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Meet Africa’s Blockchain Startups: BitHub Africa

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Bithub Africa

To help tell the story of bitcoin and blockchain technology in Africa, BitcoinAfrica.io has launched the “Meet Africa’s Blockchain Startups” series, which introduces startups that are leveraging blockchain technology and cryptocurrency to develop innovative new solutions that aim to change the status quo of business, banking and other sectors in Africa.

The first blockchain startup that will be introduced in our series is BitHub Africa.

The Blockchain Accelerator Program

BitHub Africa is a Nairobi-based blockchain-centric accelerator founded in 2016 by former BitPesa employee John Karanja.

BitHub Africa, in its bid to boost the application of blockchain technology to drive financial inclusion, is seeking to assist local companies that are deploying blockchain based solutions through its hub and coworking space in Nairobi. The accelerator program allows these startups to connect with a talented pool of blockchain developers at the BitHub space as well as have access to consultancy services.

BitHub AfricaCompanies that are looking to leverage blockchain technology in sectors such as payment systems, agriculture, financial services, data storage and management, among other sectors, can apply to be part of their accelerator program. The requirements are simple and for a modest monthly fee their co-working space can be used complete with all the relevant amenities and strong internet connectivity. Also, participants in the incubator program can enjoy free blockchain consulting services.

Future Opportunities

In Africa, bitcoin and its underlying technologies have the potential to disrupt some key areas such as governance, by creating immutable voting systems that promote free and fair elections, by improving efficiency and transparency when it comes to the transfer of value, and the protection of intellectual property through notarizing services.

John Karanja in an interview with EY indicated BitHub’s current focus is microlending, energy distribution by deploying smart grids or green energy and providing access to farmers through smart contracts. He says,

“We’re seeing that businesses that want to make a true social impact, such as providing more access to energy or access to loans and credit, are the ones gaining traction. At the same time, they are attracting investment and launching quickly.”

The hub is already making strides in the micro-lending space, with the launch of pesazetu, a peer-to-peer lending platform in August last year. In addition, as part of its advocacy for blockchain-based solutions, BitHub Africa published the African Blockchain Opportunity Report in 2016. The report highlights the opportunities blockchain is creating for entrepreneurs in Africa based on the review of 16 cryptocurrency and blockchain platforms. They are also engaging the regulators and government ministries to push for inclusion of blockchain technology in Kenya’s ICT policy.

It remains to be seen how the blockchain accelerator program shapes up the local startup scene, but Karanja is optimistic about BitHub’s prospects,

“I am very optimistic. The ICT sector is growing exponentially in Kenya. We have a young and vibrant population with great ideas. We also have a lot of people coming from the United States and elsewhere to set up businesses here. So, we have a good mix of ideas and entrepreneurship. Kenya will go from nearly 6% connectivity to power the internet to 70% connectivity over the next decade. That is a tremendous leap, benefiting people in many ways, giving them access to services that were not available in the past.”

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Retired NBA Player Allegedly Scammed Ghanaian Company Out of $825,000 in Bitcoin

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NBA Player

Retired NBA player, Isaac Edward Austin, has allegedly scammed a Ghanaian Company out of $825,000 in bitcoin (BTC). The money was reportedly acquired with the promise of investing it in a bitcoin automated trading programme.

Bitcoin Investment Scam

bitcoin doublerThrough the Isaac Edward Austin (IEA) and Tudor Trust, Austin reportedly masqueraded as a trustee with the ability to help a Ghanaian company make a profit on a bitcoin investment. The two parties signed a contract on July 3, 2019. This contract is among other documents that have been shared on mynewsgh.com indicating the scam took place.

The company sent to a bitcoin investment at a strike price of $11,000 per bitcoin, totaling to $825,000, to Austin expecting to receive back the original investment plus profits. However, Austin failed to make the payment at the close of trading as per the agreement.

A victim of Austin’s scam shared his experience as follows: “He will take your BTC and you will never get your investment back or your returns. On the day of payment, he will tell you story after story filled with lies of issues why the BTC could not be delivered on the day of payment. From him having a heart attack, to the coin being sent to the wrong wallet, to him being in a queue at the bank, to him waiting for the trade to conclude, to the funds being held by the bank. Week after week after week of unresolved issues even when he has confirmed the day before that all is set 1000 percent to deliver and conclude the transaction. He is a fraudster of the highest order. Stay away from him. We have all the proof – contracts, letters, and messages.”

