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New South African President Cyril Ramaphosa Proposes Pan-African Cryptocurrency

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Pan-African Cryptocurrency

Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president, has given his full support for calls to have a single African currency adding that a digital one would be ideal. His statement was addressed to journalists during the African Union summit in Kigali, Rwanda.

The summit saw 44 countries sign a deal to institute the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). “A single African currency was the natural next step,” Ramaphosa believes.

Although South Africa did not sign on the AfCFTA deal on Wednesday, as Ramaphosa still needs to get approval from domestic stakeholders, he went on to say: “Business people said doesn’t this beg for a single currency, and in my book it certainly does.”

Ramaphosa added that while previous proposals for a single African currency have been linked to ‘the Afro’ name as the name for the currency, he was not sure what the currency might look like and there are possibilities it may not take a physical form.

“We will begin to interface with the idea and notion of a single currency, possibly even a digital currency, and it’s possible that a digital currency will precede a real single currency,” Ramaphosa said.

The proposal of a single African currency was first suggested in 1991, with the Abuja Treaty, which laid out the establishment of the African Economic Community. Since then, African leaders have resisted the move to have a single African currency, sighting economic sovereignty as the reason. Ramaphosa, however, believes that this is changing.

“It may take time, it may take years, but it’s interesting that something that we never spoke about in the past, we are now talking about. Because people always had a sense of sovereignty around their own currency, feeling that their currency is about their sovereignty, their nationhood, but people are now thinking beyond the borders of their own nation.”

His sentiments come at a time when cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin have gained popularity in the past few years especially in countries such as South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria, and both the private and the public sector are waking up to the benefits of cryptocurrencies and their underlying technology.

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Bitcoin

BitMari Conducts First Test Remittance on the Bitcoin Lightning Network

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BitMari Bitcoin Lightening Network

Zimbabwean startup BitMari has managed to successfully conduct its first Bitcoin Lightning Network test transaction with Tanjalo, a bitcoin startup from Lagos, Nigeria. The transaction signals a shift for remittances in Africa as users can soon expect almost instant low-cost bitcoin remittances.

Fast Transactions, Low Fees

BitMari is a Zimbabwe-based bitcoin company that leverages blockchain technology to expand into new remittance markets for the African diaspora. The startup was founded in 2015 by Sinclair Skinner and Christopher Mapondera to address the challenges faced by Zimbabweans when sending money overseas and vice-versa. In 2017, the company made history by becoming the first bitcoin enterprise to receive a money transfer license from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. The company also formed a strategic partnership with Agribank to handle remittances for their customers using bitcoin.

Tim Akinbo, the co-founder and CTO of Tanjalo, was able to transfer $15 from Nigeria to a recipient in Zimbabwe through the BitMari platform using bitcoin. He believes the almost instantaneous money transfer will be instrumental in transferring value and promote cohesion by bridging local communities. The company is excited about the new development especially after successfully setting up the Lightning nodes.

Skinner, who is an ardent supporter of the adoption of bitcoin and blockchain technology in Africa to solve everyday challenges, stated:

“BitMari’s quick adoption of Lightning is active use of Bitcoin and Blockchain technology to solve real World challenges facing Africans on the continent and in the diaspora; such as costly remittance fees.”

The Bitcoin Lightning Network

The Bitcoin Lightning Network (LN) is a system built on top of bitcoin that enables people to send and receive payments instantly, and lower transaction costs by bypassing the blockchain. The Lightning Network’s use of payment channels lets users transact with each other directly without having to broadcast their business to the entire network. Currently, the Lightning Network is growing after being launched a short while ago on main-net by the Lightning Labs team.

BitHub Africa, a Nairobi-based blockchain accelerator of which BitMari is a member, has published a guide on how someone can go about setting up a Bitcoin Lightning Node on a cheap computing device called Raspberry Pi. The device can be used to process transactions by anyone with the resources and skills to host the node.

For now, BitMari is searching for other Lightning nodes to connect to their own. The company is also focusing on improving its user experience to increase adoption of its services and pass on the benefits of fast and affordable remittances to its customers.

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Bitcoin

Coinfest Nigeria Highlights Blockchain Use Cases Beyond Simply Investing in Bitcoin

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Coinfest Nigeria

The “decentralised convention for decentralised currency” CoinFest Nigeria was held on April 5, 2018, in Abuja. Crypto-enthusiasts, blockchain entrepreneurs, and investors came to together to discuss the future of cryptocurrency and the blockchain in Nigeria.

Coinfest is an annual event held in many countries, including Nigeria, which aims to promote the use of digital currencies and blockchain technology through a collaborative initiative.

Despite the recent drop in the cryptocurrency market and increased regulatory scrutiny for cryptocurrencies, Coinfest NG still experienced a strong turnout with over 150 participants coming from within Nigeria as well as other West African nations.

The event’s keynote speaker, Dr. Andrew S. Nevin, said in his presentation that there is a need for more Africans to see blockchain technology beyond bitcoin, highlighting this as one of the reasons why most African ICOs have failed.

