In July, crypto-philosopher and angel investor Balaji Srinivasan published his almost-subversive book, The Network State: How to Start a New Country.
The short of his argument is for like-minded people to come together and form a digital state via online communities and, in future, develop into real-life countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, or Uganda.
This network state wouldn’t have to occupy a single unified territory. They would be scattered all over the globe but united through their cloud citizenship. This citizenship would be conferred through digital IDs. It would run on, what else, cryptocurrencies. A network state, says Srinivasan, would seek diplomatic recognition from the analogue-world governments.
The idea has been exciting enough, and there are a few takers. One of them, Nigerian-American Chika Uwazie, co-founded Afropolitan, which formed an online community of 200,000 people in less than six months. It raised “millions of dollars” in bitcoin and fiat currency from the Nigerian diaspora worldwide.
Pan-African network state
A report in the online publication CoinDesk noted that, “A decentralised autonomous organisation (DAO), Afropolitan aspires to build a pan-African network state to help one billion Africans live their most abundant lives,” something it says the world’s nation-states have failed to do.
“But during her talk, Uwazie tailored her message to the investor crowd. Unlike a social network, which needs millions of users to turn a profit, a network state could produce a return to investors with only a few hundred thousand members, Uwazie claimed.
“Revenue would come from ‘physical and e-resident taxes,’ according to one of her slides.
“The network state is its own emerging asset,” she said. “It actually could be quite profitable.”
Most abundant lives
In Africa, the argument that this network would enable Africans to live their most abundant lives, something most of its current nation-states have failed to do, is powerful.
The seeds of this kind of state have already been sowed, including in East Africa. In Kenya’s Samburu, 380 kilometres from Nairobi, is a unique women’s-only village called Umoja (Unity). Men are banned in Umoja.
It was founded in 1990 by a group of 15 women who were survivors of rape by British soldiers stationed in the area. Umoja later expanded to include any women escaping child marriage, female genital mutilation, domestic violence and rape. The women who have to encounter men do so outside the village.
It’s a successful community with smart environmental practices, a good school, and happy children and women. It has been reported that “women and girls who hear of the refuge come and learn how to trade, raise their children and live without fear of male violence and discrimination”. Some years ago, it was alleged that jealous men in the area, fearing it was setting a bad example, attacked it, and they were repulsed.
Umoja is an early crude of how a networked state of like-minded people might look, but it would need to be more autonomous.
East Africa is replete with areas where network states could be created in a modified process from that envisioned by Srinivasan. Many people might not realise it, but Lake Victoria has nearly 1,000 islands. Many of them are tiny, but there are several uninhabited ones of reasonable size where communities like Umoja could be established.
There are enough tree-hugging, gentle, tech-savvy, sexually ambiguous, freedom-loving, pacifist, and semi-vegetarian folks in Africa alone who could come together, create a DAO like Afropolitan, and buy some of these islands from the governments of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and start something there. Here marijuana would be legal. Prostitution would be decriminalised. There would, of course, be no death penalty. There would be heavy taxes for pollution, and no fossil-fuelled vehicles allowed. Only ecumenical churches and houses of worship would be permitted.
But being in the middle of Lake Victoria, surrounded by these countries, could be risky. You never know when they would feel provoked and send in the Kenya Defence Forces or Uganda People’s Defence Force to occupy your network state.
It might be safer to set up in the Indian Ocean; that way when the East African armies are approaching, you can flee to the safety of international waters before they land.
Take Tanzania. While Zanzibar, Pemba, and Ukerewe, are its popularly known islands in the Indian Ocean, it has about 34 of them, half uninhabited. Kenya is, on the whole, island-poor, so the people who have islands to sell – or lease – are our Tanzanian brothers and sisters.
These East African networked states could have the added benefit of forcing the analogue states to become more competitive by governing better and creating lucrative economic opportunities for the people. If they don’t, their best talent will apply to become citizens in the nearby network state. That would be better than them going to work far away in Azerbaijan and not being able to visit their original homeland for years.
There are far too many countries in Africa that, for three generations, have only known dictatorship and all other manners of cruel rule, corruption, marginalisation, poverty, and endless suffering. The great-grandfather, the grandfather, the father and mother, and the grandchildren have all been tormented by the occupants of the colonial governor’s mansion or the State House. It can’t hurt to try to create new nations led by digital idealists and crypto evangelists, a kind of leadership the continent has never had. Any islands for sale?
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]
Source: The East African