Monday, January 30, 2023

Solana’s recent launch of their brick-and-mortar store embassy concept, the Solana space, has drawn a lot of conversation. In the physical location, public members can come in and have conversations about web3 technology. It’s an idea we’ve seen before that worked for technology giant Apple.

The success of the concept could have lessons for web3 technology promoters in Africa. Aside from the existing challenges in Africa, such as internet penetration, the embassy concept can also help overcome the problem of lack of trust and poor experiences with web3 technology. Could this physical location approach be the way for Africa?

  • Solana introduced physical space for people to learn about web3 technologies
  • Africa has internet access and web3 adoption problems
  • Web3 embassies could help with adoption rates
  • Solana embassy concept

On the 28th of July, Solana opened its first Solana Space in Manhattan, New York. The physical store allows the general public to interact with web3 technology through face-to-face conversations with representatives. People can discuss web3 technologies, get assistance with Chain transactions and learn about the Solana blockchain.

Africa’s Web3 experience

Africa’s experience with cryptocurrency and other web3 technologies has been checkered at best. This is not the fault of web3 technologies but rather the approach to them. In detail, let’s look at some of the problems that Africa has faced concerning web3 technology.

Web3 technologies confusing

As with all new ideas, confusion has dominated the discourse. While the internet is awash with information about cryptocurrency, NFTs, and other web3 technologies, the validation of this information from a source that people can trust has proved difficult at best. As a result, there has been much confusion on the ground about what is what and what it means for the people of Africa.

Read: Cryptocurrency offers hope for Africa’s economic resurgence

Lack of Internet access is a barrier to Web3 understanding

In much of the African continent, access to the internet is still a luxury. According to numbers published by Statista.com for January 2022, Morrocco ranks the highest for internet penetration with 84.1%, while the Central African Republic, which recently adopted Bitcoin as legal tender and launched its own digital currency (the Sango), ranks lowest with 7.1% of the population having internet access.

41 of the 58 countries or territories included have internet penetration below 50% of the population. This statistic speaks not only to the ability to adopt web3 technologies but also to the ability to access information about them.

Cryptocurrency confusion opens avenues for scams

The two aforementioned factors have created space for fraudsters to take advantage of unsuspecting Africans. South African celebrity DJ Sbu is one of many Africans who fell victim to fraudsters who took advantage of the space’s confusion. People portraying themselves as cryptocurrency investment promoters have duped many because of the existing understanding gap.

Regulation of Web3 technology in Africa is poor at best

Regulation that should normally protect people from scams and a lack of knowledge may instead play a part in adding to the confusion. By and large regulation has stepped in to ban cryptocurrency trading in Africa, but as nations turn around like Morocco did and others will surely do, this leaves people in a state of confusion as it happens.

The implementation of regulation against those interested in web3 technology has also left many projects such as exchanges and cryptocurrency projects dead in the water. This counts against those who would be willing to invest in projects.

Lack of trust in Web3 technology

All the things listed above culminate in a lack of trust for web3 technologies. The tales of those who fell prey to fraudsters are associated with cryptocurrency and other web3 technologies rather than with the people responsible for such acts. Unfortunately, those who have been burnt did so believing in web3 technologies and as such many blame the technologies.

Looking at all of these factors, we can surmise that web3 embassies, like Solana’s, may hold the key for Africa moving forward in web3 technology adoption.

Embassies may hold the key

There are many other reasons that Africa may struggle with web# technology, and embassies may not hold the answer for all of these. It differs from territory to territory but a significant percentage of Africans do not trust mass media because of how it has been used by authorities in the past and present.

However, one can’t help but look at the embassy concept and see how it could do some good in Africa. An embassy concept like Solana’s could help people to understand web3, test out using some of the technologies, interfacing with real people and verify the legitimacy of claims or offers. Let’s look at the problems we mentioned earlier and how web3 embassies can bridge the gap.

Bridging key gaps

Confusion

If people could walk into a physical location and comfortably discuss web3 technologies with a person they relate to it would greatly increase their understanding. This could even go further if they could communicate with representatives in their mother languages about web3 to better understand it.

Internet access

We mentioned that lack of internet access creates a problem in both using and learning about web3 technology. The physical store would assist people in learning about web3 technology but also connect the education about it to their lives. This could greatly bridge the gap created by the digital divide.

Scams

Fraudsters have gotten away with what they have because of a lack of understanding. These embassies through education can help people understand web3. With understanding comes a resistance to being defrauded of their money. A better understanding will also help dissociate web3 technology from any scams that try to take advantage of it, at least in the hearts and minds of people.

Regulation

 As the tide of regulation turns, the information needs to be disseminated in a timely and relatable fashion. Physical locations represent the best possibilities for this, given the setup of the African continent.

Lack of trust

By giving people physical locations where they can learn about web3 technologies in a relatable manner with people they relate to, the trust gap can be bridged effectively.

What an African crypto embassy could look like

Whilst a lot of the focus on the New York Solana space has been on the aesthetics this is not entirely necessary or appreciated in many African countries. To quote Steve Jobs “design is not what something looks like but what it does”. With this in mind, web3 embassies in Africa would have to take into account how they relate web3 technology to people.

For example, teaching cryptocurrency through livestock or mineral-based monetary systems. Teaching NFTs through identity documents or property title deeds. A mix of mass open lectures and one-on-one interactions would help educate people at different levels. Including education about regulation would also help in teaching web3 technology.

Embassies could also look at education on web3 technology at different levels and their needs. While older generations may be largely limited to living with using web3, younger generations will become the custodians of it. The businesses and opportunities of tomorrow are in the hearts and minds of the young ones of today.  They will need a different approach from other generations. In the 1990s and 2000s, internet cafe’s taught more people about internet usage. 3G mobile internet only arrived in Africa in 2004.

Hurdles

No rose is without its thorns. While we can look at the embassy concept and see all its positives we must also discuss the barriers to the concept of flying in Africa.

Regulation

The first and biggest hurdle is regulation. While the African populace has shown an appetite for web3 technology through cryptocurrency and NFT adoption,, the powers have not been as forthcoming. Many countries still have complete bans on cryptocurrency trading.

Regulation would have to be clarified and simplified for embassies to take off. Authorities have shut down web3 technology companies’ operations, directly or indirectly, overnight

Infrastructure investment

The investment required in infrastructure cannot be ignored either. The Manhattan Solana Space is burning a significant-sized hole in the purse of Solana. The investment in infrastructure, equipment, staff and translation required to implement the idea as we have imagined it in Africa would be significant.

What’s more, these physical locations do not scale well. A simple solution would be, as is the case with Solana, to allow those who benefit from adoption to run these embassies. However, putting this into action would be complicated when you consider scalability or lack thereof.

Inequality

Many African countries already have problems with the centralisation of resources, investment and opportunities. Due to the issues mentioned on investment, the scourge of inequality may rear its ugly head once again. Africa may well find itself in new territory but dealing with the same old problems.

We will keep our eyes on how well the concept fairs with the new York web3 embassy as we look for lessons that the African continent can draw from the concept and whether it will be worth adopting. Unforeseen factors or new factors may shift the status quo regarding using physical embassies to promote digital products. The discussion around Solana’s store notes how Apple succeeded with this strategy but that Apple is rather the exception than the rule.

Read: How bitcoin is advancing the human race

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