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Is Africa Becoming the New Frontier for Bitcoin Startups?

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A while back I was having a conversation with a friend regarding the future of cryptocurrencies in Africa. We agreed that more people are becoming aware of digital currencies such as bitcoin, and its potential to solve some of the problems that plague the continent’s financial ecosystem. However, we had different opinions on how long this momentum can continue and whether it will penetrate the mainstream.

A major hurdle, of course, would be the prevailing regulatory climate which has seen bitcoin effectively banned in a number of countries. His view was until African governments changed their position on bitcoin, the adoption of the currency will be a very slow process. I, on the other hand, saw things differently. It was my belief that what will fuel the continent’s great leap to a bitcoin economy, will be crypto-solutions from startups leveraging blockchain technology.

Bitspark’s new venture in Nigeria

A prime example would be the launch of Bitspark’s new money remittance service to Nigeria. The Hong Kong-based company announced the new venture this week as part of a wider strategy to gain a foothold in the continent. Nigeria currently receives an annual $21 billion in remittances from around the world making it a top market for money remittance services.

The cryptocurrency service provider has created an end-to-end remittance platform that uses blockchain technology to facilitate transactions.According to Bitspark’s blog, their new remittance channel into Nigeria will be 14.4% cheaper than its competitors.  The new payment service will, therefore, reduce the cost of transactions. This, in turn, will help to save Nigerians receiving remittances hundreds of dollars over the course of the year.

Bitcoin as a Safezone

With inflation being a persistent problem in Africa, as is being witnessed in Kenya and Nigeria, bitcoin can be a medium that protects user’s wealth. Interestingly, the CEO of Africa Digital Marketplace, Hermann Djoumessi expressed something similar in an interview with CoinTelegraph.

He said,

“Bitcoin should be the “fly to safety” currency for all. However, one needs to remain careful and needs to start to understand that paper money as we know it is about to disappear. Therefore, one needs to have and carry a mix of cryptocurrencies and should always play one against another when times changes.”

But while commercial application of bitcoin technology may convince people of the financial sense, the support of regulators is still needed. Remember, the success of any bitcoin startup also depends on factors such as energy, data centers, financing, education, infrastructure, etc. This cannot happen without the support of local governments.

What next for Bitcoin startups?

Bitspark will join other startups like BitwalaBitPesa, and Remitano that are carving out their niche in the African payments space. According to a research report, there is significant interest for crypto-solutions in three countries, namely, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa. Most of this stems from using bitcoin for payments but also using bitcoin as an investment due to the price rally we have witnessed in the last twelve months.

It should be interesting to see how the convergence of bitcoin and businesses will shape the African financial and regulatory system in the coming year.

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Botswana Receives its First Bitcoin ATM

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Botswana Bitcoin ATM

A startup in Botswana recently launched the country’s first bitcoin ATM in a shopping mall in the country’s capital Gaborone.

Botswana’s First Bitcoin ATM

Botswana Bitcoin ATMAccording to a report by Business Times, the new bitcoin teller machine, which is Africa’s tenth bitcoin ATM, is located in Gaborone’s city centre in a large shopping mall.

The company hopes that its bitcoin ATM will gradually increase the use of cryptocurrency in the city. Also, given the many negative stories surrounding cryptocurrencies, transactions without human interactions could be an attractive option to potential customers.

“We have been working tirelessly to make it easier for Batswana [people of Botswana] to buy cryptocurrencies and now we are bringing simplicity, convenience, and trust to the cryptocurrency purchasing experience,” said Express Minds’ Director Brose Watlala.

Mr. Watlala further states that the machine has a maximum daily transaction limit of around $5,000 and is the fastest, most convenient way to currently buy bitcoin in Botswana. Since there are no local cryptocurrency exchanges in the country, the local bitcoin community will likely benefit from the new bitcoin ATM.

The Future of Bitcoin ATMs

Botswana‘s government has paid negligible attention to digital currencies with its central bank not having made any official comments on cryptoassets or the blockchain. Currently, there are no clear rules and regulations around the legality of bitcoin and other crypoassets in the African nation. That means that the new bitcoin ATM may or may not last a long time should the country’s regulatory position towards bitcoin change.

As for now though, Express Minds use their newly launched bitcoin ATM to teach more people about bitcoin and the crypto world, which could go a long way in helping the country’s progress in crypto adoption.

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Kenya’s Regulatory Sandbox Will Not Accommodate Cryptocurrency Firms Says CMA

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Regulatory Sandbox in Kenya

Kenya’s financial regulator, the Capital Markets Authority (CMA), announced that the new regulatory sandbox will not accommodate blockchain firms dealing in cryptocurrencies.

The Regulatory Sandbox in Kenya

“[…] Blockchain firms will be considered so long as they are not dealing with cryptocurrencies since the CMA’s mandate does not extend to currency. The CMA regulatory sandbox can only serve financial innovations that are directly within the regulatory perimeter of the CMA.” said the Capital Markets Authority’s chief executive Paul Muthaura, according to a report by BusinessDailyAfrica.

CMA

The new regulatory sandbox aims to offer a controlled environment for fintech firms to innovate and create financial products that protect the interests of consumers.

The regulatory sandbox has so far received interest from 70 firms that want to join. Most of these firms are in the payments sector while others are crowdfunding platforms in the real estate and health sectors. In addition, some of these firms are from outside Kenya.

The CMA recently held a validation exercise with the 70 firms of the opinions received from the public regarding the new laws guiding the sandbox. Before this, the regulator had requested for public feedback regarding the sandbox’s regulations.

In April, the Authority will issue the final guidance notice to anchor the regulations into law before officially launching the sandbox in May.

An Anti-Crypto Regulatory Space

In the past, the Capital Markets Authority and the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) have warned Kenyans to avoid participating in initial coin offerings (ICOs) and trading in cryptocurrencies respectively. These warnings were issued because investing in ICOs and cryptocurrencies poses a high risk to consumers.

“There are risks associated with cryptocurrency particularly on consumer protection, fraud, hacking and loss of data and they are prone to be used as pyramid schemes,” the CBK governor, Dr. Patrick Njoroge asserted in 2018

In one of its 2018 soundness reports, the CMA recommended that a special body be created to oversee cryptocurrencies and ICOs. The report stated: “There is a need for regulators to devise a common approach towards handling issues revolving around cryptocurrencies and ICOs. A joint workgroup by financial sector regulators could be put in place to tackle issues around cryptocurrencies and ICOs.”

In light of the upcoming regulatory sandbox, Kenyans could benefit from the platform since the market is currently flooded with fintech solutions, especially those in the mobile lending sector, which are high-risk.

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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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