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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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Virtual Crypto to Make Accessing Cryptocurrency Easier in Africa

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Virtual Crypto

A distribution agreement was reached between Virtual Crypto and a South Africa-based third-party company to commence the sales of Virtual Crypto’s products in Africa.

According to the Exclusive Distribution Agreement distribution signed by Virtual Crypto Technologies, Inc. and South Africa-based Virtual Crypto SA Ltd., Virtual Crypto will start to sell its software and hardware products for the purchase and sale of cryptocurrencies via point-of-sales systems, ATMs, tablets, PCs and mobile devices in Africa.

Territories in the Distribution Agreement cover sixteen African countries, including South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana, according to a company press release.

Virtual Crypto’s Push into Africa

virtual crypto“Cryptocurrency is increasingly popular in the Southern African Region, which is a strong emerging market. Cryptocurrency provides investors and businesses with an opportunity to diversify their portfolio. In addition, Virtual Crypto’s solutions offer businesses and consumers a secure payment alternative with real-time availability and broad accessibility,” Alon Dayan, CEO of Virtual Crypto said.

The main goal of Virtual Crypto is to make cryptocurrency day-to-day transactions easier and more common by providing easy access to cryptocurrencies through its array of currency-agnostic solutions.

“We felt that by creating a solution that was both platform and cryptocurrency agnostic, the masses can employ the advantages of utilizing cryptocurrency for all of their needs. While we’ve already demonstrated success in our solutions in other markets, we believe the advantages will be even greater in locations, such as the developing countries within Southern Africa, where local economies experience volatility,” added.

What Does This Mean for Local Investors?

Virtual Crypto’s products such as point-of-sale systems, ATMs, tablets, PCs and mobile devices will be available for integration by various SMEs to accept payment for goods and services provided. 

Not only could this move potentially boost Virtual Crypto’s stock price, but if all goes according to plan, Africans will find it easier to purchase cryptocurrencies and reap the benefits of being able to easily access decentralised digital currencies. 

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A Blessing and a Curse: Cryptocurrency Opens Doors to Both Investments and Scams in SA

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Investments and Scams in SA

Over the past year or so, cryptocurrencies have certainly made their mark across the globe. From the spread of information to the introduction of various rules and regulations, country after country appear to be building up their own ideas on just how to handle the cryptocurrencies gracing the world today. South Africa is certainly no exception. More and more businesses within the region are starting to accept cryptocurrencies and as mass adoption seems to become more and more likely, crypto enthusiasts are starting to rejoice at the thought that SA could soon be a region ready to utilise these currencies to their fullest.

However, with all good things come the bad and for cryptocurrencies, that means scams. Here, we’re taking a look just what cryptocurrency adoption could mean for South Africa.

Cryptocurrency Capital

For those living in South Africa, the cryptocurrency revolution has certainly been leaving its mark. Most surprisingly, perhaps, is the simple fact that it isn’t just financial experts that are taking an interest in these coins here. In fact, everyday use of these digital assets has been rife.

South Africa has been following cryptocurrency adoption for quite some time now and as a result, more and more businesses are beginning to boom with improved access to funds that might otherwise not have been available in fiat form. A huge variety of businesses have been picking up on this trend. Online banking, trading, gambling, sports betting and even physical stores are capitalising on these trends. In fact, sportsbooks were some of the very first companies to start to accept bitcoin, some opting for even bitcoin-exclusive payment options, and even schools are now accepting crypto to help the fulfillment of education gaps. With tourism and South African trade also benefiting from the spread of crypto, South Africa has truly been capitalising on cryptocurrencies in a way that no other country in the world has dared try.

For this reason, it’s clear that the interest in cryptocurrency use goes far beyond the experts and instead, often emanates from the residents. As a result, the South African Treasury introduced taxation on cryptocurrency funds as a new, yet traditional form of bringing in capital for the country. From April 2018, it was made clear that any profits made by cryptocurrencies for companies and businesses operating in South Africa would have to come under taxable law and the South African Revenue Service (SARS) had even offered to provide support and advice to those who weren’t clear on what this would entail.

In July 2018, however, amendments were proposed via the Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (TLAB) that would change the definition that digital assets were taxable financial instruments. They would become a financial instrument by the Income Tax Act standards and a financial service by the VAT Act standards, meaning that all crypto trades would then be exempt from VAT. These proposals, should they be successful, could encourage more and more businesses to pick up cryptocurrencies as a form of payment and further integrate these digital coins into everyday life in SA.

