Sonya Kuhnel & Theo Sauls

In March, the Blockchain Africa Conference 2020 will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa marking the 6th consecutive year of the event. Without a doubt, the conference is the biggest and most prestigious Blockchain gathering on the African continent. 

It started as Bitcoin Africa Conference in 2015, then changed to the Bitcoin and Blockchain Africa Conference. For the past three years, it is known as the Blockchain Africa Conference.

In an exclusive interview with QT, Sonya Kuhnel, Co-founder of Bitcoin Events, organisers of the Blockchain Africa Conference, we took a look at the genesis, the present and the future of Africa’s most prominent DLT event. 

The Genesis

When QT asked Kuhnel about what inspired the conference, she narrated it all began with a chanced meeting between Theo Sauls and herself at a Bitcoin Meet-Up in Cape Town in 2013. A year later, they realised there was very little information, education and networking events in Africa for Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain technology, so they decided to start Bitcoin Events in 2015. 

“In 2015 no one in SA was really talking about Blockchain technology, so the conference started as the Bitcoin Africa Conference then changed to the Bitcoin and Blockchain Africa Conference,” Kuhnel related. “For the last three years, it has been called the Blockchain Africa Conference.”

Motivation 

To run such an outstanding event in Africa concerning a relatively unknown emerging technology surrounded by Fear, Uncertainty and Doubts for more than a decade seems a daunting task. However, the organisers’ source of motivation originates from the potential of Blockchain technology to significantly augment economic expansion across Africa. 

Kuhnel noted:

“We are all very passionate about this technology and what it offers, particularly for people and businesses in Africa. We are convinced this technology can change the massive inefficiencies that exist in payments, to give just one example. We are motivated that what we are doing in terms of education, networking and collaboration can enable social and economic development and upliftment across the continent.”

Adoption in Africa

Africa, irrespective of how Blockchain Technology inherently positioned to be a catalyst for socio-economic and political advancement is yet to realise mass adoption. QT delved into how the BAC has aided the adoption drive. 

On that front, Kuhnel thinks they have executed a meaningful part by providing regulators, innovators and entrepreneurs with an opportunity to learn more about this exciting technology and stay abreast of the latest trends and developments globally. “It can be very confusing and overwhelming when first introduced to this technology, and I think we have played a role in de-mystifying and making it more understandable,” she strongly asserted. 

She, nevertheless, begged to differ when asked whether governments are the hindrance to mass adoption on the so-called dark continent. Kuhnel, who is also the founder of Blockchain Academy and co-founder of Xago, opined that once Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain technology is regulated in Africa, people and businesses will feel more comfortable adopting them.

Currently, many products and services in this space are confusing and complicated for the average person to understand how to use, she holds. She is convinced once these become, easier and less complicated people will also not be too frightened to use them. 

“People are also naturally sceptical of new technologies, and if they understand Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain technology, they seem to be less fearful and more interested in exploring the opportunities.

Present And Future

For the present, the organisers are focusing on Cryptocurrency and Blockchain adoption and education as always. It is their goal to strengthen this locus so more people can access knowledge around the technology and network to share ideas and resources. 

In the future, Bitcoin Events plans to host more of these types of events in other countries too where they see a need for such events. Kuhnel elaborated: 

“We have been running the Blockchain Africa Conference as an annual event since 2015 in South Africa, but as interest gains momentum, we will do other events around this main event. In September 2019 we ran the first edition of our CryptoFest in Cape Town which is much more focussed on cryptocurrency investment, trading and payments. This was a very successful first edition, and this will be another type of event we will host annually in South Africa and possibly other countries too. We are actively engaging with the crypto community to determine what the demand is and what other events we can host in collaboration with partners.”

BAC 2020 

The 2020 conference, through its theme, has the promise to cut through the hype and showcase the potential of disruptive and innovative technologies. According to the co-founder, invited speakers are not just going to talk about the opportunities the technology offers but are people who have built solutions, services and products around in the ecosystem.

“For example, ConsenSys’s Clarke Thompson will speak about the ConsenSys ecosystem and the many projects they are involved with using Ethereum, globally. Dr Ntuthuko Bhengu, Founder and Executive Chairman, Alchemy Health Technologies (Pty) Ltd, will be discussing his involvement in using Blockchain technology in the health industry,” she explained.

Other speakers billed to speak at the March event include Mervyn George, Innovation Strategy Lead for Africa at SAP. He will talk about global use cases that SAP is involved in food, beverage, and pharmaceutical industries, as well as how Blockchain is disrupting traditional business processes in the supply chain.

Michael Glaros, Principal Program Manager, Azure Blockchain at Microsoft, will talk about Microsofts initiatives using permissioned Blockchain technology for trade finance projects in Africa.