The Rise of The African Traveler: How Blockchain’s Sovereign Identity Can Restore the Economic Value of Africans
One area where most Africans frequently face discrimination and bias is with regard to their passport identification. I would be treated differently with a US passport, versus a Nigerian passport. Same person, two different experiences just because of the identity I carry, not who I am. Why should a means of identification be the determining factor of anyone’s value, and whether or not they are a threat to society? Blockchain’s self sovereign identity management capability seems to provide a solution to this. Blockchain’s decentralized database infrastructure network has the potential to revolutionize identity management across the travel value chain and drastically improve the end-to-end travel experience by reducing the undue complexities such as the cumbersome & time-consuming visa process as well as the identity bias (sometimes leading to low self esteem) African traveler’s experience at immigration borders. With the growing number of the African millennial population, this technology has a huge potential to help restore our economic value as it promotes and encourages conscious traveling for Africans which in turn increases our value to the global economy.
The Problem: I am NOT my Identification Card
On a somewhat recent trip to Belize, the immigration officer pulled me aside because she was not sure if I was legally allowed to visit Belize with my Nigerian passport. In another Nigerian traveler’s narrative, “I was detained for nearly an hour while authorities in Saint Kitts & Nevis (a visa-free country for Nigerians) called their foreign ministry to confirm their policy was still in place. In 2019, on a road trip in Yugoslavia, I had the worst experience at border immigration. Everyone had their passports checked on the bus, but I was told to get out of the vehicle, and after a long talk with immigration officials, I was made to cross the border on foot.”
It is not uncommon for the African traveler to face bias, discrimination and undue complexities when traveling because of their passport identification. Whilst this might sound absurd, our experience is part of the typical African millennial traveler’s norm, which should not be the case. Although citizens of many African countries face these problems, the Nigerian passport holder is notorious for having such horrific stories and experiences. As such the approach is to use Nigeria as the perfect case study to solve this problem.
Nigeria has the largest active (and growing) population in Africa with the global reputation of its citizens being for excellence and great achievements. This reputation for excellence can be exchanged for value. Conversely, Nigerian citizens also have one of the most damaged global reputations, primarily due to perceptions around corruption and fraud, which impacts negatively on their global economic value. This suggests that if we can solve for Nigerians, then we can solve for other Africans. The importance of this topic cannot be overstated, because the value narrative of Africans has been eroded and degraded over the years. It is time for that narrative to change and for our inherent value as world citizens to be recovered. The time is now for a world where Africans are always respected, valued and seen as equally important.
One area where most Africans frequently face discrimination and bias is with regard to their passport identification. I would be treated differently with a US passport, versus a Nigerian passport. Same person, two different experiences just because of the identity I carry, not who I am. Why should a means of identification be the determining factor of anyone’s value, and whether or not they are a threat to society? The world has become a place where our value is linked to an identification document we carry as a result of our country of birth. Citizens of countries that don’t rank highly in the global index are considered low value, and consequently suffer discrimination and bias. Even their inherent value, as humans, is often ignored. This should not be the case.
A Better Approach: Blockchain’s Self Sovereign Identity Management
Is there a better way to restore, rebuild and exchange the value a person possesses based on a combination of natural abilities and acquired experiences? Is there a way to solve this issue through an identification mechanism that focuses on credentials of value and not just mere demographic data?
Blockchain’s self sovereign identity management capability seems to provide a solution to this. In a recent interview with Alex Puig of Caelum Labs, an expert in self sovereign identity with more than nine years in the Blockchain field, he defines self sovereign identity as “the ability to give back control of identity to the people such that it enables them to prove their identity in a secure and private way.” He says “the identity of a person now becomes a collection of proofs about the person signed by different collective trusted organizations within the blockchain ecosystem, which in turn proves the person’s identity.”
Currently, organizations like Facebook, Twitter, and the Government, control identity and there is little or no privacy. But with Blockchain, no one controls the identities. Sovereign identity is secure and safe. It is decentralized because it does not depend on one central authority and it is not biased. With sovereign identity, your identity is not just an identifier, such as an ID or Passport, but it is a collection of different credentials signed by a company or government body. Your identity is now a wallet of different credentials, not just a mere list of demographic data. And your identity is being identified based on the value of your credentials on the blockchain. It doesn’t matter the person’s race or gender or demographic attributes. It mainly focuses on the person’s capabilities, abilities and the value that person brings to society. Also, the individual has full control of these credentials and then you can decide which credentials to share. Because of these, coupled with its security and privacy features, the identity verification on blockchain is not biased.
The Nexus of Humanity
I believe that travel should be a tool to change the social and economic landscape of Africa and the value narrative of Africans. Exposing our citizens to other cultures through conscious travel can foster both individual and economic development on two fronts.
Firstly, the obvious effect of increased focus on encouraging Africans to embrace legitimate global conscious travel is that they become real-life ambassadors of our heritage and culture at their destination, dispelling negative opinions in the media, and encouraging others to travel to Africa. This is far more powerful than anything a potential tourist to Africa would see on the Internet. The more African travelers engage in legitimate global conscious travel and leave lasting positive impressions, the more people at the various destinations we visit want to learn and see more of our culture and community. Furthermore, this increase in legitimate conscious African travelers can help broker a visible shift in conversations on barriers to travel inevitably leading to improved tourism relationships, reduced visa restrictions and more countries willing to relax/open their borders; as Africans will now be seen as a group that can add significant economic value to the global economy, in a similar vein to the recent black travel movement.
