Sauntering Down the Rabbit Hole: Jack Dorsey’s Crypto Campaign in Ethiopia
By: Sebs Solomon—Originally Posted on July 28, 2021 via SolarTsunami
Several days ago, Jack Dorsey created a hashtag that combined Ethereum and Ethiopia to produce “ETH🇪🇹” (the ETH hashtag followed by Ethiopian flag). Interestingly, Crypto Twitter has united in amusement; with even the Olympics official account chiming in to thank Jack and the crypto community for supporting the Ethiopian athletes currently competing in Tokyo. It is no coincidence that just this past June, Jack vocalized his support of Project Mano, a group of Ethiopia-based entrepreneurs who want the Ethiopian government to consider mining, holding, and linking Bitcoin to the Ethiopian birr or other tenders. Following the Jack Dorsey endorsed “Ethiopia/ETH PR campaign,” Ethereum fans were backing Ethiopia ahead of the Tokyo Olympics (at least in the digital universe).
Why is Ethiopia being singled out on this quest? I understand it’s the second largest population after Nigeria, but since when did Jack Dorsey genuinely pay attention to the inequality and plight of the Ethiopian people?
Mike Demarais, co-founder of the Ethereum’s rainbow wallet, wrote a proposal (via tweet) to suggest that the ETH community should sponsor or fund the uniforms and gear of the Ethiopian athletes at the Tokyo Olympics. This echoed the message Brantly Millegan, director of operations at Ethereum Name Service, sent to the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; both, most likely, insinuating that ETH should be made an official currency in Ethiopia. Furthermore, a decentralized autonomous organization called “EthiopiaDAO” (link to their discord) has surfaced; it is centered around Ethiopia and blockchain education.
While there isn’t a clear vision of “exactly how EthiopiaDAO can help today…[they] have the tools and know how to coordinate capital globally towards whatever [they] decide to put [their] effort towards.” However, Ethereum isn’t the only cryptocurrency project to approach Ethiopia:
Cardano’s IOHK partnered with the country’s government to develop a blockchain system focusing on student performance in schools. The deal [involved] five million Ethiopian students having their digital identities stored on the blockchain.
IOHK is building a system that will rely on the Ministry of Education running a full node in which schools will use “a light client to get access; however, the system will be operating on the public Cardano blockchain and will be decentralized.” Thus, high school graduates will receive cards with near field communication (NFC) chips that will hold their education completion certificates and credentials. It will start with 12th grade students, but in the years to come, more students will receive blockchain IDs.
Charles Hoskinson, founder of Cardano, discusses globally scaling Cardano (specifically in Africa) on a panel hosted by Fortune Magazine and describes “interoperability” as essentially, centralization. He seems to think that moving “value and information” through the different ledgers/blockchains (whether it be with the central bank digital currencies or cryptocurrencies) is an important problem to solve. He is not interested in undoing the current corrupt financial system, he wants to help them perfect it. It seems as though, for Cardano, this is a digital colonization and data extraction operation and nothing more. This is troubling because the identities and information of millions of children will soon be on the Cardano blockchain network.
Developers behind the Cardano cryptocurrency, IOHK, have announced “that the U.S. tech firm will help Ethiopia rise from the wreckage” caused by the the current civil war in full swing. Coindesk accidentally made an argument against Cardano in an article defending them and it made me question:
If blockchain projects cannot repair roads or build strong institutions in places like Ethiopia, are innovators drawn to fragile states because they want to fix these things or because poverty and corruption are the ideal conditions for entrepreneurs exploring opportunities to extract resources from vulnerable communities?
An NGO, Save Tigray, has announced it will use the proceeds from the sale of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to support the people in Tigray. The NFTs will be based on interpreted photos of the tragedy and they will be sold on their NFT marketplace. Then the proceeds will be “donated equally to four groups: the World Food Program, International Rescue Committee, UNICEF, and Save the Children.”
This is quite possibly one of the darkest displays of insensitivity to human suffering I have ever witnessed. It is profoundly devastating that someone thought it was ok to use the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching images of Tigray people mourning for their loved ones to create NFTs, and then profit off of them, under the guise of humanitarian relief.
Save Tigray said their goal is not so much to raise funds for the people in Tigray, but rather to spread the news to millions because “an outcry from the public can compel [the government] to act.” Is that an admission that this NFT scheme is for propaganda purposes and not for actually helping anyone? This is not a denial of any real atrocities committed by the TPLF, Eritrean army, or Ethiopian federal forces on the Tigray people; I am simply questioning the motive of this NGO because, by their own admission, they want to “use the Tigray project as a prototype so that they can later create similar projects to address climate change, racial injustice, disease, and other issues.” I do not and will not ever dismiss any persons suffering, I am only trying to navigate this from a point of clarity rather than from a place of fear or hysteria.
