Cryptogene is a Nigeria-based startup that is building a hub to bring blockchain technology to the mainstream in Africa through education and the development of blockchain tools for individuals as well as organizations.
Cryptogene was founded in mid-December 2016 by a passionate crypto-enthusiast Bashir Aminu as a telegram community where people of all nationalities were welcome to share verifiable sources of information towards building interesting cryptocurrency and blockchain-based technologies.
In an interview with BitcoinAfrica.io, founder “Bash” (as popularly called by the members of Cryptogene’s telegram group) explains how Cryptogene aims to utilize cryptocurrency and its underlying technology to improve business and social infrastructures in Nigeria and beyond.
BitcoinAfrica.io interviewed Bashir, co-founder of Cryptogene, to find out more about this new African blockchain startup.
How did you come to establish Cryptogene?
Last year in December, I had an argument with the billion coin (TBC) supporter about whether TBC was a viable cryptocurrency or not. This was a telegram group that I was in. After laying down my points and convincing everyone that it wasn’t and was, in fact, a scam, I had a lot of messages from people asking me to create a group just for the cryptocurrency market, which I did on the 14th of December last year. That’s basically how Cryptogene came to be.
What makes Nigeria the right place for this kind of innovation?
The blockchain can potentially transform the way we interact with each other and our environment. It could potentially revolutionize banking, government, etc. Nigeria is ripe because we currently have a lot of youths with great ideas and wonderful visions and no one to help them accomplish their goals. A lot of things are still based on who you know. Blockchain can eliminate that.
Centralization breeds corruption and abuse of power especially when you are dealing with centralized systems controlled by humans which affect the lives of many people
Take a look at resources for example. Imagine oil and gas were equally distributed or decentralized around the world. You would not have all these senseless wars or a handful of Nigerian families controlling all the oil wealth.
The future is about putting people and humanity first. This is what Cryptogene aims to achieve. It’s meant to give everyone a fair chance. It doesn’t mean there won’t be competition or reward for hard work. It just means that everyone has a fair chance of succeeding if they put in the same amount of effort and time.
What are the areas of immediate focus for Cryptogene?
Right now, our focus is the following
1. We educate citizens on what blockchain is all about. What its potential is and how it can help them in their daily lives and businesses.
2. We get into the adoption stage. After we have educated, we have to now convince them that what we’ve educated them on is actually worth it.
3. Implement. After education and adoption comes implementation. Getting things on the ground for blockchain and cryptocurrency use in real life cases.
What are some of the milestones you’ve achieved in your 6 months? And looking forward, what are you excited about?
Over the past 6 months, we’ve witnessed phenomenal growth. We’ve had upwards of a thousand sign-ups on cryptocurrency trading sites like Poloniex and Bittrex, and many of these signups come from people that came from a background of investing in HYIPs and other Ponzis. Cryptogene has been able to change their mindsets towards more use cases. The trading group has grown in leaps and bounds in just a few months. We also have the exchange. It has become a safe haven for buyers to meet sellers and conduct cryptocurrency transactions without fear of being scammed.
For the future, I look forward to a future in which Cryptogene will become a reference point for all cryptocurrency and blockchain activities in Africa and indeed the world at large. I see Africa as a hub for cryptocurrency, where the new generation of startups will spring up and take the world by storm.
It’s been suggested that blockchain may be able to help solve long-standing problems in Africa, which area is Cryptogene interested in?
The economic development of many African countries is dependent on the success of local SMEs receiving the financial support they need to grow. This is where blockchain could prove particularly beneficial. Our platform would allow entrepreneurs share their ideas and get crowdfunded. This is our major play, which is why it’s the final step in our roadmap. We intend to make sure we have enough people understand the potentials of blockchain technology so as to adopt and then finally implement it in their businesses.
What do you see as the biggest challenge to adopting blockchain technology in Nigeria?
I think the biggest challenge to adoption is regulation. The government has a huge role to play in getting this technology mainstream. Blockchain faces a hurdle in widespread adoption by pre-existing financial institutions if its government regulation status remains unsettled.
Are you optimistic about the future of blockchain technology in Nigeria and Africa in general?
Optimistic, yes. Blockchain is going to give Nigeria and indeed Africa what it lacks and has been hampering its development for too long.
1. Transparency: With more people getting to know the capability of the blockchain tech, it would not be long before the people demand such transparency in essentially everything, from the individual workplace to the affairs of the state thereby reducing corruption and eventually eliminating it.
2. Technology: It is arguably true that blockchain is the next technological revolution or fintech revolution and this means that Nigerians and Africans would have a stake in it and not be reduced to consumers but also contributors even at this early stage. We want innovative Africans that create and contribute positively to the growth of the world. An Africa that can look inward and solve its problems.
3. A Global Village: As is the aim of the internet and technology itself, Nigeria/Africa will be made into a more cohesive unit. This promotes peace as well as confidence in a stable business environment.
