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“Bitcoin has huge potential in Africa.” – An Interview With BitHub Africa’s John Karanja

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Bithub Africa

On the 25th of August, I had the pleasure to interview BitHub Africa‘s founder John Karanja in his office in Nairobi. During our conversation, we discussed the potential and the challenges of bitcoin adoption in Kenya and Africa.

BitcoinAfrica.io: How do you see the current situation for bitcoin in Kenya and Africa in general?

John Karanja: I think bitcoin is still in the early stages, even beyond Africa. In Kenya, we see bitcoin adoption is mainly with speculators and traders who are buying and selling bitcoin to make money. Volumes have been growing over time. I think it’s about 10 million shillings weekly, which is around $100,000 traded every week on the peer-to-peer platform LocalBitcoins.com.

BitcoinAfrica.io: Is LocalBitcoins the main exchange used in Kenya?

John Karanja: Yes, it is. Bitcoin in Kenya is still are a very early stage. There are start-ups that have come and gone because it appears that bitcoin is not ready to scale amongst the average person here. Hence, it’s not going to compete with the mobile money system M-Pesa, for example, at least in the short term.

I think what we’re seeing is now more focus shifting to blockchain technology, being used in other use cases like identification systems, data storage or smart energy. We’re applying ourselves in these different areas to see which are the most viable and we will then launch our projects after doing so. In fact, we’ve produced a report on blockchain opportunities in Africa that goes into depth on that subject. The report, titled The African Blockchain Opportunity, was officially launched at the AITEC Summit in Nairobi on the 31st of August. The reason we produced the report is to provide the information about the potential opportunities that the blockchain technology is creating in Africa for entrepreneurs.

That’s where we are at the moment. We’ll probably launch our first project in early 2017 using the blockchain. So far, our work has primarily been focused on research and development here at BitHub.

BitcoinAfrica.io: To touch on the point you made about the move away from bitcoin to the blockchain. Do you think that, while the initial bitcoin in Africa story was remittance and supporting the underbanked population, there is a move away from that to a focus on the blockchain for commercial users as it very much is in the Western world now? 

BitHub AfricaJohn Karanja: I’d say they’d go in parallel because bitcoin has a lot of inherent advantages over any other secondary blockchain platform, in that it’s the most secure, it has the largest user base, it has a lot of liquidity and there’s money going in. But in terms of the user experience, it’s not quite mature yet. However, there are a lot of people working on improving that. So I think that will eventually be resolved but the technology is so disruptive that it can be applied to so many areas, some of which are fairly simple like storage of data, for many small enterprises getting cloud systems or complying with KYC. For these types of systems, the cost is often quite prohibitive. So what the blockchain can do is streamline that and open access to everyone. Identifying a customer, then also supplying him the products and enabling payment. So the blockchain can cover that whole process from start to finish. I see both bitcoin and the blockchain moving together.

BitcoinAfrica.io: Do you think bitcoin remittances will still be a growth market in Africa? One thing that you have now is there are so many low-cost remittances services, such as World Remit, TransferWise and CurrencyFair. Do you think that because of them, bitcoin for remittances is not going to be such a big growth market anymore as the cost of exchanging bitcoin back into local African currency can be quite high at times when using peer-to-peer exchanges as Citigroup pointed out in a recent research piece?

John Karanja: Bitcoin is not the clear winner yet when it comes to remittances. However, it is very much a possibility that it will be integrated into the background. For example, WorldRemit could end up using it for settlements, rather than pushing customers to use bitcoin. And we shouldn’t forget that there is still huge risk associated with bitcoin as its infrastructure is still relatively underdeveloped.

At the end of the day, it’s a protocol, it’s not an application. I don’t think anyone can say for sure bitcoin is dying or Bitcoin will succeed. But there’s also the possibility that we’ll see better technology rising very quickly and learning from what Bitcoin has been able to achieve.

BitcoinAfrica.io: Aside from Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa, which country do you think will be the next African country to witness a reasonable rate of bitcoin adoption and the growth of a local bitcoin ecosystem?

