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The State of Bitcoin Regulation in Africa

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bitcoin regulation in africa

The legal status of bitcoin varies from one country to another and is mostly undefined or under review in most parts of the world. While some African central banks have explicitly banned or restricted its use, others have allowed it or have simply not issued any statement or regulations covering digital currencies.

In this guide, you will find a list of financial regulators in Africa that have made statements or issued regulations for the use of bitcoin and other decentralised cryptocurrencies within its borders.

Kenya

Kenyan Central Bank is not a Fan of Bitcoin

Buy Bitcoin in KenyaIn 2015, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) issued a public notice warning against the use of bitcoin citing the lack of regulations to govern its use. The CBK proceeded to send out a circular to local banks instructing them not to provide services to bitcoin startups.

However, the CBK’s stance seemed to have little impact on Kenyans appetite for bitcoin with the country being ranked third in Africa when it came to trading volumes at local exchanges such as Localbitcoins. Also, things seem to be looking up with a number of public and private entities now experimenting with blockchain technology.

In addition, some financial regulators seem to differ with CBK’s stance, such as the country’s financial market regulator, the Capital Markets Authority (CMA). The CMA announced plans in April 2017 to organise forums for fintech and cryptocurrency players to discuss the state of regulations and challenges it poses to their activities. It is also worth noting the Kenyan government and World Bank announced their intention to partner in using blockchain technology to sell government bonds earlier this year.

South Africa

South African Reserve Bank is Open to Digital Currencies

south africaThe South African market regulator was the first to warn against the use of bitcoin in Africa saying it wasn’t a legal tender. The South African Reserve bank (SARB) argued in a December 2014 public notice that while cryptocurrencies and their underlying technologies had the potential to facilitate faster transactions, efficiency and reduce payment costs, they could also, “simultaneously provide a platform for, inter alia, money laundering and the financing of terrorism, and introduce a new set of risks to consumers as DCVCs (cryptocurrencies) are susceptible to misuse and at the very worst, have the ability to disrupt the financial system.”

Having said that, in August 2016, the SARB softened its stance on digital currencies with the Reserve Bank Governor, Lesetja Kganyago hinting the bank was open to cryptocurrencies. In July 2017, the SARB indicated plans to test regulations related to bitcoin and other digital currencies and selected Bankymoon, a blockchain solutions provider for its first sandbox trial run.

The Reserve Bank had already announced its intention to undertake its own research about blockchain technology’s feasibility in South Africa. However, according to an ITWeb report, the deputy governor of the SARB, Francis Groepe indicated at an August 2017 conference in Johannesburg,

“For the central bank to issue virtual currencies or cryptocurrencies in an open system will be too risky for us. This is something we really need to think about.”

Nigeria

The Central Bank of Nigeria is Open to Digital Currencies

Bitcoin in NigeriaThe Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is notorious for currency controls and so it came as no surprise when it informed the public to be wary of speculating in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The January 2017 directive caused uncertainty in the local bitcoin community, which is among the largest in Africa, with trading volumes on the P2P marketplace Localbitcoins showing an average of $3.2 million worth of trades being conducted every week.

Having said that, the CBN has shifted its position and is now researching blockchain technology and its possible applications in various industries. The regulator has also allocated personnel and resources to work on a whitepaper on digital currencies and its underlying technologies.

Many people in Nigeria view bitcoin as the alternative to hedge their wealth against currency losses, brought about by the constant depreciation of the local currency, the naira.

Speaking at a recent cryptocurrency conference in Lagos, CBN deputy director, Musa Jimoh said,

“[The CBN] cannot stop the tide of waves generated by the blockchain technology and its derivatives. Currently, we have taken measures to create four departments in the institution that are looking forward to harmonising the white paper on cryptocurrency.”

Uganda

The Bank of Uganda warns against Cryptocurrencies

UgandaThe Bank of Uganda sent out a strong statement cautioning investors against MLM schemes such as OneCoin, which was promising people high returns if they invested in the scheme.

The bank also warned against the use of digital currencies indicating there was lack of consumer protections or a regulatory framework to govern their use. As of the time of writing this article, the central bank’s position remains unchanged despite a growing bitcoin presence in the country.

Namibia

The Bank of Namibia bans Bitcoin for Commercial Purposes

NamibiaIn August 2015, the Central Bank of Namibia issued a statement saying that it did not support the use of digital currencies and users did so at their own risk. Similar to Kenya and other jurisdictions, the bank cited the lack of regulatory oversight as being its biggest concern with a promise to clarify its position in the future.

In September 2017, the bank proceeded to officially ban the use of bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies in the country. The directive was contained in a nine-page position paper which cited risks such as money laundering, legal, credit and operational risks as threats to Namibian users.  However, recognising the potential of blockchain technology and its possible application in various sectors, the Namibian Central bank acknowledged the need for further research stating, “the current position of the Bank may be amended and/or supplemented, should a need arise.”

Cameroon

Cameroon Still Undecided on Bitcoin

CameroonPresently, bitcoin traders and startups operating in Cameroon do not fall under regulatory oversight as the Central African Central Bank is yet to release specific guidance on the use of digital currencies. This means Cameroonians can purchase, hold or use bitcoin until specific guidance by the market regulator is issued.

