A true litmus test for gauging the effectiveness of a leader is by how much their followers own the leader’s vision. I have met few leaders who pass this test, one of whom is Eric Annan, who shared with me his story about going from Ghana to Nigeria, to start a business which subsequently went under. Yet, in the midst of the ashes, like a phoenix, he birthed a new business centered around solving real-world problems by leveraging blockchain to bring financial inclusion to Africa and solve the continent’s remittance and poverty issues.
Blockchain technology has been referred to as the fourth revolution after the internet. Its ability to transform the remittance system is an attractive force for African investors plagued with difficulty in making cross-border transactions. Through blockchain, African entrepreneurs are hoping to change the social-economic structure of the continent.
Originally from Ghana, Eric was born in Ivory Coast were he experienced firsthand how underprivileged Africa is compared to the rest of the world. This fueled his passion for ensuring that Africa doesn’t miss out on the blockchain, which he describes as the “Internet 3.0 or internet of value, the Internet we have today is the internet of information”. On a mission to spread blockchain education and ensure mass adoption across the continent, he describes the blockchain in simple terms saying: “blockchain is a digital ledger where one can store valuable assets without fear of losing them to a third party, privacy is very much assured, data cannot be deleted or added without the permission of the original owner.”
After working with HUAWEI Technologies as Lead Technical Account Manager, he had to take a break away from “all political activities to now concentrate on the wider passion of building businesses that can affect real lives across Africa.” He holds the belief that, “Africa is not poor”. He explains further that Africa can be revived, but it will require the entrepreneurs and not the politicians to take Africa to greater heights. “Once we are able to re-calibrate 20% of the 1.2 billion people in Africa, we will become economically sound, we will speak as realists and there will be a fair distribution of public wealth. Africa will not have only 7% of the continent political class being wealthy from public wealth.”
Prior to his foray into blockchain, Eric was a high-level investment banker. He stumbled upon blockchain in the process of setting up a company in Nigeria in 2015. “I traveled to Nigeria on July 4, 2015, with my friend and colleague, to whom I had introduced a technology company to in Ghana around 2014, called WorldGN. It was a tight one for me, as I had just had my first twins birthed. But the desire to make life better for them made me consider that option and gathered my resources to leave my one-month-old twins with their mother in Ghana, then traveled to Abuja with my friend. We spent over eight months in Nigeria, but the business didn’t do so well especially because there was a ban on Forex deposits and withdrawal in Nigeria in 2015 from August. The business needed Forex payments to be made to them before they shipped the products to our clients in the business. Life became tight and unbearable at the time. We nearly left for Ghana but I remained very positive that Nigerians were the right people to do business with and the country poses great potential for me.”
On the verge of giving up, an encounter with a business acquaintance brought some Satoshi-light at the end of the tunnel. “So in June 2016, a gentleman I met in one of the Hotels in Abuja during our first business called me because I had exchanged business cards with him. He told me that he wanted to see me, so I obliged and met him. He apparently didn’t understand the concept so well, he came with a lady called Ada, who explained the concept of blockchain to me.” Yes, he was at the end of his rope, but he was able to go on, thanks to the chains built with blocks. After this first introduction to blockchain, Eric had a great desire to understand the technology more and began on a journey of self-education. His knowledge about blockchain was transformed after reading a 34 paged book titled “The Rise and Fall of Digital Currency, The Seventh Disruption” by Thomas McMurrain. Eric read this book from first to the last page in one night. Now a blockchain and cryptocurrency advocate and educator, Eric’s first project in the space was founding Digitalkudi.com, a trading platform in Ghana and Nigeria that will enable Africans to have a stake in the global economic growth.
Today, the former failed business owner has gone on to build a Pan-African global exchange called KubitX, a one-stop exchange platform and trade engine capable of handling over 12 Million transactions per second with a latency of about 40 nanoseconds. To him, KubitX is more than just an exchange, it is also “a vision, a movement for the people.” A one-minute research on the top global exchanges would reveal that they have no African branches, yet users from Africa are growing daily. The exchange seeks to open the doors of inclusion to emerging markets. This is why Eric is passionate about revolutionizing Africa through the blockchain. “Africa has the largest number of young people, hence coming out of KubitX we decided not to make the same mistakes others have made. Everybody in KubitX has one thing in mind: owned by Africans and for Africans. Hence, we are building a Pan African economic agenda wherein the next 10 years we seek to move over 100 million people out of poverty using appropriate technology such as blockchain, AI, Big Data, IoT etc.”