Secondly, Africans engaging in conscious travel will undergo a mindset shift that will transform and positively impact the way they interact with their community when they return home. In returning home, African travelers can have a positive impact on their own communities by living their transformative experiences as coined perfectly by John Lehrer: “We travel because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity; when we get home, home is still the same but something inside our minds has changed, and that changes everything.” The world is focused on the ‘possibilities’ in Africa, such as reducing inequality, promoting sustainable economic growth, and improving quality education, and we believe these possibilities can be realized by establishing the economic value narrative of Africans through travel.
So why travel? Travel is one of the greatest forms of expression of freedom and self sovereignty. And with identity verification at the core of any activity across the travel value chain, travel serves as the best method to pilot a solution that would enable Africans to explore the world without limits. And as I mentioned, I firmly believe that travel should be a tool to change the social and economic landscape of Africa and Africans. This also means that the middle class African millennial, with a predicted population of 600 million by 2030 and with over 50% of those from Nigeria, is a potential traveler with the ability to contribute significant value to the global economy through blockchain’s identification management capability.
See Differently: A World Where Africans are Equally Treated and Valued
Dream with me for a second. Imagine a world where you, an African, are not judged, discriminated against or treated differently because of your country of birth in Africa. Imagine a world where we interact with other world citizens based on our value, capabilities and ability. Imagine a world where our identity is tied to the value we exchange across local and global ecosystems thereby contributing positively to a better world. With blockchain’s self sovereign identity management technology, African travelers have the potential and capability to create a world where there is very minimal bias when it comes to our identity verification.
With Blockchain’s identity management capabilities, we can verify our identity on the blockchain by coding specifications into a smart contract. For example, one can code rules into the blockchain smart contract that specifies that travelers only need to verify your identity from one organization in the ecosystem. This already eliminates the hassle that comes with visa processing and unnecessary documentation required to present for travel. If at least one trusted organization within the ecosystem, who either generates or consumes identification such as your local embassy or your local government passport office, can prove your identity then you are good to go. And because these organizations are all linked in the ecosystem, a green check from one organization automatically verifies you across the entire travel value chain. For example, in the future, a Nigerian traveler who has a digital identity on the blockchain does not need to get approved for a visa. Instead, when they arrive at the airport, they simply scan their ID and it automatically verifies and approves them to travel or enter. Consequently, they can enjoy a better travel experience.
Blockchain’s decentralized database infrastructure network has the potential to revolutionize identity management across the travel value chain and drastically improve the end-to-end travel experience by reducing the undue complexities such as the cumbersome & time-consuming visa process as well as the identity bias (sometimes leading to low self esteem) African traveler’s experience at immigration borders. With blockchain identity management capabilities, I believe we can really make inroads into empowering and restoring the economic value of Africans travelers. With blockchain, we can have a world of connected digital identities for a future of endless possibilities.
The solution of course is not as simple as it sounds because this is novel technology which is still being studied and slowly being adopted by society. However, as Alex points out, there is huge potential for this technology with the approach of developing the local blockchain ecosystem. According to Alex, “I don’t believe in international ecosystems, one solution for everyone. I believe in fostering local ecosystems and building from ground up. The magic is in the diversity of the ecosystems while finding a way to interact between local ecosystems and then linking these ecosystems to international ecosystems. This approach is more secure because identity is always verified locally. That is the incentive of trust and it works.”
The future of blockchain and its sovereign identity capability will depend on its adoption by the people. The power is in the people. If we can empower Nigerians with this technology and we conform to most of the conditions and regulations across the world, there is great potential for adoption.
The Future: A Step in the Right Direction
With the growing number of the African millennial population, this technology has a huge potential to help restore our economic value as it promotes and encourages conscious traveling for Africans which in turn increases our value to the global economy. Africans will now be forced to produce value as individuals which in turn means better communities, better societies and a better world. The value created will bring a positive shift in global perceptions of Africans and progressive impact on the community in Africa and even in the diaspora.
I believe that an immediate next step to catalyze the adoption of this technology, is to empower the people (Africans) through education. Educate them on the power of blockchain to restore their economic value, which will in turn increase the rank of our passport identification. Near term solutions will then be to build local blockchain ecosystems within communities around the core values inherent to the travel value chain. And finally, we need to develop a technology solution that allows Africans to access travel related services or products on the blockchain so they can thrive and flourish without limits.
Moni Baruwa is a visionary, futurist, servant leader, technology lover and an avid conscious traveler passionate about changing the narrative of Africans globally. Her passion for travel and technology was lit during her time at Deloitte Consulting in the US and Nigeria where she gained several years of experience delivering solutions as a Technology Consultant. At Deloitte, she led the re-engineering of complex business processes by leveraging technology to drive efficiency and simplicity for Fortune 100 organizations. Currently, when she is not plotting her next trip or launching a new idea, she keeps busy with her team building CountlessMiles (CM), an organization that provides solutions that enable and empower Africans to thrive and flourish without limits. A portion of CM’s profits goes to support CM’s social impact mission by contributing resources to support its social impact partner organizations.
To get in touch with her work with CountlessMiles, you can reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org