Blockchain could revolutionise African land ownership

Governments and businesses around the world are exploring ways to store data, such as contracts and assets, in blockchains — which are ledgers of digital transactions — amid rapidly growing investor interest.

Countries including Honduras, Georgia and Rwanda have signed deals to build blockchain-based land-titling systems, where information is stored in immutable digital registries and cross-checked by a network of computer users.

Broader uptake

Land records in most African countries date back to colonial times, and the ownership of most holdings is unclear, especially where it has been held communally, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.

Resolving disputes is often a lengthy process, with Kenya’s under-staffed 27 land and environment courts relying on incomplete paperwork from registries, lawyers said. Blockchain would help by making all land records publicly available online and eliminating multiple titles for the same piece of land, said Peter Tole, head of Land Layby Group, a Nairobi-based real estate firm.

The company plans to launch a private land registry in Kenya this month to help clients, mostly diaspora investors, buy property safely. The registry will be powered by a cryptocurrency-like unit called a “harambee token”. It rewards users for adding correct entries to the blockchain and penalises them for erroneous ones.

Under the system, the first person to register a piece of land correctly is rewarded with 100 harambee tokens, the second person gets 80 tokens, the third 50, and the fourth earns 35. A wrong entry means they lose those tokens, which at present only have nominal value.

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