South African Scams

south africaHowever, while things seem to be going well, for the most part, there are of course negatives to take into consideration and unfortunately, those negatives are manifesting themselves in scams. The introduction of SAFCOIN – a cryptocurrency designed entirely to bring more and more South African’s safely into the world of crypto – has led to a high volume of investors and spenders entering the markets which, for hackers and scammers, is a new found gold mine.

One of the most recent and perhaps more terrifying scams for a low of Africans is the Nigerian Bitcoin Scam in April 2018. This scam saw thousands of people lose their entire life savings in some cases after a bitcoin trading company disappeared with practically billions of Naira. With both offices in Kenya and Nigeria both seemingly disappearing overnight, people were left confused, poor and scammed. March also saw a cryptocurrency scam, with around 28,000 virtual currency investors falling victim to BTC Global’s theft of over $80 million worth of cryptocurrencies.

These scams have opened up SA’s eyes to the potential risks associated with cryptocurrencies, though the debate is still rife as to whether this will actually make a difference as to how quickly and how eagerly they are adopting virtual currencies within the region. With further education and awareness, this could potentially become much safer but only time will truly tell.

What Do The Experts Think?

While Africa isn’t often thought to be at the forefront of any technological innovations, cryptocurrencies could be the market to change that – at least according to Rakesh Sharma, a business and technology journalist. Claiming that Africa could be the next leading frontier for cryptocurrencies, he said that SA “may be set to steal a march over other markets” namely due to the fact that Africa is suffering from such high inflation of their usual fiat currency. With an unstable economy, more and more people are likely to reach for a decentralised alternative to ensure that their funds are kept safe from the potential of corruption or disaster from central banks.

CEO of Liquid Crypto-Money, an SA cryptocurrency consulting firm, also predicted that Africa is likely to have government-issued cryptocurrencies in the near future. As a potential solution for governments seeking an answer to catastrophic inflation rates, cryptocurrencies aren’t to be ignored but with debate still suggesting that cryptocurrencies in Africa are dependent on speculation and an uncontrollable volatility, it’s difficult to determine just where things could go in the future.

As with most cryptocurrency markets, it’s undeniably complicated to determine whether or not South Africa could really be the country to adopt cryptocurrencies on a mass and stable scale. The potential they could hold, however, is promising enough for most and with government support and treasury regulation, the potential risks could, in time, be reduced.

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Almost a Quarter of High-Tech Consumers in South Africa Now Own Cryptocurrency

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High-Tech Consumers in South Africa

A new study titled “Digital Lifestyle Measure report” conducted by MBIT found that 23 percent of high-tech consumers in South Africa own at least one cryptocurrency, with bitcoin being the most common holding. 

New Report Shows High-Tech Consumers Hold Crypto

In the”Digital Lifestyle Measure report” report, each level of tech consumer (high, medium, and low) was grouped according to DM segmentation. A high-tech consumer is identified and tagged as a “DLM5 consumer”, and for the low-tech consumers, a “DLM1 consumer” was used. 

To place each of the participants in the right groups, the survey made use of a question and answer (Q&A) method. Each person was categorised according to how well they were able to answer the provided questions. The questions mostly focused on their private digital lifestyle and technological gadgets they own and can operate well.

The result of this survey shows that only six percent of the low-tech consumers (DLM 1) own crypto, while 23 percent of high tech consumers own cryptocurrencies. The remaining percentage was then shared in the order: DLM 2: seven percent, DLM 3: twelve percent, and DLM 4: eight percent.

cryptoThe report also stated that of the DML5 population, about 42 perfect of them are of the notion that cryptocurrencies are here to stay. Same goes for 30 percent of the DLM 4 consumers group.

Conversely, 41 percent of the low-tech consumers (DLM1 consumers) did not know what cryptocurrencies are all about, according to IOL

From the DLM 3 consumer group, about 34 percent of them cannot say what the future looks like for cryptocurrencies but 26 percent of them claimed cryptocurrencies to be the “future of financial transacting.”

The report has further shown that high tech consumers who are continually paying for something electronically, are more likely to buy crypto in the long run.

Based on the google trends data, South Africa currently has the highest levels of interest in bitcoin across the world. Hence, it should come as no surprise that tech-savvy South Africans are the ones investing in digital currencies and tokens. 

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