One of the other documents mynewsgh.com obtained is a letter sent to Austin notifying him of his failure to meet the agreed terms of the contract. The Ghanaian company expected their money back on the same day they signed the contract with Austin. The funds expected should have been 75 BTC going for a strike price of $11,000.

In the letter, the company gave Austin 48 hours to pay them their money – failure to which they were going to take legal action.

Is the Scammer an Imposter?

According to the documents shared on Ghana Web, the bitcoin scammer’s date of birth and height is similar to the former NBA player, Isaac Edward “Ike” Austin as indicated on Wikipedia. So, could this be a case of a retired basketball player turning into a scammer or is someone impersonating him? The answer to this question is unclear.

This LinkedIn profile of an Isaac Austin, who has been the Finance Director and Trustee of Tudor Trust and Finance Society LLC since June 2012, does not seem authentic. Although this profile has some similarities to the former NBA player’s personal information as written on Wikipedia, the years he attended Arizona State do not coincide.

Furthermore, the profile on LinkedIn says Isaac Austin took a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences for one year which is not the usual study period for a degree course. There is also no mention of the former NBA player being a trustee of IEA and Tudor Trust.

The upturn of the crypto market experienced in mid-2019 appears to have spurred scammers into action. This scam comes after another bitcoin investment deal in Nairobi went wrong between December 2018 and May 2019.

That said, these scam stories are a lesson to potential bitcoin investors that they are better off managing their own investments as opposed to handing funds to someone to manage them. If the Ghanaian company had carried out thorough research, perhaps they would have noticed the obvious red flags.

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The Golix Controversy: Has the African Exchange “Exit Scammed” Users And Investors?

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Golix exit scam

Prior to May 2018, Zimbabwe-based bitcoin exchange Golix was bullish about its future prospects. The startup claimed it had raised $32 million from a token sale and had plans to set up operations in several other African countries. However, more than a year later, the digital asset exchange has had a reversal of fortunes and, after its forced shutdown in Zimbabwe, some of Golix’s former clients are struggling to get their funds reimbursed despite promises and frantic efforts to recover these. 

Embezzlement Allegations

Former Golix users now point to possible embezzlement of funds by Golix executives while one investor in the startup blames the hostile operating environment as the reason for the company’s general failure.

Tawanda Kembo was the chief executive officer (CEO) of Golix when it was shut down in Zimbabwe. Bitcoin Africa reached out to him to get his side of the story but he had not responded to our questions at the time of publishing.

However, Bitcoin Africa still managed to contact Taurai Chinyamakubvu, an individual who says he was an investor in the company. Chinyamakubvu claimed he is not aware if client funds had been reimbursed or not since he was not involved in the day to day affairs of the crypto startup.

“On funds, you can check with the CEO, he was doing the day to day stuff. I was just an investor,” Chinyamakubvu pushed back when asked if they had recovered client funds that were reportedly locked in banks.

In May 2018, Zimbabwe’s central bank issued a directive that forbade financial institutions from dealing with crypto exchanges. According to Golix, this led to banks blocking access to client funds and the company from using the financial system.

Central Bank Defiance And Crypto Adoption

GolixWhen asked why Golix had not resumed operations following a High Court ruling that set aside the central bank order, Chinyamakubvu suggested that Golix’s Zimbabwe operations remain hamstrung by the central bank’s reluctance to lift the order.

“They (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe) did not lift the order they sent to banks. So no bank wants to defy a regulator. But that said, you muddy the water once, that’s enough to change its colour for a while,” he stated.

Chinyamakubvu is convinced that the central bank’s apparent defiance of a court ruling continues to hinder the growth of the crypto space in a country that should be embracing privately-issued cryptocurrencies.

Zimbabwe has been plagued by hyperinflation for the past two decades, which is spurred on by a volatile fiat currency. Critics point to the central bank’s penchant for unrestrained printing of money as the main cause of the country’s currency troubles.

The Golix investor called the central bank’s decision to shut down the crypto exchange ‘retrogressive’.

Ironically, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe recently announced the setting up of a committee to study financial technologies such as bitcoin. The regulator now says it wants to come up with what it calls a “National Fintech Strategy.”

Disappeared Client Funds

Bitcoin Africa also reached out to former Golix clients as it tried to establish what happened with their funds. Some did not respond but a few did – although they requested anonymity. One lady, in particular, expressed exasperation with the way Golix has been handling the issue.

“I do not know about others but I still have not been reimbursed. Tawanda (CEO of Golix) has made several promises to settle but nothing has happened,” claimed the lady who preferred to remain anonymous.

