Africa is fast emerging as a growth opportunity for cryptocurrency innovation. This has to do with some real challenges that affect the continent. One such challenge has been the lack of financial inclusion with as many as 80% of the population remaining outside of the formal banking system.
This writer recently talked to Michael Kimani, who is currently the chair of the African Digital Currency Association (ADCA) based in Nairobi, Kenya. The discussion centered on different aspects of bitcoin, and the edited discussion is shown below
Tell us, when did you get into cryptocurrencies?
My first foray into cryptocurrencies came as a result of a podcast I listened to on bitcoin. At first I did not pay much attention to bitcoin, but I took notice when the price of bitcoin rose to $250. When that happened I started bitcoin mining on CEX.IO. In addition I also traded on Localbitcoins in Nairobi and began blogging for Coinbrief. It came naturally to me as I have a background in finance, having studied it at the university.
What is the size of the bitcoin community in Kenya?
Currently the community is approaching 1,000 members and is experiencing quite some growth. We have had all demographics represented including businesspeople from as far as Lagos, Nigeria attending our meetups. The businesspeople attending our meetups have primarily been interested in the potential of bitcoin as method of payment for international orders.
At the moment, the membership of the African Digital Currency Association is largely restricted to East African countries. There has also been significant interest from countries such as Botswana, South Africa and Ghana. Botswana is especially significant as it is home to Alakanani Itireleng who has pioneered the use of bitcoin donations for children’s charities in Botswana.
The ADCA frequently hosts meetups in Nairobi, Kenya which are often well attended. In addition I have been giving talks to tech communities in Nairobi to discuss about the advantages of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
One of the goals that we are currently pursuing is getting affiliation to the Bitcoin Foundation. We believe that getting that affiliation would greatly help us in developing bitcoin use in Africa. We are grateful for the assistance that we have received from the Bitcoin Foundation in Texas, USA to this end. We hope to eventually organize the first Africa Bitcoin Conference here in Nairobi so as to bring together global experts in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Affiliation would go a long way in enabling us achieve this.
Have you been able to speak to financial regulators in Kenya about bitcoin?
Yes we have approached some of them. I would describe the attitude as one of wait and see. The Central Bank of Kenya has not yet publicly commented on bitcoin. It has chosen to regulate it under the provisions of Anti-Money Laundering / Know Your Customer regulations. It is expected that regulations will likely follow international trends
And how has the business community responded to the use of bitcoin?
It has been a little slow. There are only about two or three firms that have started accepting payment in bitcoin, but the overall response has been slow.
To what would you attribute the slow uptake?
Lack of knowledge on the advantages of bitcoin, as well as changing the narrative to fit African circumstances. I believe that sensitizing the market in African countries on bitcoin should focus on the benefits, as opposed to the dominant narrative on technology elsewhere.
For example in Kenya, and an increasing number of African countries people understand the benefits of mobile payment solutions such as MPesa and what they can do for businesses and individuals. Bitcoin in Africa will only succeed by focusing on the benefits inherent in cryptocurrency. One such advantage is in the diaspora remittances segment such as what is being done by Bitpesa here in Nairobi.
Have there been at least some that have adopted bitcoin as a method of payment?
Yes, there are one or two. For example there is Whive in Kenya, Kitiwa in Ghana and Minku Design in Nigeria. There is always room for more and it is hoped that will greater awareness more businesses will start accepting bitcoin.
Earlier you mentioned your experiences with bitcoin mining on CEX.IO, a bitcoin exchange. What role do you think bitcoin exchanges such as CEX.IO can play in developing bitcoin in Africa?
The greatest task that awaits us in Africa is to get the word out on what bitcoin can do for Africa. As I have mentioned previously, the greatest advantage is that there is a huge population on the continent that are still unbanked, and this is the group for whom bitcoin would be very useful.
The other thing about bitcoin is that you can transact at any time, and if bitcoin exchanges such as CEX.IO were to aid us in educating the public in Africa on the benefits of bitcoin, they would be able to develop a huge client base in short order. Of course like I mentioned, the first step would be in getting affiliation to the Bitcoin Foundation first, and then all such efforts would follow.
What do you see as the role of ADCA in the evolving bitcoin landscape in Africa?
We want to be able to tell our own bitcoin stories made in Africa. So through our blogs, meetups, talks and other forums we will want to get the word out about what is happening starting with Nairobi and eventually branch out to other parts of the continent.
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