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BitPesa Secures More Funding But Is Forced To Reduce Kenyan Service

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BitPesa Secures Funding

Nairobi-based bitcoin startup Bitpesa has secured follow up funding to its Series A round earlier this year. This new round of funding is led by venture capital firm Greycroft Partners, which has experience investing in tech startups such as Braintree and Venmo, provides BitPesa with a further cash injection.

Investors Attracted By Positive Growth

The new round of financing comes at a time the firm is experiencing steady growth in African markets. Bitpesa is currently handling monthly trade volumes of $10 million, up from $1 million in 2016, with a 25% increase every month for the last two years. The company’s model which uses the bitcoin blockchain to provide low-cost B2B payment processing for local and international markets led to its being named the best fintech solution in Africa at the AppsAfrica Awards 2016.

Bitpesa CEO, Elizabeth Rossiello commented in AppsAfrica: “We keep raising because we have grown above and beyond projections […] We have expanded across Africa and Europe, added a stellar roster of Fortune 100 companies as clients and are receiving growing support from regulators.”

BitPesa received an additional new investor Plug and Play, with existing shareholders also fronting extra capital. Investors from previous funding rounds include Draper Associates, Pantera Capital, Blockchain Capital and Digital Currency Group.

According to Greycroft founder Alan Patricof in a Disrupt Africa interview, the investment firm believes bitcoin has potential when it comes to remittances and payments in emerging markets, an area where BitPesa is well positioned.

Plug and Play vice president, Scott Robinson also added: “BitPesa promises to revolutionise the exchange and payment markets in Africa, disrupting monopoly incumbents and opening the fastest growing economies in the world to foreign companies. We’re very excited for the team’s vision and current execution which bolsters payment avenues throughout the region.”

BitPesa has now doubled its team to around 40 employees since last year and is exploring cross-border payments as a significant growth area for the future, particularly for its African clients.

Strategic Partnerships

BitPesa aims to transform the financial landscape in Africa through its peer-to-peer payment network and bitcoin exchange. One way is through identifying cutting edge partners who can assist the company in rolling out other B2B products such as trade financing and lending. Already, BitPesa is actively seeking banks and MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) in each region to partner with.

While many have been reluctant to work with bitcoin startups in the past, with the company becoming FCA approved in the UK and Japan allowing the use of bitcoin as a transactional currency, hopefully, local banks and MNOs will be more open to integrating bitcoin technology in their operations. The company is also proactively engaging with regulators in African markets that have banned

The company is also proactively engaging with regulators in African markets that have banned bitcoin like Kenya and Nigeria, to find a way to service SME’s and individual clients.

Effect of the Price Rally

The price of bitcoin has surged to all-time highs since the start of the year, coming amidst the August 1 Segwit infrastructure upgrade that resulted in a currency split, and formation of bitcoin cash. With another potential technical upgrade coming for bitcoin in November, Rossiello insists bitcoin will still be used on the platform due to it being more liquid than other digital currencies.

“The speed of bitcoin payments has increased and this move ensures that technology can continue to have an “industrial use,” underscoring how strongly people believe in it. We’re experiencing an exciting moment for the firm and for the industry.”

The company is also expanding its presence in Francophone Africa with an office in Senegal, and in Europe, due to the increased money transfer volumes between this markets. The additional capital together with the wealth of experience the investors bring to the company will be instrumental in making it a market leader in Africa’s payments space.

Retracing in Kenya Due to a Difficult Regulatory Environment

Despite the good news of high growth figures and increasing funding for what is widely considered Africa’s leading bitcoin startup, the company announced on September 1 that it is making changes to the services it offers to its Kenyan customers.

Citing the difficult regulatory environment in Kenya that prohibits bitcoin-related startups from opening or maintaining business bank accounts with local banks, which is hindering the firm from process payments in Kenyan Shillings, BitPesa has decided that the verification of new customers in Kenya will be paused and that the new minimum limit for transactions in Kenya will be $25,000.

This means that buying bitcoin in Kenya using BitPesa will unfortunately only be available for businesses and high net worth individuals who are already existing BitPesa customers.

Regardless of the difficulties in the startup’s “home country”, BitPesa is a great example of a resilient African bitcoin startup that is able to navigate the complexities of dealing in digital currency in different jurisdictions around the globe.

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South Africa’s Central Bank Categorises Cryptocurrency as “Cyber Tokens”

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South Africa Cyber Tokens

The South African Reserve Bank has made a decision to categorise virtual currencies such as bitcoin as “cyber-tokens” stating that they do not meet the necessary prerequisite to be referred to as money.

While addressing reporters in Pretoria, the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of South Africa, Francois Groepe, said:

“We don’t use the term ‘cryptocurrency’ because it doesn’t meet the requirements of money in the economic sense of the stable means of exchange, a unit of measure and a stable unit of value. We prefer to use the word ‘cyber-token’.”

