Using Blockchain Technology to Digitise the Land Registry in Kenya
by Njeri Waweru**
Blockchain technology is set to be the most revolutionary technology since the Internet. it is famous for facilitating bitcoin transactions but it can serve many purposes, one of which is land title registration. Land title registration is an issue that plagues many African countries fraught with corruption and lack of transparency inhibiting the realisation of land an individual and the country as a whole.
Blockchain technology was created by Satoshi Nakamoto to facilitate bitcoin transactions. Bitcoin is a digital currency whose legitimacy is not derived from any singular authority and is traded amongst members of the public. Blockchain works in the following way: when a digital transaction is carried out, it is grouped together in a cryptographically protected block with other transactions that have occurred in the last 10 minutes and sent out to the entire network for validation. Each group of these transactions is known as a block. The validated block of transactions is then timestamped and added to a chain in a linear, chronological order. The entire chain is continually updated so that every ledger in the network is the same giving each member the ability to prove who owns what at any given time.
This functionality makes it attractive in two ways. First, it promotes transparency as the data is embedded within the network as a whole meaning it is for public consumption. Second, it is incorruptible because altering any unit of information on the blockchain would mean using a huge amount of computing power to override the entire network. Additionally, the blockchain cannot be controlled by any single entity and has no single point of failure because the blocks of information are identical across its network. Its structure makes it suitable for supply chain management, identity and database management. The latter function would aid in streamlining the land title registration process.
The current process of land transfer system is plagued by land cartels, tedious amount of paperwork and long queues. Most Kenyans use advocates to facilitate the process which is an extra cost on top of the fees and duty that is due to the government. The Ministry of Lands has upgraded its electronic management system so as to hasten the transaction process which means that citizens are able to use the e-citizen platform to pay for the fees and duties online. A further step in digitising the land registry would be the adoption of blockchain technology.
First, it would reduce cases of fraud because each property would be uniquely coded and linked to a smart key which would be held only by the owner. Second, the use of smart contracts, which are programmable contracts that self-execute when certain conditions are met, would speed up the registration process making land registries more efficient and cost-saving. Third, it would promote effective property management because information can be reviewed in real time.
Despite the benefits that blockchain technology has, there are a number of considerations to be made to ensure it is used accordingly. In order to benefit from it, a huge amount of information needs to be collected. Therefore, data protection laws must be in place and enforceable as part of the regulation of the blockchain technology. Additionally, blockchain registry is only as good as the data inputted. Incorrect data will not produce results that we want to realise. The time and cost of adopting blockchain to record land transactions will inhibit the implementation and subsequent use of the technology.
Other African countries are exploring the use of blockchain for this purpose. In Rwanda, the Government Blockchain project has partnered with WISeKey, a cybersecurity and IoT solutions firm and software giant Microsoft in order to digitise the lands registry to enable secure transactions, digital authentication and legally binding signatures.
In Ghana, BenBen, uses blockchain technology to improve land and property management to create a land registry and verification platform for financial institutions enabling verification of data and transactions. It provides for an up-to-date registry, enable smart transactions and distribute private keys for clients. This will allow more citizens access to credit because they have verifiable collateral.
Blockchain technology is suitable for land title registration because it would increase transparency, speed up the transfer process, promote access to credit and reduce conflict over land transactions. However, its adoption cannot be viewed without context. For it run efficiently, there are certain things that must be present. Reliable and fast Internet connection and a steady supply of energy are at the top of the list. While we are making great headway in terms of Internet connection, there is still a lot to be done. Moreover, the data inputted must be the correct data. Without the correct data, we cannot truly benefit from the technology.
Blockchain technology is an innovative gem set to change how we do things. Land title registration issues have plagued our country for years on end. It has proven difficult to create a land registry that is devoid of inaccuracies and transparency. Blockchain technology could be the answer to our problems but it is highly dependent on how our current institutions will implement it.
Image via findaphoto.com
**Njeri Waweru holds a Bachelor of Laws degree from Strathmore University. She run a personal finance blog: www.maliyangu.co.ke.