John Karanja: I think those are the main countries. Possibly we could also see Rwanda because Rwanda has a very aggressive education platform that is aiming to leverage technology. I think that’s one country that’s usually left out, but it’s mostly those countries that have already advanced in terms of the internet and social media adoption. You can just look at Facebook statistics and see the countries where Facebook is heavily adopted. Those will be the likely next adopters of Bitcoin.

BitcoinAfrica.io: I read about how the telecoms giant Safaricom banned Bitcoin on their mobile money platform MPESA. Do you think that the “Safaricoms” in the other African countries will also try to hinder Bitcoin innovation to prevent their mobile payments systems from disruption?

John Karanja: That’s a good question. I’d say right now, ironically, more Bitcoin is traded using M-Pesa than ever before because of LocalBitcoins. They wouldn’t really be able to stomp it out but what they’d be able to do is restrict other centralized entities from using bitcoin as a platform to scale because obviously, they would be potential competition to them.

There may be room for telecoms innovating using bitcoin, but that would be very risky because bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies seem to work best in a peer-to-peer format because the risk is distributed as much as possible. If I’m sending you Bitcoin you send me M-Pesa, it’s just me and you. The counterparty risk is between me and you. It’s not in a centralized place that can get hacked. My guess would be that peer-to-peer platforms are where Bitcoin would dominate.

I don’t know if you saw the President signed the law that caps the interest rates at 14%?

BitcoinAfrica.io: Yes. I read that.

John Karanja: That’s the kind of situation that can now allow for bitcoin to triumph because the banks will not be too interested in micro-lending and may wish to partner with fintech solution providers to provide liquidity in that market segment. Therefore, people will now move more towards peer-to-peer or social lending platforms. I think in a peer-to-peer world bitcoin could dominate. The question is how simple can the peer-to-peer applications become? Because the peer-to-peer ecosystem is not really developed enough to be a safe and secure way to transact in digital currencies.

BitcoinAfrica.io: What are your thoughts on Ethereum and what do you think about ether from an investment point of view?

John Karanja: We did a study on it. It’s in the report. I believe Ethereum will have much more challenges than Bitcoin because they’ve used a high-level computer programming language called Solidity that essentially allows you to program ‘what if’ statement. But now, as they’ve realized from the Dao attack, by doing so that they opened so many vulnerabilities for attacks. For them to plug that, as a developer, I see that being more difficult than using a low-level platform like bitcoin where the rules are fixed. There are few rules and they are fixed. On the bitcoin platform, there’s no variation on what can happen. We know what can happen on that platform.

Ethereum, I would call ambitious but the advantage they have is they are secure. They have a good amount of miners behind the network. They’ve managed to attract enough interest in terms of safeguarding and keeping the platform that if they figure out their niche, it could advance blockchain technology even further.

BitcoinAfrica.io: My last question is about The African Blockchain Opportunity report that you have published. You mentioned it briefly earlier. Could you elaborate on it, please?

John Karanja: Essentially the whole idea behind the report is to provide a manual that anyone can pick up, whether it’s a developer, a bitcoin enthusiast or an entrepreneur and read up on areas of interest. It covers the technical aspects of bitcoin and the blockchain technology within an African context.

There are also a couple of chapters on fintech and we also have linked several developer resources. A developer can go and look at the source code and then try to either contribute or fork it and develop it as an application. We’re now going to be using that for our training curriculum. Then hopefully the idea is to have a second edition maybe in one or two years from now with updates.

Bithub Africa - The African Blockchain OpportunityBitcoinAfrica.io: Thank you for taking the time to conduct this interview.

If you want to find out more about BitHub Africa visit their website and if you would like to purchase the report The African Blockchain Opportunity click here or on the banner on the right. If you would like to reach out to John directly, you can find him on Twitter at @BitHubAfrica

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Mauritius to Receive World’s First Digital Asset Custody Regulatory Framework

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Digital Asset Custody Regulatory Framework

Mauritius is set to receive the first digital asset custody regulatory framework in the world, according to an announcement by the country’s Financial Services Commission (FSC). The framework will be effective from March 1, 2019.

