With this tech, you can have your cake and eat it, too

NFTs allow for auctioning of digital versions of historical documents

In Summary

• Rather than sell away precious files, it enables fundraising while retaining the original


There was a bit of excitement here in Cape Town over the weekend at a controversial auction, where a digital version of the original 1961 warrant of arrest for Nelson Mandela was auctioned, 61 years after it was first issued.

The warrant was tokenised into a Non-Fungible Token (NFT) and was sold as part of fundraising efforts in aid of the iconic Liliesleaf Farm Museum. raising about Sh15 million.

Liliesleaf Farm served as the secret headquarters of the ANC, SACP, Umkhonto we Sizwe and the Congress Alliance from 1961 to 1963, and is considered one of South Africa’s foremost national heritage sites.

NFTs are like cryptocurrencies. However, the difference is that NFTs each have a digital signature that makes it impossible for them to be exchanged for another, making them non-fungible.

Technical jargon aside, the point is, technology has come up with a way to copy original documents, such as this, and in this case sell the copy off to the highest bidder, while the original remains safe and in a vault for visitors to the museum to come and see.

The controversy surrounding the auction came about because many who heard about the auction had not fully understood the concept of the digitisation and mistakenly believed that Liliesleaf Farm was selling off the country’s heritage.

I must admit that until I learnt more about the whole thing, I was also annoyed that someone had seen fit to sell the family silver as it were, because I am of the firm belief that such artefacts should be donated to the state and be kept under the curatorship of bodies such as the national archives or the national museums.

What many, including some of those who were originally up in arms about the auction, believe, is that NFTs have basically made it possible for Liliesleaf Farm Museum to have their cake and eat it at the same time.

As all this was going on, I began wondering if Kenya had similar documents that could receive the same treatment. For instance, where are the arrest warrants of the Kapenguria trialists? Would digitised versions of Raila Odinga’s detention orders fetch good money?

Of course, one would have to first see if there was any interest in such things. A quick search on the Internet led me to eBay, where I found that there is, indeed, a market.

For instance, as I write this, someone on eBay is offering a “very rare” badge pin, featuring President Jomo Kenyatta marking Kenya’s Jamhuri in 1964.

They are only asking for just under Sh2,000, so I guess there is not that much interest in that one item, but there may be interest in other memorabilia.

Imagine NFT versions of old Jomo’s fly whisk, Jaramogi’s beaded hat, Moi’s fimbo, etc., and how the money could go to fund something useful, such as Kenya’s Office of The Presidential Library, Museum and Exhibitions, whose existence I must admit I only just recently discovered.

They only post pictures that were taken by the Presidential Press Units of years gone by, which is interesting, but I long for more.

For a history buff like me, it would be fascinating if they got together with the National Archives, for instance, and released important archived documents, such as Cabinet Office files. 

For all their faults, the British are very good at this sort of thing. Their Cabinet records are regularly released to the public throughout the year, usually 30 years after they have been created; in adherence with what they call the 30-year rule switch, a law providing that certain government documents will be released publicly 30 years after they were created.

They have now begun digitising the notebooks of past Cabinet Secretaries and have these open and searchable up to March 1964.

It might be too much to expect of the majority of Cabinet ministers Kenya has had since Independence to have kept diaries and notes that were available for donation to the Kenya National Archives, but then again, stranger things have happened.

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