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Initially, African countries appeared reserved on virtual currencies, but the growth of M-Pesa in Kenya, a micro-financing and money transfer service based on mobile phones, speaks volumes about the receptive preparedness of African countries to mobile based currencies.
Launched in 2007, the Safaricom mobile service provider which owns the product has seen the number of users rise to 26 million, by close of 2016. In a record 10 years, M-Pesa transactions amount to over USD1.84 billion.
Apart from money transfer, many regional users of M-Pesa rely on it to buy airtime for mobile calls, as well as for mobile data. Going by Safaricom’s trademark, ‘The Better Option’, it’s without a doubt that virtual currencies are set to impact life in a big way in Africa, no wonder Bitcoin Event has organized the 4th Annual Blockchain Africa Conference, to be hosted in Johannesburg (South Africa) on the 8th-9th of March, 2018.
Top on the agenda of this meeting which will bring both local and international speakers together, will be the use cases of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, challenges with technology, the future of crypto innovations, regulatory space, and disruption trend.
With all systems set for this conference, we need to highlight some of the top African countries in cryptospace, especially given that ownership of mobile phones in Africa stands at 85%, compared to 91% in USA.
Nigeria takes lead in terms of population and economy in the continent, and is considered one of the pioneers of cryptocurrencies, though Bitcoin penetration and positive dimension improved upward in 2016.
No wonder in October 2016, the BitX echange in Nigeria saw their Google Play wallet hit the 100,000 mark in downloads! In May, 2017, Bitcoin Network’s speed and efficiency was leveraged to launch Bitspark, offering money remittance service at 14.4%, noting that the country globally receives $21 billion USD in remittances alone.
In the third week of July, 2017, the volume of LocalBitcoins in Nigeria reported a turnover of $3 million, the newest record high. With only 32% of Nigerian adults having access to traditional banking, the national market is ripe for cryptocurrencies, especially in addressing expensive remittance costs and the recent recession that’s considered the worst.
That notwithstanding, the Central Bank of Nigeria issued a circular warning Bitcoin users that virtual currencies are not yet legal tenders in the country, citing that users only do so at their own risk.
According to Google Trends Chart, South Africa is ranked 5th for searches related to Bitcoins. A 2017 report by Luno (formerly BitX), a Bitcoin wallet provider, reveals that Bitcoins have been trusted by 66% of South Africans, with about 13% of them opting for it because of faster Payments, and another almost 40% holding Bitcoins for investment purposes.
South Africa also hosts Bidorbuy, the biggest online marketplace which embraced cryptocurrencies as a payment method. Already, there are more than 1000 merchants in South Africa, who accept Bitcoin for payments.
In February 2017, the Reserve Bank of South Africa indicated the likelihood of issuing a digital currency based on distributed ledger or blockchain technologies.
The other major Bitcoin Startup in South Africa is ICE3X. Other blockchain startups include Bankymoon, Custos Media Technologies, The Sun Exchange, Consent, Chankura, and Bitsure.
Ghana, West Africa
Ghana Dot Com (GDC) took cryptocurrencies to the next level in Africa, following its recent establishment of the first Bitcoin mining in Africa, spearheaded by Professor Nii Narku Quaynor.
The leading Bitcoin Startup in Ghana, Beam, takes a 3% charge on transfer of funds, compared to the 12% commission charge by traditional remittance companies.
And to make sure that the country and other markets in Africa access Bitcoins, users have the funds remittances are made directly to their mobile wallets.
The other Bitcoin financial service to watch out for is the June 2017 Kitiwa, which in only two months of operation transacted a volume of over $40,000. A free Bitcoin wallet on Kitiwa can be created in a matter of seconds, and MPower is used for payments.
Kenya, East Africa
Kenya is known for BitPesa, the first remittance service for Bitcoin in Africa, allowing senders to remit funds to individuals and businesses within East Africa, using mobile wallets like MPesa, for cross-border transactions.
Bitbond, a platform for Bitcoin-based lending, also partnered with BitPesa in April 2017, allowing small business owners in Kenya can access Bitcoin funding from around the world via Bitbond, and receive mobile money in no more than 20 minutes!
Bitpesa, which has a total investment of $1.7 million, also sells Bitcoins to users in both Kenya and Ghana and has already set foot in Tanzania, with plans for Uganda in the pipeline.
To exchange Bitcoin to Kenyan currency and deposit the funds to specific mobile money wallet or account, BitPesa charges 3%. And because the conversion is automatic, Kenyans receive funds within minutes.
As of May 2017, Bitcoin hit a record price of $2000 in Zimbabwe, compared to global prices. Owing to the collapse of Zimbabwe’s financial system and many bank restrictions for online banks, the alternative financial solution that looks attractive is Bitcoin.
Notably, the only local Bitcoin exchanges operating in Zimbabwe are BitFundi (a 2015 initiative by BitFinance) and BitMari. Already, more than 35% of Bitfinance customers are using it for the purpose of saving through cryptocurrencies, motivated by the massive losses they encountered in the 2008 hyperinflation that collapsed the banking industry in the country.
To buy or sell Bitcoins online in Zimbabwe, one can visit the official websites for emiljano, Sales-GTBitcoin, frotteejack, ehsan90a, YaYaMon, andyjnet, Revix, nimitpatel, bluudz, and LadyBit, where payment methods include Moneygram, Webmoney and Paypal.
The price/BTC while buying and selling Bitcoins online leads at 4467.88 USD and 4440.21 USD respectively. And like Nigeria, the government is not about to make Bitcoin an official payment method.
Only recently, BitFinance received funding of close to USD $30,000, to take part in the 4th accelerator run programme by Savannah Fund, positioning BitFinance for intercontinental collaborations.
Other African countries following suit include Tanzania and Uganda. Tunisia digitized its national currency towards the end of 2015, while Senegal has vowed to embrace blockchain technology and digitize its currency by end of this year, with plans underway to distribute it across WAEMU (West African Economic and Monetary Union).
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