The Republic of Cameroon has a small bitcoin community compared to its more established African counterparts in Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria. In this article, you will be introduced to the state of bitcoin in Cameroon including its legal status and the startups that are enabling Cameroonians possibility to invest in bitcoin.
Is Bitcoin Legal in Cameroon?
Currently, bitcoin and other digital currencies have no legal status in Cameroon. The central bank of the six-nation monetary union, CEMAC, has not yet issued any specific guidance on the use of bitcoin within its borders.
The central bank of CEMAC did create a legal framework for electronic money in 2001. In its framework titled ‘Regulation No. 01/11-CEMAC/UMAC/CM – On the Use of Electronic Money’, the regulator outlines how electronic money can be used to bank the underbanked populations in the region. However, there is no mention of bitcoin or other decentralized cryptocurrencies in the framework.
Cameroonians can therefore buy, hold and use bitcoin as they please. At least, until any specific guidance on bitcoin will be issued.
While that is good news for bitcoin traders and investors, it means that bitcoin and blockchain startups do not fall under regulatory oversight, which can be an issue for consumers as they receive no protection but also for the startups themselves who are operating in a regulatory “no man’s land” without knowing whether regulation could come and stomp them out of business as it has been the case in Namibia, which recently banned bitcoin use in commerce.
Cameroon’s government is not adverse to Digital Currency
What is encouraging for Cameroon’s bitcoin community is that the Cameroonian government has previously trialled a bitcoin-like digital currency called Trest in a test conducted in 2015 with the help of Indian IT company Trestor.
Antoine De Padoue, president of RDPF KUMZE, Cameroon’s minority opposition party at the time, told IANS:
“The results were excellent. We enrolled 500 people between the ages of 15 and 35 from a small economically-knit community. We asked them to use ‘Trest’ as their default method of payment for 30 days. In short, we artificially created a Trest-based micro-economy. People were able to comprehend and understand this very new method of payment. They were excited and started improvising their own uses within the first five days of the pilot. We achieved quantifiable efficiency gains and the benefits far outweighed the negatives.”
This shows that Cameroon is very open to mobile payment innovation. It could, therefore, become a fruitful breeding ground for cryptocurrency solutions especially given the country’s low number of individuals with bank accounts but high mobile phone penetration.
The government even looked at bitcoin before conducting this trial with Trestor but found that:
“Bitcoin’s transaction fee to the user was low but the real cost to the network was unimaginable. That was a deal breaker for us. We couldn’t believe the Bitcoin network consumed about $18.95 of electricity to process a single transaction,” according to De Padoue.
Bitcoin Startups in Cameroon
Bitcoin-related startups in Cameroon are currently limited to bitcoin exchange platforms. While global exchanges such as LocalBitcoins operate in the country, there are also a few local e-money platforms that enable users to buy bitcoin online.
E-money services providers that sell bitcoin include platforms such as VirtaCash Ltd and Achatpmbtc. However, neither bestow a lot of confidence in users due to the unprofessional appearance of their websites, not listing live exchanges rates, and not stating who is operating the platforms.
Cameroonians can also use CamerBitcoins to purchase bitcoin locally. However, the startup has been running a bitcoin “investment scheme” until recently that looked a lot like a bitcoin HYIP, which does not bode for the company’s image as all bitcoin HYIPs are known to be scams.
The more secure option for Cameroonians when it comes to transacting in bitcoin seems to be the use of international exchanges or to deal directly with individuals in the bitcoin community that they know and trust.
Cameroonians can also use BitRefill to top up their mobile minutes using bitcoin.
Bitcoin’s Potential Impact on Cameroon
In a country, where the minimum wage is $80 per month, a growing cryptocurrency economy could potentially lead to the creation of more wealth for Cameroonians. Whether it is through the investment in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, through the receiving of low-cost money transfers or through the development of new bitcoin and blockchain solutions, cryptocurrencies could have a much more positive impact in a country like Cameroon than in the developed world.
A special thanks goes to Mireille Kooh of Afrik Digital Marketplace for providing BitcoinAfrica.io with insight and information about the bitcoin community in Cameroon. You can reach out to her on her blog or contact her on Twitter if you want to learn more about the fintech and bitcoin ecosystem in Cameroon.