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Cryptocurrency scams on the rise; Our People Perish for Lack of Knowledge

By Tevin Mwenda.

The fourth industrial revolution has been billed as the key to unlocking Africa’s vast potential and propelling Africa to ‘developed status’. Some of the biggest components of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Financial Technology specifically digital currencies. However, with every new revolution, those who benefit are the ones who understand the revolution and its implications. This arguably is the reason why most African countries missed out on the opportunities of the last revolution or at least gained in different measures other than economic. There was a lack of knowledge of what the revolution entailed and its benefit.

On 17 December 2019, The Standard Newspaper in Kenya published an article on how a pastor swindled Kenyans of 2.7 billion Kenya shillings. While occasions of pastors conning the masses are not new in Africa and in Kenya, the means he used is one that could be considered novel. The pastor managed to convince his ‘flock’ and members of the public to invest in Nurucoin, a cryptocurrency, which he billed as the next big money maker. He also marketed it as the answer to the problem of the need to change currencies when trading within Africa using cash. By the time the masses got wind that it was a scam, the pastor and his close associates had swindled them off 2.7 billion shillings.

The BBC podcast the Cryptoqueen: How one woman scammed the whole world also reflects a similar story only at a bigger scale. In the podcast, a particular story stands out, the Ugandan case. Similar to the Kenyan incidence, a number of Ugandans were enticed and convinced to invest in One Coin. One Coin had offices in Kampala attached to a church. The church was so engrossed in marketing and advertising One Coin that there are videos showing the bishop leading the congregation in call and response. “One Life!” “One Coin!”. The Bishop was one of the top promoters of One Coin.

These two examples demonstrate the catch 22 situation in Kenya and most African nations are currently in. On one hand, we have the tools to lead us through the next decade and development while on the other, citizens who are supposed to benefit from this technology have no knowledge of what this technology is about. As a result, many innocent people have lost their savings and hard-earned money to the hands of scrupulous people who allege to have this knowledge. Sadly, in this instance, the people who take advantage of unsuspecting citizens are those expected to be trusted in the society minding the needs and in a sense educate the masses on emerging technologies, the benefits, and implications of using the same.

It has been opined since time immemorial that Knowledge is power. The Bible states that My people are destroyed for lack of Knowledge. In applying the same doctrine here, the people who had knowledge in the Third Industrial Revolution were the most successful. In order for Kenyans and Africa, in general, to benefit from these emerging technologies there needs to be proper mechanisms to disseminate information to the masses on the application of these technologies and what impact the same will have. Everyone needs to be informed about Artificial intelligence, Cryptocurrencies, Machine Learning and how their personal data is used as the oil of these technologies.
This may be done through various means. Firstly the Kenyan government may adopt the Finland method where the Finish government took a bold step and introduced a crash course on Artificial Intelligence that is easy to learn and understand. This course is free and its purpose is to give Finish citizens understanding and edge on Artificial Intelligence. Kenya has every capability to create such a course on these emerging technologies. The course would just offer the basics and one can be awarded a certificate after completing the course. It would be a simple easy to understand course that anyone can easily read and understand. These courses can be developed in conjunction with the private sector which has the resources to do so. The course can be distributed through the Ministry of Education, ICT or the County Governments.

Secondly, the same churches that are being used to scam the masses can be a very resourceful tool in educating people on these emerging technologies as well as the challenges and opportunities they present.

Thirdly, the government should implement proper policies, particularly education policies, that encourage and embrace the learning of these new technologies. Schools should be compelled to offer free basic courses from an early age on these technologies. These courses can easily be integrated into the new Competency-Based Curriculum System.

Lastly, a greater calling on fellow citizens who already are knowledgeable about these technologies should educate the rest of the citizens. In addition, citizens should not blindly invest in a ‘make me rich quick’ scheme but take their time to find information on the investment opportunity. The internet is a useful tool to gather this information without spending a dime. This would help prevent a rise in such cases as the people would be better educated to make informed choices and not just depend on one person’s version of the information.

Tevin is a Lawyer, and currently a Researcher at KICTANET. He is also a budding Web Developer.

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