The Digital Asset Custody Regulatory Framework

On September 17, 2018, digital assets were recognised as an asset class for Sophisticated and Expert Investors by the Financial Services Commission, Mauritius (FSC). This was followed by the FSC issuing a consultation paper with the intention of getting public and stakeholder feedback on the proposed Custodian Services (Digital Asset) License regulation, as BitcoinAfrica.io reported in November 2018. The license enables its holder to offer custody services for digital assets.

“In revolutionising the global FinTech ecosystem through this regulatory framework for the custody of Digital Assets, my Government reiterates its commitment to accelerating the country’s move to an age of digitally-enabled economic growth. As an African country, we look forward to fostering further innovation and bringing more prosperity to the region,” said Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, Prime Minister of the Republic of Mauritius.

The regulatory framework will make Mauritius the first jurisdiction to create a “regulated landscape for the custody of digital assets. Holders of the Custodian Services (Digital Asset) License will equally have to comply with the applicable framework for AML/CFT, in line with international best practices,” the announcement read.

Support for the Regulatory Framework

Digital Asset Custody Regulatory FrameworkAccording to the FSC, the regulatory framework was created after consultations with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the regulation and governance of digital financial assets.

The Chief Executive of the FSC, Harvesh Seegolam, asserted: “The FSC is committed to implementing enabling frameworks which facilitate the development of the Mauritius IFC. We continue to collaborate with our international counterparts and stakeholders in introducing the appropriate regulatory mechanisms.”

The Bank of Mauritius is also in support of the regulatory framework. The bank’s governor, Yandraduth Googoolye, said: “The Bank of Mauritius is supportive of innovation in the financial services sector. Banks, depending on their respective risk appetite, are encouraged to develop business relationships with players in the Digital Assets segment.”

In light of this announcement, the custody services license regulation could create a thriving cryptoasset industry in Mauritius, which could help position the country as the go-to digital asset investment hub on the continent.

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Ghana’s SEC Mulls Over Cryptocurrency Regulation Framework

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Ghana Cryptocurrency Regulation

Ghana may soon receive a cryptocurrency regulation framework that would enable local bitcoin startups and exchanges to operate legally and without the threat of a potential regulatory crackdown.

Cryptocurrency Regulations in Ghana

According to News Ghana, the country’s financial regulator, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), is contemplating regulating cryptocurrencies. The commission is also considering licensing exchanges dealing with digital assets.

The news comes at the backdrop of the increasing number of fraudulent “crypto” investment schemes in the West African nation. Last year, over 100,000 Ghanaian investors were reportedly victims of a crypto investment scam called Global Coin Community Help (GCCH), which saw the investors lose 135 million Ghanaian Cedi.

The SEC Deputy Director General, Paul Ababio, said: “[…] Desist from dealing with these crypto entities. […] When you choose to go there you are on your own. We have adopted a wide range of changes on it and we are still doing our research and gathering information. We welcome any input that people might have to help us formulate a view on how we should deal with it in Ghana.”

The State of Cryptocurrencies in Ghana

GhanaLike many central banks in Africa, the Bank of Ghana has warned citizens against investing or transacting in cryptocurrencies due to the risk involved.

Frances Van-Hein Sackey, the Secretary to the Bank of Ghana, in response to the GCCH scam, wrote in a statement: “Anyone who does business with these entities does so at his or her own risk and the Bank of Ghana will not be liable for the refund of any deposit lost by a depositor.”

The current state of cryptocurrency in Ghana could, however, change if the SEC regulates the sector, according to a report by GhanaWeb. The SEC ‘Ababio said that Ghana’s Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) is probing three cryptocurrency companies whose operators are currently missing in action.

“[…] It has been very preliminary and it is a new area of our work that we are going to be quite strong on as well. We will be coming out shortly with a lengthier statement and we will name some of these firms,” he stated.

Furthermore, Ababio revealed that some of these firms operate online and do not have a physical presence. These firms will be classified as illegally operating in the investment sector, he added.

