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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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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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