4. Economic advantage: With security and transparency, more entrepreneurs will seek ways to develop or invest in otherwise neglected sectors. Individuals also get to invest in sectors of their choice without being subjected to the popular corrupt oligarchy. This means an increase in economic and human value, combating poverty and promoting development.
You can find out more about Cryptogene and its activities on its website at Cryptogene.co.
Nigeria’s Capital Markets Regulator to Create Framework for Cryptocurrency Regulation
Nigeria’s blockchain community and cryptocurrency exchanges could get a clear stance on the classification of cryptocurrencies from the country’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) before the end of the year.
A Framework for Cryptocurrency Regulation Is Coming
According to a report by Pulse, the regulatory institution is set to implement the roadmap for the fintech industry as it pertains to its capital markets. According to the roadmap, between the last quarter of this year and the first quarter of 2020, the SEC is expected to:
- Decide on its preferred classification of cryptocurrencies (either as commodities, securities or currency).
- Develop a framework for the regulation of Virtual Financial Assets (VFAs) and VFA Exchanges.
- Issue guidelines and standards for whitepapers and ICOs.
- Develop a framework for KYC and due diligence for cryptocurrencies, Virtual Financial Assets, tokens, and ICOs.
- Define clear classification for tokens based on their unique properties. They could be payment tokens, asset tokens, utility tokens or others.
The Acting Director-General of the SEC, Mary Uduk, revealed at a Capital Markets Committee briefing last month that the Working Group to drive the implementation of the roadmap would be chaired by Adeolu Bajomo, the Vice-President of the Fintech Association of Nigeria.
Cryptocurrencies as Commodities or Securities But Not as Currency
One of the recommendations that stands out in the roadmap, which was prepared by a committee comprised of officials from the regulatory agencies, the private sector, and a member of the blockchain community, is for the SEC to recognise cryptocurrencies as commodities or securities, and not as a currency. This classification is expected to have tax implications for investors.
This recommendation is in line with the central bank’s directive last year, which stated that “virtual currencies” were not a legal tender.
Cryptocurrencies have lacked a single, definite identity. For example, Germany is treating them as money and means of payment while the US uses the Howey test to decide whether a cryptocurrency is a security or not.
Crypto Adoption in Nigeria
Citigroup, a US investment firm, reported in January 2018 that Nigerians were the third-largest holders of bitcoin as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). The use has ranged from trading to making fast, low-cost cross-border transactions, saving on the high fees taken by commercial banks and traditional money-transfer services.
Nigeria has a fast-growing young population with a significant chunk below the age of 35. But there is still a small number of people with access to the financial system. Less than 50 million people with bank accounts in a population of over 180 million. Blockchain applications could be a great way to onboard millions of underserved people into the financial system.
With the SEC expected to take responsibility for the regulation of cryptocurrencies in the country soon, we can foresee more scrutiny of Nigeria’s biggest crypto companies, which could lead to a more secure crypto trading ecosystem down the road.
Poor Financial Infrastructure? Why Ghanaians Need Crypto More Than Ever
Ghanaian investors continue to face difficulties as the Bank of Ghana (BoG) continues to probe fund managers for mishandling funds. Is it time for one of the fastest-growing economies to look at cryptoassets for financial freedom?
A Three-Year-Old Banking Crisis
The Ghanaian banking crisis started on August 14, 2017. The Bank of Ghana (BoG) revoked the licenses of UT Bank Ltd and Capital Bank Ltd and approved a Purchase and Assumption (P&A) transaction with GCB Bank Ltd that transferred all deposits and selected assets of the two banks after they were found to be insolvent.
The following year, the BoG subsequently revoked the universal banking licenses of five banks, including UniBank Ghana Limited, Construction Bank, Sovereign Bank, Royal Bank, and Beige Bank. Additionally, it issued a license to a newly created bank – Consolidated Bank Ghana Limited – which is wholly owned by the Government of Ghana.
After a tough time dealing with the aftermath of the shake-up in the banking sector, the BoG then proceeded with revoking the licenses of 23 insolvent savings and loans and finance house companies just weeks ago.
These happenings in the country’s financial sector have led to several issues in the world’s fastest-growing economy in 2019.
A Time to Consider Cryptoassets?
With the current turbulences in the financial ecosystem in Ghana, one may raise the question: “Is it time for Ghanaians to consider cryptoassets as investments with real asset ownership and transparency?”
Bitcoin and other decentralised cryptocurrencies are a natural fit in situations like these. For investors and consumers to escape the uncertainty of such a disorganized space, they will have to hold assets that they directly control.
Cryptocurrencies allow users to own their assets and give them independence from regulated, mainstream and established systems. With cryptoassets, no financial institution is responsible for the safekeeping of your funds and, therefore, cannot mishandle your funds.
Unlike the current situation where thousands of Ghanaians are not sure of the future of their funds due to the changes in the financial sector over the last three years, cryptocurrency users always have control of their funds and can access them at any time.