What Could This Step by the SEC Mean for Ghana?

According to the CEO of Modulus, Richard Gardner, the move by Ghana’s SEC is commendable since regulation of the sector will provide standard rules for exchanges to operate by. He believes that this will make the industry viable while protecting consumers from exchanges that engage in market manipulation, abusive trading, and money laundering.

Gardner also noted that the public and private sectors should work together towards creating these regulations.

“The best way to regulate an industry, especially one which is so technical, is to bring together those involved in the private sector, along with those from the public policy side. Together, we can usually find a way to encourage industry growth while protecting consumers,” he said.

Regulations can have a substantial impact on the local bitcoin startup community. Hence, it will be interesting to follow these developments in the coming months as they could mean the difference between Ghana establishing itself as an African leader in the cryptocurrency space or not.

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Places in Africa Where You Can Find a Bitcoin ATM

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Places in Africa

There are currently over 4,000 Bitcoin ATMs across the globe. The majority of them are found in the United States. Africa, however, is also home to a handful of Bitcoin ATMs. In this article, you will discover the complete list of places in Africa where you can buy bitcoin with fiat currency using a Bitcoin ATM.

What Are Bitcoin ATMs?

Bitcoin ATMs function like traditional cash machines with the difference being that instead of cashing out money from your bank account, you can buy and, in some cases, sell bitcoin against local fiat currency.

Zimbabwe bitcoin atmIn 2013, Canada received the world’s first Bitcoin ATM in the Waves Coffee Shop in Vancouver. Then, the following year, the first machine in the United States was introduced at a cigar bar in New Mexico. Two months later, Coinme installed another one in Washington that came with a money transmitter license. Since then, the market for Bitcoin ATMs started to steadily grow.

Today, North America leads the pack with 71.9 percent of Bitcoin ATMs, followed by Europe with 23 percent and Asia with 2.3 percent while Australia and Africa have a meagre 1.3 and 0.1 percent respectively.

Bitcoin ATMs in Africa

In total, there are currently nine reported Bitcoin ATMs in Africa. 

South Africa

South Africa, as a leader in bitcoin adoption, is home to five cryptocurrency ATMs that are situated in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Nelspruit and Cape TownOn Average, these ATMs can dispense between a minimum to a maximum of 100  to 1 Million South African rands (ZAR). Most ATMs require identity verification if you are buying more than 5,000 rands.

Nonetheless, none of these ATMs dispenses cash as they operate only fiat-to-crypto. One bottleneck that might discourage people from using the ATMs is high fees ranging from 8 to 14 percent.

Kenya

Kenya received its first Bitcoin ATM last year in the country’s capital, Nairobi. Operated by the BitClub Network, it is also a fiat-to-crypto only ATM and a minimum of 500 Kenyan Shillings worth of bitcoin and litecoin can be purchased using the machine. 

Uganda

The Kampala Post Office hosts Uganda’s only Bitcoin ATM, which is run by KIPYA Bit2Big, a local Blockchain company. Ugandans can use the ATM to buy bitcoin, bitcoin cash and ether.

Zimbabwe

Golix, the first ever cryptocurrency exchange in Zimbabwe and one of the biggest in Africa, also runs a Bitcoin ATM.

Based in the Golix offices in Harare, this machine provides an essential service in a cash-strapped country since it allows buying and selling of bitcoin, bitcoin cash, and litecoin.

Djibouti

Somewhat surprisingly, there is also a Bitcoin ATM in Djibouti. The currently only Bitcoin ATM in the small East African country is located at Appart Hôtel Moulk.

Interestingly, the ATM’s operator, Group DOS, plans to introduce two more Bitcoin ATMs in Djibouti. Group DOS CEO, Eleyeh Issa, told BitcoinAfrica.io that two new Bitcoin ATMs will be set up in the coming weeks, one at the airport and one at a shopping mall. 

While Bitcoin ATMs tend to come with high fees, which makes them less appealing purchase option for larger investors, they do help to push adoption among smaller investors who want to get started with their first bitcoin investment.

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