The government has previously tested a cryptocurrency called Trest in 2015, which shows the country could be open to cryptocurrency solutions given its largely underbanked population.

Egypt

The Central Bank of Egypt Rejects Bitcoin Use

EgyptBitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are not officially recognised by the Egyptian Central Bank and trading them for fiat currencies is thus not authorised. In July 2017, the deputy governor of the Egyptian Central Bank, Mr Gamel Negm, responding to rumours that the bank was looking to officially adopt cryptocurrencies, insisted the bank only recognises official currencies and would not accept any digital currencies.

Mauritius

State Bank of Mauritius is Receptive to Cryptocurrencies

MauritiusThe island nation is aiming to become a leading hub for blockchain companies and serve as a gateway to African and Asian markets. Setting up this ‘Silicon Corridor’, which will be known as the Ethereum Island, is a collaborative effort between local authorities and blockchain-based companies.

Already, the country’s second-largest bank, State Bank of Mauritius (SBM) has partnered with Secured Automated Lending Technology (SALT) to allow its clients to use bitcoin or ether as a guarantee for loans. However, this was not always the case with recognition of cryptocurrencies in the country. Previously, in December 2013 the Bank of Mauritius warned the public about risks associated with the use of bitcoin. It appears the Bank reversed its position in light of the island nations ambitions to cement its position as a breeding ground for blockchain solutions.

Swaziland

Swaziland Central Bank is Studying Cryptocurrencies

swaziland cryptocurrenciesSwaziland is among the few African countries that is actively researching cryptocurrencies and their potential applications. Swaziland Central Bank Governor, Majozi Sithole, disclosed the bank was looking at potential case studies, at the Swaziland Economic Conference (SEC 2017). Speaking to the Swazi Observer, the Chief Banker said,

“It may not be wise to dismiss virtual currencies, and as the CBS we are learning, and we want to accept and support innovation. If this is innovation, we do not want to stifle it. We want to learn more about it.”

Currently, cryptocurrencies like bitcoin remain unregulated in the country and Sithole cautioned traders on local exchanges to be careful as the Central Bank seeks opinions of experts on the issue.

Algeria

Algeria Plans to Ban Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies

AlgeriaBitcoin use, for the most part, has been undefined under the law in Algeria. However, a new 2018 Finance Bill being considered at the National’s People Congress (NPC) will make it unlawful to possess bitcoins or use it for transactions. The government aims to establish stricter control over cryptocurrencies, and its perceived dangers such as money laundering or tax evasion due to the pseudo-anonymity it guarantees its users.

Article 113 of the Finance Bill states,

“The purchase, sale, use and holding of the so-called virtual currency is prohibited. The virtual currency is the one used by Internet users through the web. It is characterized by the absence of physical support such as coins, banknotes, payments by check or bank cards. […] Any violation of this provision is punished in accordance with the laws and regulations in force.”

The document also recognises that cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin have no central authority, and presently escape any regulations or control by the state. This means bitcoin users in Algeria can still go about their activities until tighter restrictions are put in place.

Zimbabwe

Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Remains skeptical about Bitcoin

ZimbabweBitcoin adoption in the Southern African country is among the highest in Africa buoyed by hyperinflation, weak local currency and limited access to financial services. This has resulted in Zimbabweans moving to local exchanges to trade for bitcoins, which are immune from inflation, and thus allow them to protect their savings.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has not officially permitted the use of bitcoin. In July 2016, the RBZ’s Director of National Payments, Josephat Mutepfa, warned Zimbabweans about the risks associated with bitcoin while speaking at a conference. He asserted that while they were a number of bitcoin initiatives in the country offering specific services, the central bank was yet to devise regulations for use of cryptocurrencies.

Recently, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe director and registrar of banking institutions, Norman Mataruka, stated that the use of bitcoin is illegal in Zimbabwe. However, no actual regulations have been issued by the RBZ and no laws have been passed covering digital currencies in Zimbabwe.

Morocco

Regulators in Morocco Declare Bitcoin to be Illegal

moroccoThe central bank of Morocco, Bank Al-Maghrib and the country’s Foreign exchange office, issued a joint statement on November 20, 2017, informing the public that transacting in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin is now considered illegal. According to the statement, transactions in digital currencies such as bitcoin, ether and others will constitute a violation of the country’s exchange regulations.

The two regulators point to the risks involved in using digital currencies for transactions as their reason for the directive. They further state,

“As a hidden payment system that is not backed by a financial institution, the use of virtual currencies entails significant risks for their users.”

This comes at a time when the demand for bitcoin in Morocco has been growing steadily for the past one and half years evident from trading volumes on the bitcoin exchange, Localbitcoins. But while the ban is a blow to bitcoin adoption in the country, it will be hard to control the cryptocurrency given its pseudo-anonymous and censorship-resistant nature.

Rest of Africa

Bitcoin regulation in the rest of Africa is essentially uncharted territory as regulators are still coming to terms with how best they can assimilate decentralised digital currencies into their economic structures without potentially destabilising their economies.

Ultimately, the challenge will be to come up with a regulatory framework that protects consumers against harmful activities and promotes cryptocurrency-based innovation. For now, bitcoin is largely unregulated and, therefore, de facto legal to use in the majority of African countries.

Bitcoin

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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