His twins are now almost four years old and they have a father to be proud of. For his twins, their generation and future generations, he hopes to leave behind a legacy where there “is equity in terms of living standards and a changed perception of black race. Reduce the impact of religion in Africa, so we can be spiritual instead of religious, in order to build a society of public interest. My overriding interest is to see Africans living a luxury life, not on aids from the West, China or America.”
Most often, people with radical ideas did not just wake up one day and become radical. Their childhood can always be referenced as playing a huge influence. Eric started developing revolutionary ideas from secondary school. The fifth child of eight siblings, seven boys and a girl, Eric is the only one privileged to have acquired a university education. When he was seven years old, he and his family moved from Ivory Coast to his hometown Ahenema Kokoben in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, in 1993 after the massacre of Ghanaians in Ivory Coast during a football match between Kumasi Asante Kotoko SC and Asec Mimosas of Abidjan. He completed his Junior School, had his BECE in a remote village school called Kantinkyiren DA JHS 2000 with Aggregate Six (Distinction) and completed his secondary education in Kumasi Anglican Secondary School (KASS) 2003. Eric’s schooling conditions were not easy.
There’s a saying that the best way to spend time with great people is to read their books. Reading the books of great men and women affords you the opportunity to have one-on-one uninterrupted conversations with them. Clearly, Eric was aware of this golden secret. This must be the reason he has been following in the footsteps of renowned leaders, even from a young age. “I used to read a lot about other great personalities and African history. In secondary school, I was House Prefect and we organized a trip to Cape Coast, the slavery port of ‘No Return.’ That trip got to me and I begin to feel responsible for my generation’s economic liberation.” What he did during high school, he did even better in the university. He pioneered the formation of student unions in his private university, where such unions were outlawed. After a peaceful protest and successful dialogue with the relevant authorities, a platform for such unions was allowed. Eric was the founder of TESCON at All Nations University, an arm of the New Patriotic Party in all Tertiary schools across Ghana and became the National Financial Controller for All Private Universities Association in Ghana (PUSAG) 2010-2011.
Reading Thomas McMurrain’s book refreshed his thoughts on “how Africans have been disadvantaged of the previous revolutions such as the internet, email, e-commerce, mobile phones and social media, all because of poor judgement, largely due to religion and lack of participation at the early stages.” This enabled him to see the huge opportunity of utilizing blockchain to change the Socio-Economic structure of Africa. It has been a childhood dream of his “to be a vanguard of wealth creation for Africa.” Eric’s work on the blockchain is not just philosophical. He also aims to see “Africa become economically empowered and 60% of the population living above $400 a day.”
However, this vision might take a while to accomplish as most Africans still confuse blockchain and cryptocurrency with Ponzi schemes. He laments this ordeal, saying, “Lots of Ponzi schemes, which also got my fingers burnt, are rampant in this space. But for me, it was a learning curve and an experience to get it right, for our people to be self-educated and take advantage of the technology to better the processes in healthcare, supply chain, land title records, monetary transactions and education.”
Another challenge to the progress of Africa’s development is the competition mindset. Eric puts it succinctly when he says: “I have always believed that, in Africa, we don’t lack ideas or smart brains or professionals who understand what they do. What we lack is sportsmanship. We have always been ‘I’, ‘me’. Everybody wants to do their own thing in silos and be just relevant in his family or small community.” Why be local champions when the world is for our taking? He further buttresses his point: “I have done a lot of research about the Jews, they build and own their visions with their community. That is leveraging, collaboration and partnerships. Everywhere a Jewish man goes, he conquers. The Chinese learnt these secrets and in a period of twenty-nine years from 1990 to date, China has been able to move over 600 million people out of abject poverty. Life is all about plans and strategy. The Chinese were deliberate and intentional.”
When I asked Eric who his mentors were and how they have helped him get to where he is, he straight-faced told me: “My mentors are myself myself myself. I motivate myself each time when the chips are down.” Nevertheless, he does draw “inspiration from other humanists who have lived selfless lives, such as Nelson Mandela, Patrick Lumumba, Thomas Sankara, Nkrumah, Awolowo, Gandhi, etc.”
For young Africans looking to launch a career in the blockchain, Eric has a word of advice. “What the black race needs to do is be selfless and take away the ‘I and Me’ and begin to think about ‘Us and We’ in all the projects they wish to come up with. All big Internet companies, Apple, Google, Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook, were all built with synergies, not on individual strength. To have a legacy enterprise in Africa that can go beyond 2-10 generations, like we have in other parts of the world, we need to think like business people and not be emotionally sentimental. We must put up the strict rules that apply to successful ones.”