTI mentor Aalem Daneshyar, whose first experience with cryptocurrency was getting paid in it through a CTI class, told CoinDesk.

Plus, since Forough feels like the broader blockchain industry overlooks war zones like Afghanistan, she hopes teaching these woman how to earn crypto will be the first step in seeing homegrown technological solutions to local challenges.

In Forough’s mind, the opportunity to engage with the global economy and become familiar with cryptocurrency wallets might prove more valuable, in the short-term at least, than the digital coins themselves.

“There are girls in Afghanistan who know how to code,” Forough said, adding:

“And they are going to change the future of Afghanistan, their country, by just accessing this 21st-century knowledge.”

Students in Afghanistan image via Code To Inspire

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