“Despite raising billions, 46% of ICOs have failed globally, and the majority of African ICOs have failed. Only SureRemit and a few others were successful. Yet about NGN32 billion worth of bitcoin have been traded in Nigeria.”

Steemit in Nigeria

One of the many topics discussed at the conference was the fast rate at which the Steemit community is growing in Nigeria. Mr. Toju Kaka talked about building a blockchain community through Steemit. He described the blockchain-powered social network as the Telsa of social media, adding that the platform will be a vehicle that will drive cryptocurrency adoption across the world.

Mr. Toju also described how many microbloggers in the country are now leveraging the Steemit platform as means of making money online through posting valuable content. He further went on to say some Steemians are already building hubs in Nigeria.

“As am talking to you right now, there are crypto-enthusiast who have taken it upon themselves to create hubs in some part of the countries like Ibadan, Portharcourt, and Uyo to power Steemians,” Toju said.

AgroPlexi Aims to Provide Financial Inclusion to Nigerian Farmers

One of the interesting startups showcased at Coinfest NG was AgroPlexi, a new platform leveraging blockchain technology to provide financial inclusion in the Agriculture sector.

The founder of Agroplexi, Mr. Ogundele Mayowa, said that one of the major problems of most African farmers is access to funding. Many of them are unbanked and do not have the necessary criteria to qualify for bank loans. This is where AgroPlexi wants to help.

“Here in Nigeria many of us look at the trading aspect, how we can make money from it. But cryptocurrency and blockchain technology is more than just money it’s the future. Agroplexi already has 51,000 farmers in her database and still counting.”

Mayowa concluded by saying that blockchain and cryptocurrency have the potential to solve the problems surrounding poverty and democracy in Africa.

Nigerian blockchain thought leader, Lucky Uwakwe, also spoke at the conference and told participants: “Experts used to say that it takes a good ten years for software to get into the limelight. That is to tell you that if bitcoin can keep on the pace at which it’s growing, in the next two years it will surely dominate the world as PayPal does.”

Coinfest 2018 showcased a wide range of startups, such as Xenderbit, Bitmama, and BeepMagnet, which are a testament to Nigeria and West Africa’s growing blockchain startup scene.

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Blockchain Technology

IBM and Twiga Foods Partner to Offer a Blockchain-Enabled Microcredit Solution

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Blockchain-enabled Microcredit

IBM Research in partnership with Twiga Foods announced a new microcredit solution that is now ready for rollout following an eight-week pilot. The pilot saw the two companies utilise the blockchain-based financing system to process 220 loans to recipients with the average lending amount of approximately $30 per recipient. The loans were for four to eight days with a one and two percent interest rate respectively.

The solution came about when Twiga Foods – a mobile-based supply platform for Africa’s retail outlets, kiosks, and market stalls – was looking to expand its logistics services into a total market ecosystem by adding financial services for its customers.

Grant Brooke, Twiga Foods Co-Founder said, “Previously, we were focused on helping farmers distribute bananas, tomatoes, onions and potatoes to 2,600 kiosks across Kenya, but we soon realized that we could help them sell even more produce with access to working capital. It’s simple, if the food vendors can sell more, we can distribute more, growing both of our businesses.”

Twiga Foods begun working with IBM Research in Nairobi late last year to establish a blockchain-enabled finance lending platform that could foretell a vendor’s credit score. Isaac Markus, a researcher on the inclusive financial services group at IBM Research in Kenya, said: “We analysed purchase records from a mobile device and then apply machine learning algorithms to predict creditworthiness, in turn giving lenders the confidence they need to provide microloans to small businesses. Once the credit score is determined, we used a blockchain, based on the Hyperledger Fabric, to manage the entire lending process from application to receiving offers to accepting the terms to repayment.”

Benefits of the Blockchain-based Microlending Platform

With the blockchain, the lending process is transparent to all parties involved. Blockchains are immutable which helps in reducing fraud since no one person can add to the blockchain without agreement from the entire network. Also, blockchains can make use of smart contracts that are executable in real-time, therefore, reducing the time it takes for loans to be manually processed and issued. The technology will also help address the financial woes that informal and small businesses encounter when looking for cash to re-invest in their businesses.

The eight-week pilot saw the loan order size increase by 30 percent with each retailer having an average of a six percent increase in their profit. All 220 loans were executed through mobile phones and deposited directly towards the businesses’ working capital. If a retailer had an order delivered, they would then get an SMS with loan options that they could use to finance the order. The retailer would then respond to the SMS confirming the loan option they wanted.

“We had several iterations of the platform based on feedback from the retailers. The SMS-based solution provided an effective channel for a diverse set of users, some with limited IT literacy, to access financing for their orders,” stated Andrew Kinai, the lead software engineer on the project at IBM Research.

Following the successful pilot phase, the platform will first be rolled out to traders in Nairobi and then target SMEs across Africa by the end of 2018 with expansion into new sectors.

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