It may sound like science fiction, but a Nigerian-born tech entrepreneur thinks he’s found a way for Africans to escape from problems like inequality and bad governance: an internet-born virtual nation.
Her project is one of many African-led virtual projects aimed at helping the world’s poorest continent capitalize on digital growth and tackle real-world problems, though some tech experts call these spaces on-line run the risk of reproducing the inequalities of the world offline.
Internet as an instrument for equality
“There are many things that keep us, as Africans, from opportunities in the real world,” says Emole, co-founder of Afropolitan, a project to create a network state. “(Internet) is the only place in the world that serves to balance.”
The development of the metaverse – an environment on-line shared where people can meet, buy virtual goods and attend events – has expressed concerns for digital rights, privacy and inequality in this area. “What happens to a grandmother in rural South Africa without an internet connection?” asks Thami Nkosi, an activist and researcher at the South African non-profit organization Right2Know, which works to improve access to public information. “We have no broadband, no internet, no electricity, so who benefits?”
Some researchers and activists believe opportunities will open up as mobile phones and internet connections proliferate across the continent, emphasizing the need to adapt to products African needs.
According to a report by market research company L’Atelier, the emerging virtual economy already has around 2.5 billion people and generates billions of euros every year. “Most of the technology platforms that we use in Africa were developed in North America, Europe, the Middle East or China,” explains Johan Steyn, Chair of the Special Interest Group Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the Institute of Technology Professionals. IITPSA). “We need an African perspective on using smart technology to serve the people of this continent,” he adds.
South African tech startup founder Mic Mann believes transferring the metaverse to Africa is part of the continent’s “future proofing” to ensure the digital space continues to expand. “It will change everything: the way we work, live and play,” says Mann, co-founder of Ubuntulandself-proclaimed as the continent’s first Metaverse market.
Pan-African Digital State
Aimed at the more than 140 million people of the African diaspora, the Afropolitan project ultimately aims to expand into physical territory. Born in Nigeria and raised in the United States, Emole believes he can offer solutions to the poor governance in many countries across the continent, which he cites as a key driver of emigration.
The makers of Afropolitan Raised $2.1 million (€2.04 million) in a funding round in June to help develop the digital state, and 10,000 people have self-registered for more information and updates, according to the company. Its founders plan to launch it initially by selling NFTs (non-fungible tokens, unique digital images that, while infinitely reproducible, are privately owned). These NFTs will serve as a “digital passport” to Afropolitan’s physical events and spaces before developing an app that will allow members to transfer money and purchase goods and services.
Emole, based in Silicon Valley, explains that the project will span the internet and the metaverse, gradually expanding into a “fully digital country with its own native currency and a common purpose.” the founders to plansubsequently acquired land from governments to create a series of Singapore-style autonomous cities with “large-scale sovereignty” and even provide services to citizens like water and electricity using cryptocurrencies.
These physical territories also include embassies afropolitical That could help citizens challenge government incompetence by providing alternative governance and financial structures, the organization said. “We want to solve the biggest problem of all, which is governance, because when you have good governance, everything else can thrive,” says Emole.
The project is still in an initial phase of raising support and funds before starting to build its intended application. The tech researchers are wondering if their plans are viable. “Governance is much more than a virtual space on the internet,” says Nkosi of Right2Know. “I doubt we can digitize nation-states built on a power base of the political elite that always wants to hold on to ultimate power,” adds Johan Steyn, chair of the South African Artificial Intelligence Special Interest Group, who also acknowledges The Idea is interesting and deserves to be discussed.
Other cities and countries have eyed the potential of the metaverse. The city of Seoul and the island nation of Barbados They announced last year that they would be entering there to provide administrative services.
risks and rewards
Mann, founder of tech startup Ubuntuland, hopes Metaverse rooms like the one he’s creating will become a “job creation tool” where users can showcase their skills or make money online. In February, Mann began selling lots on his virtual marketplace, where he plans to showcase African art, music, technology and design. Telecom giant MTN and M&C Saatchi Abel (a South African marketing agency) have already invested in land. According to Mann, users can use the Ubuntu token cryptocurrency to buy and customize land, set up shops, therapy rooms, concerts, movies and games. “I hope millions of jobs are found in different metaverses around the world,” says Mann, whose native South Africa has an unemployment rate of 35%.
Researchers of these technologies say that both these online projects and metaverses open up new avenues for communities, but are unlikely to be a golden orb for solving complex problems. “Technology offers promising solutions to health and education problems and hopefully will lead to better opportunities for all… We need people like these to push the boundaries and dream of what could be possible,” Steyn sighs.
However, utopian online projects may run into the same problems of crime, corruption and inequality that they are trying to escape, Nkosi and others point out. “We see a replica of the frictions of the physical world in the virtual world,” adds Kanis Saengchote, associate professor of banking and finance at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, who has researched the metaverse.
Though some properties in the metaverse sell for millions, Saengchote says it’s debatable whether virtual land has any “real value.” Just like transactions, there are also fraud and fraud risks offlinewarns the expert.
However, Emole, the co-founder of Afropolitan, claims that concerns about financial crime are “valid criticism” but that she will address it in his community with both advanced fraud detection and awareness of potential scams. Both he and Mann anticipate there will be a lot of trial and error to ensure virtual spaces don’t become elitist or divisive. “The best thing is that it will be an experiment of what is really possible in our time,” says Emole.