She further explained that currently there is nothing noteworthy happening but promised to reveal more details as and when they become known. 

Kembo on the Run?

Following the central bank decision to stifle cryptocurrency trading, some crypto traders have gone on to create informal trading platforms using social media networks like Whatsapp, Telegram, and Facebook.

Bitcoin Africa was also able to get access to one such Whatsapp chat group feed wherein clients are discussing strategies of recovering funds from Golix. In a discussion that occurred in July 2019, one member of the group asks fellow members to furnish her with information that includes Kembo’s personal identification number or even a vehicle registration number. This could then be used to help a hired tracing agent to locate him.

Tawanda Kembo

Tawanda Kembo, Golix CEO

It is apparent from the discussions that Kembo has made several promises – including re-payment plans – to reimburse but nothing has happened to date. Adding intrigue to the controversy, this client claims Tawanda told them he had lost the key to the cold storage wallet. Thus, he could not access the bitcoin.

Keys to a crypto wallet are essentially a passcode that grants access to funds and without them, the funds are lost and cannot be recovered.

In the meantime, another post on the same thread suggests that Chinyamakubvu was being disingenuous when he expressed ignorance about the status of client funds. In the post, another member insists that prior to the central bank order, Golix was asked to remove all funds before accounts were closed.

The anonymous member was referring to a part of the central bank circular to banks which states the following:

“Exit any existing relationships with virtual currency exchanges within sixty days of the date of this Circular and proceed to liquidate and restitute existing account balances.”

This central bank circular was issued on May 11, 2018, and Golix seemingly had enough time to exit from banks as well as to reimburse clients.

No Consumer Protection

The anonymous member suggests that since this did not happen, the issue should now be treated as a criminal case.

It is apparent from the rest of the discussion that members were aware of the risks involved with crypto businesses. The central bank had warned the public of risks of dealing with cryptocurrencies and associated businesses prior to Golix’s demise.

Zimbabwe does not have consumer protection laws that specifically deal cryptocurrencies and those dealing with such digital currencies do so at own risk, a point clearly articulated by the central bank circular. Perhaps it is with this in mind that some Golix clients are now pursuing fraud charges against Golix executives.

Lack of legal protection is another factor inhibiting the widespread adoption of cryptocurrencies but that may yet change as the central bank is now having a change of heart.

Bitcoin Africa will continue to follow the events surrounding the alleged exit scam of Golix and update our readers when new information surfaces.

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Alleged Con Man Taken to Court in Kenya Over Fake Bitcoin Deal

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Fake Bitcoin Deal

A man is reportedly facing charges in a Nairobi court after allegedly swindling an accountant out of 375,000 Kenyan shillings (KES) in a fake bitcoin deal. The accused, Patrick Kamau, allegedly committed the fraud on several dates between December 2018 and May 2019.

Bitcoin Investment Deal Goes Sour

Kamau reportedly promised to open a forex trading account for the complainant and invest in forex bitcoin through BNB Forex. Benjamin Mugoya entered into the deal with the hope of making crypto trading profits after a friend introduced him to Kamau. The accused posed as a sales representative for BNB Forex in Kenya.

BitcoinGet

To open the forex trading account, Kamau asked Mugoya to wire KES400,000 to his bank account. However, after receiving a total payment of KES375,000 on May 22, Kamau switched off his phone.

In addition to this payment, Mugoya had sent Kamau KES50,000 in two installments in December 2018 and January 2019.

This is not the first bitcoin-related case that has been heard in a Nairobi court. In 2017, three bitcoin traders were charged with allegedly stealing KES10.2 million from I&M bank and Mpesa. The case involved a purchase of bitcoin from the traders using stolen money.

The case against Kamau has been scheduled for 22 February 2020. The accused was released on a cash bail of KES150,000 or a bond of KES200,000.

Unregulated Crypto Space

Mugoya could be one of many victims that have fallen prey to fake bitcoin investments despite the Central Bank of Kenya’s warning against investing in bitcoin.

The Bank’s Governor, Patrick Njoroge, has been vocal about the risks associated with cryptocurrencies such as fraud.  In 2018, the Governor ordered Kenyan banks to refrain from making crypto transactions or engaging with entities transacting in virtual currencies.

The unregulated crypto space in Kenya means that victims of crypto fraud are unprotected, thereby, preventing them from recovering their funds. However, with sufficient evidence, Mugoya could obtain justice from the Kenyan court system.

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