Arab Spring, Ethiopia, & Internet Shutdowns
The UN General Assembly, in 2015, started to include “open online communication as a necessary condition for freedom of expression.” This was similar to a resolution passed by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) which states that the internet is a “fundamental right to freedom of information and expression enshrined under Article 9 of the African Charter.” In 2011, Egypt was the first government in Africa to employ Internet shutdowns during the Arab Spring. At the time, the Silicon Valley was stunned at Egypt’s internet shutdown and a Facebook spokesman, Andrew Noyes, said in an email response:
Although the turmoil in Egypt is a matter for the Egyptian people and their government to resolve, limiting Internet access for millions of people is a matter of concern for the global community. It is essential to communication and to commerce. No one should be denied access to the Internet.
Now let’s fast forward to 2020, when Human Right Watch reported that the people of Wollega, a natural resource rich province in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, did not have access to the internet from January to March. Human Rights Watch noted that the shutdown “prevented families from communicating, severely affected humanitarian services in the region, and contributed to an information blackout.” Internet shutdowns are not unusual in Ethiopia because since 2016, it has happened at least six times. Getnet Assefa is the founder and chief executive of Ethiopia’s first artificial intelligence lab, iCog (which was bankrolled by the Jeffrey Epstein Foundation and where Ben Goerzel is an advisor). Getnet has expressed his frustrations with the Ethiopian government because:
An internet shutdown meant not just hours of wasted productivity. It was also about losing “trust” from clients — spread across Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States — with whom they are working on projects ranging from machine learning to computational linguistics and robotics.
There seems to be multiple nations and corporations who have stakes and investments in the tech space in Ethiopia and they are not pleased with the constant Internet shutdowns. Moreover, this has been a thorn on the side of UNESCO’s 2016–2020 Second Growth and Transformation Plan for Ethiopia; because the goal was to develop “modern communication technology and techniques (2.3.14)[and it]includes achieving 100% network expansion with nine regions, the two city administrations, and seven subordinate institutions.” I suppose what I am trying to say is there seems to be some similarities between what is currently happening in Ethiopia/Horne of Africa and how the Arab Spring begun (in regard to the political unrest, internet shutdowns, and NATO meddling); we will see if it transpires in the same way, I hope not.
Jay-Z and Jack + ₿trust
In February of 2021, Jay-Z and Jack Dorsey created an endowment (called ₿trust) to fund bitcoin development in Africa and India, with a goal to make Bitcoin the internet currency. Interestingly, Damon Dash, who founded and launched Roc-A-Fella Records with Jay-Z and Kareem Burke in 1996, has expressed the desire to sell his Roc-A-Fella stake through an NFT that is tied to Jay-Z’s album, Reasonable Doubt. A judge halted the sale and “now Dash is trying to sell his stake in the company as an NFT.” An NFT is a unit of data stored on a blockchain, which is attached to a file and “buying an NFT gets you the token and a copy of the file — nothing more.” So, instead of “auctioning off the copyright to Reasonable Doubt, Dash is trying to auction off his entire stake in Roc-A-Fella.”
My apologies to the “Jay-Z simp cubs” on YouTube; Jay-Z may be the greatest rapper of all time (which is still debatable); however, his financial decisions are extremely shady. Why do these incredibly talented artists who had difficult childhoods, worked hard, succeeded, and then expressed a desire to uplift their old neighborhoods, and even the world, end up doing exactly what the banking oligarchs want them to do; instead of forging their own paths? Psychology, perhaps? I suggest a YouTube channel called The Yellow Brick Road for psychological breakdowns and human centered analysis on “political” issues. It is a perspective that is missing from political discussions, which is a shame because politics is made up of people; therefore, to understand politics, one must understand all the elements of the human mind (conscious or unconscious) or simply called the psyche.
Anyway, the Jay-Z and Jack Dorsey announcement was in lockstep with “similar moves by other high-profile entrepreneurs like Tesla’s Elon Musk as well as global payment giant Mastercard and PayPal.” In 2018, while India was restricting banks from engaging in cryptocurrency-related dealings, the corporate world was embracing cryptocurrencies. For example, Mastercard is bringing crypto onto its network because they believe “digital assets are becoming a more important part of the payments world.”
India has since changed it’s tune regarding Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs); on May 31, 2021 “the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) told banks and other financial institutions in the country that they should not cite its 2018 circular that barred them from dealing with cryptocurrencies while cautioning customers against virtual coins” because India remains hesitant regarding private currencies. Meanwhile, industry executives and national crypto enthusiasts are of the opinion that crypto assets can co-exist with sovereign digital currencies.
