Many analysts think the digital asset sector has now matured enough to allow for institutional investment. Photo: iStock

Tunisia has become the first mover in implementing a blockchain-based distributed-ledger digital currency in a global drive of developed and developing economies to migrate toward cashless economies, says Walid Driss, the Tunis-based founder and chief executive of DigitUS Tech.

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Driss, a US-educated Tunisian engineer, has already instituted a blockchain-based digital payment system called DigiCash with La Poste Tunisienne, the North African country’s postal service, and is working with the central bank, Banque Central Tunisienne, and newly appointed BCT governor Marouane El Abassi to explore and study the launch of a national digital dinar.

The Tunisian central bank has set up a working group to study blockchain, digital payments and cryptocurrencies overseen by Abassi and Driss serving as a founding member.

During an interview, Driss said he and Abassi had discussed plans for a future digital dinar and how a digital currency could combat money-laundering, decrease the country’s gray economy, and at the same time empower women and weaker segments of the Tunisian population.

Swedish Finance Minister Eva Magdalena Andersson said there was nothing stopping Western countries – and emerging economies such as Tunisia and fragile states such as Somalia – from becoming cashless economies.

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She said Sweden had decided to go almost cashless as the Scandinavian country is a natural first adopter of technology, adding that she has no doubt that developing economies can easily adopt to a cashless economy.

Almost 90% of financial transactions in Sweden are cashless, and neighboring Finland has set a goal to be completely cashless by 2029.

Many experts in the field of cashless economies fear that countries such as China could use tracking of payments to control their citizens and purposely make people de facto non-citizens by taking away their means to pay for basic necessities.

“In Sweden, the non-citizen would be an unintentional consequence, [while] the big brother of China could make you poorer than a street beggar in seconds,” a central bank source said.

In fact, cashless coffee shops and stores in the United States have already created huge controversy as being inherently discriminatory against minorities, many of whom cannot or choose not to have credit cards.

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The City of Philadelphia has outlawed any store that does not take the legal tender of US cash, while the Oren’s Daily Roast chain in New York City is already stirring the city’s racial tensions by adopting a cashless-store option.

“I cannot believe that in 2019 someone would even think of operating a store that purposely discriminates against those with no credit cards, which means blacks, elderly and tourists,” a black New York police officer told Capitol Intelligence. “The only thing worse than being denied service is for one [of these] people is to be patronizing and offer you a free coffee.”

Notwithstanding China’s boast to become the leader in blockchain and the cashless economy, many monetary experts agree that cryptocurrencies are best left to small developed countries such as Estonia or emerging economies without a truly convertible currency such as Uzbekistan. That Central Asian republic is expected to send a high-level delegation led by the deputy prime minister to study implementing Bitcoin and blockchain technology at this month’s IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington, DC, said Javlon Vakhabov, the Uzbek ambassador to the US.

One country that could potentially become a 100% cashless economy is Somalia as it looks to reintroduce its national currency, the Somali shilling, after years of internal strife and famines.

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However, Somali Finance Minister Dr Abdirahman Dualeh Beileh, in an interview with Capitol Intelligence/CI Africa, said that introducing a digital national currency might be a stretch, but it is something that can be be studied.

The minister noted that Somalia is a surprisingly advanced country for mobile telephony and information and communications technology. The country is also strategic because of the 10,000-kilometer EASSy (Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System), and fiber and telecom submarine cable owned by a consortium made up of MTN International, France Telecom and Saudi Telecom.

While many in the United States and Europe talk about applied blockchain applications, Driss and his team of developers at DigitUS and affiliated group Digital Labs have been using cutting-edge blockchain technology such as IBM Corp’s distributed hyperledger with an ever growing team of specialized blockchain IT developers in Tunisia.

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The application of blockchain technology was a major theme of discussion at last year’s IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde hosted IBM Corp’s blockchain chief, Bridget van Kralingen, after doing the same with a leading blockchain distribution ledger developer, Blythe Masters, CEO of Digital Asset Holdings, during the IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings in October 2017.

Van Kralingen’s overflow audience on blockchain also included top global bankers such as BNP Paribas chairman Jean Lemierre, EL Rothschild chairman emeritus Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, UBS AG chairman Axel Weber, and Jacob Frenkel, JPMorgan Chase international chairman and former Bank of Israel governor.

Driss also participated along with other nascent blockchain companies such as IComplyICO founder and CEO Matthew Unger during innovation workshops organized by the IMF during the Spring Meetings.

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Driss said he was positively surprised by the sincere interest in blockchain and digital currencies shown by European Central Bank member and Bank of Finland governor Erkki Liikanen and Bank of Ghana governor Ernest K Y Addison.

Driss said his mission was to introduce digital national currencies in the fragile and not-so-fragile economies of Libya, Somalia and Sudan and let these countries leapfrog the developed world while at the same time bringing solutions to critical, and too often life-threatening, problems.

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