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Meet Africa’s Blockchain Startups: BitMari

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BitMari App

BitMari is a bitcoin wallet provider and remittance service that seeks to deploy bitcoin technology to drive financial inclusion in Zimbabwe through diaspora remittances. The company aims to assist individuals and businesses in utilising bitcoin for financial transactions and international money transfers.

Bitcoin-powered Remittance Service

BitMari LogoBitMari was founded in 2015 by entrepreneurs Sinclair Skinner and Christopher Mapondera. While doing business in Zimbabwe, the two were constantly faced with the challenge of sending money internationally. The process was time-consuming and costly. Drawing from their technical background, BitMari was conceived to bring more control to ordinary Zimbabweans when it came to sending money overseas and vice-versa.

“Our goal with BitMari is not to just ease the pain of financial dependence and economic uncertainty, we wish to bring an end to that pain by offering more monetary control to the people,” says Mapondera in an EBONY.com article.

By signing up for an account or using the BitMari app, you can send money in the form of bitcoin to a recipient in Zimbabwe. The money can be accessed through a mobile wallet or at any local financial institution that partners with BitMari. The app also acts as a bitcoin wallet that handles your transactions and currency conversion requirements. The company’s value proposition lies in its ability to have low remittance fees compared to other money transfer services.

According to COINFOX, the company plans to expand into regional markets in the future. Skinner said,

“Zimbabwe was selected because of its high literacy rate, high cell phone penetration, high mobile banking usage and most importantly willingness to adopt new economic systems… A 10-year-old child in Zimbabwe knows more about FOREX than most adults in Europe and U.S.”

Blockchain-based Accelerator Program for Women Farmers

In its bid to increase the popularity of bitcoin in the region, the startup partnered with the Zimbabwe Bank of Agriculture in carrying out a women farmers accelerator program. The program seeks to give women farmers a jumpstart in agriculture, by raising funds through its crowdfunding campaign to equip them with farming inputs and tools. The program will help a group of 100 farmers to develop their skills as well as utilise blockchain technology to improve farming processes and have access to financing.

The startup managed to raise $17,000 from its crowdfunding effort by November 2016 for the program. Successful farmers will be linked to international investors through smart contracts.  In addition to its philanthropic efforts in the farming sector, the company also aims to tap into agricultural remittances in the region and applied for a remittance license from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe earlier in the year.

With Diaspora remittances making the bulk of money transfers in the region, BitMari is zeroing in on a somewhat stable market. The challenge the company faces is cultivating trust for digital currencies, especially when competing against more traditional money transfer services like WorldRemit, which is popular in Zimbabwe.

BitMari is developing partnerships with local institutions to strengthen its remittance network. Also, having a bitcoin wallet that is secure and easy to navigate helps to gain users who are used to the convenience of mobile money platforms. For Zimbabweans living in a world of volatile exchange rate fluctuations and financial uncertainty, digital currency might just be the option they need.

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Bitcoin Wallet Luno Adds SegWit Support to Lower Transaction Fees

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Luno Adds SegWit Support

Luno, one of the most popular bitcoin wallets in Africa, has announced full SegWit integration for bitcoin send and receive transactions. Previously, Luno customers could only receive BTC through a legacy wallet address, which was not integrated with the recent Bitcoin blockchain upgrade SegWit. Only send transactions were SegWit compatible.

With the full integration of SegWit, Luno users can now enjoy cheaper and faster bitcoin transactions.

“By implementing SegWit internally, Luno has managed to reduce the send fees paid by customers by over 25% already. As customers start switching over to new SegWit addresses, this will translate into a further reduction in sending fees in the coming weeks and months,” Werner van Rooyen, head of marketing and communications at Luno stated.

Luno currently operates in South Africa, Nigeria, Malaysia, UK, and in 35 other European countries.

What is SegWit?

Segregated Witness (SegWit) was an upgrade to the Bitcoin blockchain that is intended to address Bitcoin’s scalability challenges as well as fix the issue of transaction malleability. With SegWit, signature data is separated from transaction data in order to enable more transactions to fit into each block. The signature data is kept in an extended block called the witness. As a result, bitcoin transactions become faster and transaction fees become lower.

In theory, the Bitcoin network can handle seven transactions per second. However, in reality, it is around four transactions per second. With the number of bitcoin transactions increasing as bitcoin’s popularity grows, transactions take longer as the unconfirmed transactions pool increases. Therefore, bitcoin users who can afford it have been paying higher transaction fees to incentivise miners to prioritise their transactions and, thereby, increase the speed of their transactions. At the end of 2017, this has led to the average bitcoin transaction fee spiking to over 35 dollars.