Imagine a pregnant woman in Kumasi, Ghana who kept her money in a savings and loans institution ahead of giving birth to cater for the hospital bills but cannot access her funds and is now stuck in the hospital because the institution has been closed down.
If she held bitcoin instead, she could pay in BTC or easily exchange it to cedi, to pay her bills without any issues.
Growing Interest in Cryptoassets in Ghana
Perhaps, the point made above has already been registered in the minds of many in the country who have shown interest in cryptocurrencies, especially bitcoin.
Currently, Ghana sits at number three on the list of countries on Google Trends for the search keyword “bitcoin” and Accra sits at number two for the keyword “buy bitcoin“.
With a more deliberate effort to push education and adoption – like the BlockTech Women Conference Accra 2019 held last week – the existing interest in cryptocurrencies could translate into growing adoption that could disrupt the current financial system in the West African nation.
Is Bitcoin Really A New ‘Safe Haven’ Asset?
The launch of the Bitcoin blockchain in 2008 was a low-key affair among a fringe group of cryptography enthusiasts. Just over a decade later, the pioneer cryptocurrency is a world-famous phenomenon with a market value of about $10,000 at press time.
This is certainly a remarkable turnaround, which only the most ardent early supporters could envision. That said, bitcoin as a currency has taken a life of its own and is gaining rather sophisticated market functions. One of these is the emergence of Bitcoin as a possible ‘safe haven’ asset. How ready is bitcoin to perform this unique function? Let’s find out.
Bitcoin currently has a solid market presence. Moreover, a great number of retailers in the market, especially online, accept bitcoin payments. This means that bitcoin users can freely operate and trade which is a great leap forward.
Trading is efficient and simple because of modern exchanges where you can trade for USD, trade BTC-EURX or any major fiat and crypto trading pairs. Generally, bitcoin is now a currency and an asset you can freely own and transact with ease. At the moment, there are over 250,000 bitcoin transactions each day across the world.
Incidentally, some of bitcoin’s intrinsic factors have made it play a unique market function. For one, bitcoin is a finite currency. Unlike fiat which is freely printed by Central Banks, there will only ever be 21 million bitcoin. Whilst this has placed a ceiling on mass adoption as a currency, the finite virtue has made it an attractive proposition as an asset.
The Case for Bitcoin as A Safe Haven Asset
For a historically volatile asset, bitcoin being discussed as a potential safe haven asset is remarkable. In years gone past, equity investors would regularly purchase gold during periods of market uncertainty to distribute risk. Gold is a traditional safe haven investment due to its scarcity and value. Can bitcoin take up such a role?
In the first few days of August 2019, stock markets went wild on fears of a USA-China trade war escalation. Simultaneously, bitcoin booked impressive gains of more than seven percent as opposed to the drops in the major stock markets. This is certainly not a fool-proof case for bitcoin as a safe asset. Regardless, crypto enthusiasts took the development with glee as part of a general argument for bitcoin’s status as a safe haven asset. The major arguments include:
- Bitcoin is effectively immune to geopolitical tensions like the trade wars.
- By virtue of decentralisation, bitcoin is independent of government monetary policy. This means that bitcoin prices are entirely market dependent. Accordingly, bitcoin (though significantly volatile) is attractive because it has no direct correlation to the volatility of other asset classes.
- Bitcoin’s scarcity gives it innate value, like rare metals. Satoshi Nakamoto capped bitcoin supply at 21 million.
Is it that simple though? The fact that bitcoin has a life of its own is an impressive aspect of its position as an asset class. However, the case for bitcoin as a safe haven asset is not as straightforward as it may seem.
Traditional safe haven investments are usually boring. Gold, for all the credibility it has, has generated an average annualised return of 0.32 percent over the last five years. As a matter of fact, its value most of the time is relatively consistent. This would be fitting for the name ‘safe haven’ as it remains safe in the midst of market volatility.
However, bitcoin, even in the most generous terms, would be a ‘colorful’ safe haven. Bitcoin may have a value trajectory unique from the regular stock markets. However, this does not take away bitcoin’s volatility issues. Therefore, investors are as motivated to diversify risk in a volatile stock market as they are to cash in on potential outsize gains.
Taking prices from August 2018 to August 2019, bitcoin has appreciated more than 100 percent. This is certainly a very impressive return from an investment perspective. However, it does little to lend credence to the general idea of a ‘safe haven’ asset.
Moreover, bitcoin still has to navigate a number of regulatory challenges with global financial entities because to truly gain the status of a mainstream ‘safe-haven’, regulators like the SEC have to be on board. Additionally, the stability of the coin against hard forks and security of secondary players like exchanges can add to its credibility.
Is It a Safe Haven Asset?
From the aforementioned, you can look at it both ways. For an investor looking to distribute risk and have an asset class whose volatility does not correlate to mainstream asset volatility, bitcoin can act as a safe haven investment. However, it fails to live up to the classic role of a safe haven like gold in the market. Regardless, this debate will only intensify as bitcoin matures and grows further.
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