Some believe that despite Bitcoin being the biggest cryptocurrency on the market, its lack of smart contract capability has made it difficult to compete with Ethereum. Jack Dorsey has confirmed that Square is building a Bitcoin Hard Wallet, which will serve as a catalyst to make DeFi (decentralized finance) possible on the Bitcoin network; solidifying its name as a global financial tech giant; according to an article that reads more like a PR piece for Square. Some people in the crypto community pointed out that in order to achieve what Dorsey is attempting, Square’s app would need a ton of mass adoption, which is not the current reality. Furthermore, the “assisted-self-custody” Bitcoin Hard Wallet seems somewhat suspect; although, in the spirit of being fair, I will mention that Jack Dorsey does claim the “assisted-self-custody-wallet can probably simplify custody through assisted self-custody” which could be a simplified way for users to store their crypto offline instead of an exchange (which can be risky). The issue is that most hardware wallets are not fully offline and still require some service to activate them at minimum. Lastly, Square cannot say it is bringing DeFi (decentralized finance) to Bitcoin if Square is the single payment processor; that would be centralized. I would also like to note the Blockchain Futures market,
that Alison McDowell has covered extensively in her blog, Wrench in the Gears, where she writes passionately and with care about the role of blockchain in “our quest to maintain bodily autonomy, personal agency, communal care, and to strive to heal the planet and mend our social relations.” And finally, a word of advice from my crypto comrade for all of the traders and other crypto users:
The exchanges do not insure almost any crypto against loss/hacking/etc, but do usually insure USD for US users. They have been known to have issues with customers not being able to withdraw funds (likely liquidity issues) and then get “hacked” leaving users with no recourse. Crypto exchange users beware.
Community Inclusion Currencies & Bancor
Community inclusion currencies (CICs) are local money used to pay for goods and services, not meant to replace national currency; rather, complementary currencies designed to support local commerce (as described by xDai- a USD stable blockchain and multi-chain staking token). Bloomberg Businessweek criticized Bitcoin because it was difficult to scale since it depends on a decentralized global network of computers; and proceeded to praise the “new digital community currencies [which] work on a different open-source system that Bancor helped to develop called the POA Network.” In Gatina, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, the paper “community currency” that was complementary to the Kenyan shilling as a means of exchange in Gatina, is:
Shifting from multicolored paper notes to a digital token based on blockchain, the recordkeeping technology that makes Bitcoin possible. The pilot program is funded by Bancor, a project based in Switzerland that operates a decentralized cryptocurrency trading platform.
Bancor views community currencies as an alternative financial system that a group can use to encourage the creation and purchase of goods and services within a certain geographic region. Bancor hired the Grassroots Economics founder, Will Ruddick, to oversee the project.
In 2013, Ruddick was arrested by the Kenyan government, along with five other members of Koru Kenya, under the suspicion of forgery and being linked to the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), a separatist organization that advocates for the secession of Mombasa (Kenya’s second-largest city after Nairobi and a commercial hub of the coast). Much of the corporate mainstream media was quick to declare that Kenyan authorities were mistaking a new local currency for a separatist movement. Ruddick had connections in high places, the President of the International Reciprocal Trade Association and a representative from the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Office contacted the Kenyan government to drop the charges. In addition, the Hague submitted a petition signed by academics, practitioners, and policymakers connected to the community currency movement. Ruddicks plight was even emailed to the inboxes of Burning Man enthusiasts around the world. After much international pressure:
It didn’t take long for Kenya’s attorney general to intervene, and the country’s director of public prosecutions plucked the case from the local prosecutor and took it straight to the Kenya Revenue Authority. As it turns out, Ruddick’s slum empowerment project was completely legal [and] the charges were dropped.
How interesting that the multinational institutions fought on Ruddick’s behalf. I cannot imagine that anything he is doing is revolutionary or attempting to radically change the status quo of the current system in place; especially, if he is backed by the very institutions that maintain and perfect it. Smells like controlled opposition to me.
“a new financial vehicle allowing UNICEF to receive, hold and disburse cryptocurrency — a first for the UN.” One of those startups being funded by the UNICEF CryptoFund is Ruddick’s Grassroots Economics in Kenya where they claim to be “building and supporting systems that empower communities to digitally create their own basic incomes and community inclusion currencies.”
This is similar to John Clippinger’s talk on MIT Media Lab about “economies without currencies” and the future of nation states, decentralized finance, and organizing sustainable economic systems based on biological principles and outcomes through generative design, “a process that uses AI to create a wide range of solutions and ideas for complex problems.” The biological principles would be based upon the concept of metabolic mitosis, with “metabolic capital” and where one type of asset class can build on “another by [using] genetic algorithms to accelerate change.” He goes on to talk about geo-fencing “assigning citizens virtual perimeters in real-time” and digital twins “that will be managed as human capital by callous technocrats to profit social impact investors.” This could all help create a biosecurity surveillance apparatus around the globe.