Bitcoin mining is the process where participants in the bitcoin network (called miners) contribute their computing power to verify and process transactions on the blockchain and are, in turn, rewarded in new bitcoins.
With fiat currencies, money is printed and distributed by a central bank. However, bitcoin does not have a central authority and new bitcoins are formed when miners solve complex algorithms making it a revolutionary way of issuing currency and incentivising people to help maintain the network.
Bitcoin mining has the potential to financially empower Africans as is evident from the story of Kenyan bitcoin miner, Eugene Mutai.
Kenyan Uses Bitcoin Mining to Improve his Financial Fortunes
Eugene Mutai’s journey offers a unique perspective on how bitcoin mining can be lucrative for Africans. If you were to walk into his apartment you would notice the phalanx of fans that are cooling his computers that are programmed to mine digital currencies each day without pause. He has relinquished a significant portion of his apartment for his cryptocurrency mining hardware. What makes Mutai’s case unusual is the fact that he is a high-school graduate with no formal training as a programmer or coder.
Even more interesting is until last year Eugene had not heard of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. However, he was interested in technology and decided to borrow a friend’s Nokia Symbian S40, a non-smartphone that could download apps. During his free time away from agricultural labour and ferrying passengers on his motorcycle he taught himself the basics of HTML and CSS coding.
Unsatisfied with the meagre earnings from his odd jobs in the village and looking to improve the quality of his life, he decided to move to his uncle’s place in Nairobi. Fortunate for Mutai his uncle had a desktop computer and a Wi-Fi connection. The next four months would find him glued to the computer mastering the mysteries of code making his uncle concerned and at some point took away the computer.
Eventually, the learning paid off and he was able to land a job as a programmer. Soon he would become a tech consultant for a local startup incubator iHub and also work with the Nairobi County government. In the 2016 Git Awards, he was ranked as Kenya’s top software developer based on data from GitHub, a platform where coders store and share their work.
How can Bitcoin Mining be Rewarding for Africans?
Mutai’s mining runs six 1080 Ti graphics cards. The rig issues digital coins in the form of Zcash and LBRY credits. He plans to expand the mining operation by incorporating two more GPUs. However, for this to happen, he will need to upgrade the power supply to his apartment, which currently costs him $200 a month – far higher than that of average Nairobi households.
Bitcoin mining is essentially the process of adding transaction records onto the bitcoin blockchain. Bitcoin nodes serve to validate transactions and thus eliminate the possibility of double spending.
For an individual block to be considered valid it must have a proof of work. The proof of work is verified by participating bitcoin nodes each time a block is received. Bitcoin utilises the hashcash proof of work function. Mining allows the bitcoin nodes to reach a secure-tamper resistant consensus and new bitcoins into the system. Miners are rewarded by being paid any transaction fees and a ‘subsidy’ for newly issued bitcoins.
Cryptocurrency as a Wealth Distribution Vehicle
Presently, Mutai works for Andela which focuses on training coders and engineers in Africa and linking them with opportunities in businesses. While Mutai has made the leap from an underprivileged background to the middle class, his sights are now set on further wealth augmentation through cryptocurrencies, which he can trade for fiat currencies or hold as an investment.
For Mutai cryptocurrencies are able to give ordinary people like him a level playing field in the global markets. In a Bloomberg interview, Mutai stated,
“The entire ecosystem could be the biggest wealth-distribution system ever [….] big players can’t deny anyone from participating in the financial system.”
Mutai’s entry into cryptocurrency mining could not have come at a more opportune time. The market capitalisation of the cryptocurrency market has increased exponentially from $17 billion at the beginning of the year to about $190 billion currently. The value of bitcoin has also increased six times over this year and by the time of writing this article, was trading at $6,200. Bitcoin is especially attractive in jurisdictions where they are capital restrictions, inflation and low access to financial services. A prime example would be Zimbabwe where a cash shortage has driven bitcoin prices beyond the global average, to over $12,000 at the local exchange as people rush to protect their savings.
Mutai views digital currencies as the better alternative to local fiat currencies that are prone to political shocks, something to note in Kenya, where the country has had two elections in three months that have negatively impacted businesses, amidst controversy over who is the rightful leader. In addition to being a cryptocurrency miner, Mutai is also taking time to research on ICO projects that are promising as he continues to grow his investment portfolio.
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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