In addition, the Reserve Bank has now formed a financial technology (fintech) taskforce that will be tasked with reviewing the central bank’s stance on private virtual currencies and help draft a suitable regulatory regime and policy framework.

The decision by South Africa’s central bank comes just two months after the South Africa Revenue Service (SARS), announced their new laws on digital currencies putting them ahead of most African countries that are still struggling to implement laws that govern cryptocurrency use and trading.

Groepe went on to say: “We want to ensure or establish whether there is still compliance with the relevant financial surveillance or exchange-control regulations.”

Not Everyone Loves Cryptocurrencies

Many African governments have been hindering the adoption of cryptocurrencies. Just this week, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe banned all cryptocurrency operations in the country forcing Golix – one of the largest cryptocurrency exchange platforms in the country – to take them to court and challenge their directive. Although the ban was lifted by the Harare High Court, it is not yet clear what the next cause of action of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe will be.

Zimbabwe is not the only country. The Central Bank of Kenya has also maintained that investing or trading in cryptocurrencies is risky and has continued to warn both local banks and the general public against them. The central bank of Lesotho also told investors earlier in the year that they would not offer any help to anyone in case they lost their money on digital currencies.

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Zimbabwe High Court Suspends Ban on Cryptocurrencies Set by Central Bank

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Zimbabwe Court Suspends Ban on Cryptocurrencies

Zimbabwean digital currency exchange Golix will be able to resume operations after the Harare High Court suspended a ban by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) that prohibited cryptocurrency operations in the country.

Zimbabwe’s central bank had barred all financial institutions from providing any services to cryptocurrency exchanges terming their move as a step that is meant to “safeguard the integrity, safety, and soundness of the country’s financial system, and to protect the public in general”.

The ruling was made by the High Court after the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe failed to appear in court following a case that was filed by Golix challenging the country-wide ban of cryptocurrency trading.

In an interview with CCN, Golix’s Communications Manager, Nhlalwenhle Ngwenya, said: “The ban was lifted.” None of the officials at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, including the Governor, John Mangudya showed up for the proceedings at the Harare High Court causing the court to suspend the ban.

“We are hoping that we can immediately go back to doing business and processing the order book,” stated an official from Golix. As the biggest cryptocurrency exchange in the country, Golix was forced to stop its operations and find ways to deal with the directive from RBZ in a notice that was sent to its members.

Relief to Cryptocurrency Exchange Platforms

The ban lift is a relief to both crypto traders as well as investors who will now be able to trade on the Golix or Styx24 exchange platforms. Besides their crypto trading platform, Golix also owns a bitcoin ATM that is located in Harare.

The RBZ had classified operations by cryptocurrency exchanges as illegal in the country. One of the arguments presented to the high court by Golix was that the ban was unconstitutional citing Section 68 while questioning the authority the central bank had in making laws, a function which is meant for the legislative arm of the government, which the RBZ is not part of.

In a letter issued on May 15 to Golix, the central bank ordered them to cease all their cryptocurrency trading and gave banks a maximum of 60 days to stop any relationships they may have with virtual currency exchange platforms in a circular that had been issued on May 11.

The high court ruling also gave the central bank of Zimbabwe a maximum period of 10 days, within which they can oppose the provisional order. In addition, the RBZ was also ordered to pay the cost of the suit.

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Kidnappers in South Africa Demand Bitcoin Ransom for Teenager, Boy Found Unharmed

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Kidnappers Demand Bitcoin Ransom

In South Africa, a gang has kidnapped a 13-year old teenager and demanded a ransom to be paid in bitcoin for his release. The abductors have demanded a ransom of 15 BTC, which is an equivalent of $120,000 at today’s prices.

“This is a kidnapping! We have your child. Your child will not be harmed if the following demands are met: We demand a ransom of 15 bitcoins to be paid to the below Bitcoin wallet to secure your child’s safe release,” reads the note left by the kidnappers.

According to The South African, 13-year-old Katlego Mariate was kidnapped while playing with two of his friends at his home in Frangipani Street, Tasbetpark Extension 3, Witbank. Witnesses testified the victim was grabbed into a gold Toyota Corolla occupied by three unknown men before driving off.

The Police spokesman, Brigadier Leonard Hlathi, said the situation is being investigated:

“We are investigating a case of kidnapping that happened on Sunday in Witbank. There was a demand that was made that the parents should deposit cash in bitcoins.”

Another police officer said the parents of the victim, who are in deep shock over the incident, do not even know what bitcoin is. “They don’t even know what this bitcoin is. They’re devastated and you can see they’re worried and asking themselves: ‘Where’s our son?”

Boy Found Unharmed

According to Reuters Africa, police spokesman Hlathi informed the public that the boy was found unharmed on May 24.

This appears to be the first case in the country involving a bitcoin ransom in a kidnapping. However, it is not the first time this has happened in other parts of the world. Last year, a bitcoin analyst was kidnapped in Ukraine and, in early 2018, a lawyer was abducted with respective kidnappers demanding bitcoin as ransom in Mexico.

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