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NFTs in Africa: Potential benefits and risks for the art market and beyond

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By Taedzwa Chikono


Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have gained significant attention in recent years as a new way of buying and selling digital and physical assets. From art to collectibles to real estate, NFTs have the potential to revolutionize the way we think about ownership and value. African countries and businesses have the opportunity to tap into this growing market and benefit from the unique characteristics of NFTs.

One of the main benefits of NFTs is that they can be used to authenticate and prove ownership of digital assets. In a world where digital content is easily reproducible and pirated, NFTs provide a way to ensure the authenticity and uniqueness of digital art, music, and other forms of media. This can be especially valuable in the African context, where digital content creation and distribution is rapidly growing but intellectual property protections can be weaker. By using NFTs, African creators and businesses can protect their digital assets and potentially earn more revenue from their work.

In addition to protecting digital assets, NFTs can also be used to monetize physical assets. For example, an African artist could create an NFT of a physical painting and sell it on a blockchain marketplace. The buyer would receive a digital token that proves their ownership of the painting, and the artist could potentially earn a higher price for the work than they would through traditional channels. NFTs can also be used to sell physical collectibles, such as rare coins or stamps, which can be challenging to authenticate and sell through traditional channels.

Another potential benefit of NFTs for Africa is the ability to facilitate financial inclusion. Many African countries have high rates of mobile phone ownership but low rates of traditional bank account ownership. NFTs can be bought and sold using mobile phones and digital wallets, making it easier for people to participate in the digital economy even if they don’t have a bank account. NFTs could potentially be used as a form of digital currency, allowing people to make purchases or transfer value without the need for traditional financial institutions.

NFTs can also be used to create new types of business models and revenue streams. For example, an African musician could create an NFT that gives the holder access to exclusive content or experiences, such as backstage passes or private concerts. This could be a more sustainable and profitable model for artists than relying on streaming services or one-time concert ticket sales. Similarly, an African fashion designer could create an NFT that gives the holder the right to purchase a limited edition item or access to a VIP event.

There are also potential social and cultural benefits of NFTs for Africa. NFTs can be used to preserve and share African cultural heritage, such as traditional art or artifacts. They can also be used to create new forms of cultural expression, such as digital art or music that reflects African experiences and identities. NFTs could potentially be used to create new opportunities for African artists and creators to share their work with a global audience and build a fanbase.

Of course, there are also risks and challenges associated with NFTs that African countries and businesses will need to consider. One major challenge is the high energy consumption and environmental impact of blockchain technology, which is used to create and manage NFTs. There are also concerns about the potential for NFTs to be used for illicit activities, such as money laundering or the sale of counterfeit goods. It will be important for African governments and businesses to carefully evaluate the potential risks and benefits of NFTs and take appropriate steps to mitigate potential negative impacts.

One potential area where NFTs could have a particularly significant impact in Africa is in the art world. African art has long been undervalued and underrepresented in the global art market, and NFTs could potentially provide a new way for African artists to gain recognition and financial success.

One challenge that African artists have traditionally faced is the lack of infrastructure and support for the art market. Many African countries have limited resources for supporting and promoting the work of local artists, and it can be difficult for artists to connect with buyers and galleries outside of their own country. NFTs could potentially help to overcome these barriers by providing a new platform for artists to showcase and sell their work to a global audience.

In addition to providing new opportunities for African artists to sell their work, NFTs could also help to increase the value of African art. By using NFTs to authenticate and prove the uniqueness of their work, African artists could potentially command higher prices for their art. This could be especially beneficial for artists who create traditional or culturally significant art, which may not be as well-known or appreciated by the global art market.

One potential example of how NFTs could be used to promote and monetize African art is through the creation of a virtual African art museum. This could be a digital platform where African artists could showcase their work and sell NFTs of their art to buyers around the world. The virtual museum could potentially be curated by art experts or sponsored by cultural institutions, which could help to increase the credibility and value of the art on the platform.

There are already some examples of African artists and institutions using NFTs to sell and promote their work. For example, the South African artist Trevor Jones has sold NFTs of his art on the blockchain marketplace OpenSea, and the National Museum of Kenya has announced plans to create NFTs of its collection to raise funds for conservation efforts. These early examples suggest that NFTs could have a significant impact on the African art market in the future.

It is important to note that NFTs are still a relatively new and experimental technology, and it is not yet clear how they will be adopted and used in the long term. There are also many potential risks and challenges associated with NFTs, including the high energy consumption and environmental impact of blockchain technology and the potential for NFTs to be used for illicit purposes. However, the potential benefits of NFTs for African artists and the art market are significant, and it will be interesting to see how this technology evolves and is used in the future.

Taedzwa Chikono is an information technology enthusiast based in Cape Town. He writes in his  personal capacity.