However, when SegWit addresses are used, bitcoin transactions become faster and the required resources decrease as well. Consequently, the transaction fees reduce.

How Can You Add a SegWit Wallet Address on Luno?

To add a SegWit address on the Luno wallet you have to follow these steps:

  • Open your Luno account either on the mobile app or the web app
  • Choose “wallets” from the menu
  • Click on your “BTC wallet”
  • Choose “receive bitcoin”
  • Click “add address” and follow the prompt

To receive bitcoin, use your SegWit bitcoin receive address. Legacy bitcoin addresses begin with 1 while SegWit bitcoin addresses begin with 3. Even after adding a SegWit wallet address, bitcoins sent to your previous legacy bitcoin address will still work. In addition, you can still send bitcoin from a SegWit wallet to a legacy wallet and vice versa since the transactions are still taking place on the same blockchain. But if you are sending bitcoins to and from a SegWit wallet, you can benefit from reduced fees.

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Bitmart Opens Cryptocurrency Mining Hardware Store in South Africa

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Bitmart Opens Cryptocurrency Mining Hardware Store

Bitmart, South Africa’s leading supplier of mining hardware, has opened a cryptocurrency mining hardware store in South Africa. This makes Bitmart’s retail outlet the first cryptocurrency mining store in Africa.

Products and Services Offered by Bitmart

Bitmart was founded by CEO Jacques Serfontein in 2015 to offer cryptocurrency mining hardware to South Africans. Currently, Bitmart offers GPU rigs, ASIC miners, GPU rig mining software, graphics cards, international mining rig monitor app, cryptomatic watches, hardware wallets, and motherboards. Customers can find GPU mining rigs that mine cryptocurrencies such as zcash, monero, decred, bitcoin, and litecoin.

Additionally, Bitmart provides services such as bitcoin mining farm design and deployment, mining training, antminer repair tickets, mining farm management using Genesis Hive, and shepherd services.

Through its shepherd services, Bitmart helps owners of second-hand miners to find buyers. Therefore, both sellers and buyers are assured of safe and secure transactions through Bitmart’s SSL-secured online shop.

According to MyBroadband, Bitmart is an authorised distributor of Avalon Miners, Genesis Hive, Trezor, Ledger wallets, KeepKey, and UniSat (satellite mining solutions) in Africa.

The company also supplies mining hardware to countries such as Japan, Dubai, North America, Australia, and England.

What Does Bitmart Plan for the Future?

Bitmart will be holding seminars in Johannesburg and Mbombela. The seminars will focus on bitcoin basics and advanced cryptocurrency trading. In addition, Bitmart will be introducing a satellite mining connection in partnership with Uniwisp that will allow mining rigs to mine from any place in the world. Uniwisp is an Internet service provider based in Nelspruit, South Africa.

 

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Kenya’s BitPesa Acquires Spanish Money Transfer Platform TransferZero

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BitPesa Acquires TransferZero

On February 8, 2018, BitPesa announced that it has acquired TransferZero, a Madrid-based online money transfer platform, which operates in over 200 countries using more than 50 currencies.

Why Did BitPesa Acquire TransferZero?

BitPesa, which is already operating in Africa and Europe, will be able to “set deep roots to UK and European licensing, bank accounts, and integrations” through this acquisition, according to the company’s statement on its blog.

“Europe is a hub for global remittance and payments companies. Digital currencies and decentralized technology have hit critical mass in the financial services and payments space. It is no longer a question of whether this technology will have staying power [but] which specific technology and what product iteration will launch and scale first […],” Elizabeth Rosiello, founder and CEO BitPesa said.

“BitPesa has the support of top-tier, institutional investors and a network that will help to bring TransferZero’s technology to the next level. With this support, we will be able to provide even more efficient transfers and user experience,” Luis Cambronero, former TransferZero CEO and present Managing Director, BitPesa stated.

Setting Up Infrastructure Across Europe and Africa is a Priority

“Setting up infrastructure across Europe and Africa has always been a focus of ours. […] We’ve just doubled our bank accounts, our infrastructure, and it’s licensed by the Bank of Spain as a payment institution. So we are fully compliant with PSD2 regulations […],” Rosiello said.

“This is truly a partnership where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, allowing BitPesa to solidify our leadership in this space. By bringing our regional and technological expertise together, we will further accelerate our month-to-month growth,” Rossiello asserted.

TransferZero will neither change its name nor its headquarters. In addition, its employees will remain with Bitpesa.

This acquisition from an Africa-based bitcoin startup of a European fintech startup shows that leading African startups can make waves beyond the borders of the continent and create a positive impact on a global scale.

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