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Inside the Hidden World of Egyptian Bitcoin Miners

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Egyptian Bitcoin Miners

Egypt’s unfavourable regulatory environment has made bitcoin adoption more difficult in the North African country. Nonetheless, Egyptians are secretly buying and selling the digital currency on peer-to-peer exchanges while a hidden network of cryptocurrency miners has emerged to take advantage of cheap energy to stealthily mine bitcoins.

Egypt’s Underground Bitcoin Mining Scene

Globally, people are using their computers to mine bitcoin. However, in Egypt bitcoin miners operate under a veil of secrecy. Bitcoin miners have established an underground network away from the public eye, with only a few even willing to speak to the media.

The bitcoin underground is fuelled by market regulators whose negative stance towards cryptocurrencies has made it difficult for bitcoin traders and miners to go about their activities. The Central Bank of Egypt refuses to accept digital currencies and recognizes only the Egyptian pound as legal tender. While transacting in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin is not illegal, the authorities are seemingly willing to take action against any bitcoin-related activities within its jurisdictions.

Speaking to Cairo Scene under a pseudonym, Hussein, a bitcoin miner, argues the law is rather ambiguous when it comes to bitcoin and thus most people are concerned about being discovered.

“I believe what I’m doing is legal. When people get arrested for mining it’s usually because they’re caught with black market foreign currency exchange, or they’re forging money and they just happen to have mining rigs or bitcoin on them. The authorities see this and therefore associate cryptocurrency with illegal activity,” he stated.

Therefore, it makes sense that the mining community would adopt a defensive attitude. What is puzzling is bitcoin is not technically off-limits so why go to such great lengths to remain concealed? Hussein explains,

“The recent statements they’ve given say mining is not illegal, but it can get you into trouble for sure. I think the administration is trying to understand cryptocurrency, but they’re still in the process of learning more. I’m 99 percent sure that if they knew more about it, it’d be fully legalized in Egypt…. Legal like in Japan, the US, England, Europe, legal like in most countries.”

How is Bitcoin Mined in Egypt?

Bitcoin mining is the process where miners contribute their computing power to solve complex algorithms to confirm and process transactions on the bitcoin blockchain. For that, they are rewarded with fresh bitcoins. The higher the computing power the larger the reward. This is why mining farms have been created, hosting scores of computers with extra processing power to earn more bitcoins.

Currently, Ethereum is the most frequently mined cryptocurrency in Egypt on account of it being the most profitable mining option and its mining hardware being easily accessible locally. Bitcoin is usually mined through special hardware called ASICs whereas Ethereum is mined through graphics cards (GPUs), which is a standard for gamers and video editors who require heavy processing capabilities.

However, the reality of mining in Egypt is quite different from the usual set up found in other countries. Spread across the busy metropolis of Cairo are multitudes of hidden farms where digital currencies are mined every day. You will discover the people who participate in the mining are not your typical hackers or tech aficionados typing away late into the night.

A perfect example would be Hussein, who is a  former economics student, but decided to try his luck in the male-dominated bitcoin mining scene. A spot check across Egyptian digital currency interest groups on Facebook and Whatsapp also reveal very few women in the bitcoin space.

Having said that, despite the community being composed of different professions such as economists, doctors, entrepreneurs, and coders, they are united by the prospect of cashing in on bitcoin’s volatility, and the process of earning the worlds most valuable cryptocurrency through mining. The question then arises, why Egypt of all places?

Lower Mining costs in the Form of Cheap Electricity

The typical mining setup includes a PC working at all hours converting maths into money. The process requires a lot of energy in order to prevent the hardware from overheating and getting damaged; since the inbuilt PC fans are not enough to handle the heat produced by the constant heavy workload. Therefore, external fans and air conditioning are required to lower the temperatures in mining farms.

Surprisingly, as demanding as it can be to keep things cool in Egypt’s arid environment, the cost of electricity is cheaper compared to other developing economies. This has encouraged the local cryptocurrency mining boom due to the low overheads involved. Hussein points out,

“Until recently, energy was subsidized, and a lot of people don’t even pay for electricity, which is sad. But that’s part of why it’s more profitable to mine in Egypt… Yes, of course, I pay my electricity bill.”

For Mohammed, a Cairo-based Ethereum miner, the mining craze is fueled by more than just cheap electricity. He believes how you pay for the energy plays a significant role in making the endeavour more lucrative. “I think it’s better to mine in Egypt because you pay your energy bills in local currency, but you get your investment back in cryptocurrency.”

He explains that bitcoin, which acts as a digital asset, has retained value more reliably than the inflation-prone Egyptian pound. That combined with the cheap energy has led to some expats to consider moving back to Egypt.

Bassem is an Egyptian who presently resides in Qatar and runs a bitcoin mining farm. He owns a fleet of ASIC machines that are optimised to mine non-stop and churn out bitcoins. He started mining in Doha on account of the free electricity being provided but has now set his sights on returning to Egypt this year. He is not that worried about leaving behind the free energy as he calculates his farm will still make a good profit once he deducts electricity costs.

What are the Benefits of Cryptocurrency Mining in Egypt

For Egyptians, cryptocurrency mining has changed their financial fortunes. A case in point would be Hussein who developed an interest in digital currencies due to his economics background. He learnt about bitcoin through YouTube videos and started mining in 2012. He then quit his job and moved back to Egypt, something that would not have been possible without the income he receives from mining digital currencies.

“[Cryptocurrency mining] has enabled me to take the time to think about my future plans, rather than worry about monthly expenses. Especially in Egypt, by mining, you can make enough money to just live. Depending on market fluctuation, a one-time 50,000 LE investment in equipment can earn the equivalent of about $400 a month.”

Hussein who is also a cryptocurrency trader insists he has made more money on cryptocurrency than investing in real estate. The new coins he earns are converted to fiat currencies by trading them at the exchanges for a profit. But not only are individuals making money out of crypto mining, local hardware dealers are cashing in on the demand for mining hardware. According to Mohammed, hardware importers are not only making good money but a number of them have joined the bandwagon and taken up mining themselves. Hussein had this to add,

“Mining in Egypt is booming, but one issue is the equipment; when the price of Ethereum spiked, demand for GPUs was high and stores couldn’t stock enough of them… Getting GPUs in Egypt is kind of like getting drugs. It’s actually easier to get drugs than to get GPUs sometimes.”

On the debate by some critics from some Muslim countries who claim that cryptocurrencies might be haram if it is viewed as making money out of nothing, Hussein had this to say, “If the monetary system is haram, then sure, bitcoin is haram,” he began. “But in my opinion, it’s not. The trading aspect is definitely not; it’s a mutual agreement, and bitcoin is equal to money, which we already use. And you can actually see a lot of religious people mining bitcoin.”

While bitcoin mining may be unappealing for most due to the high energy requirements and the technological complexity, for Egyptian cryptocurrency miners the process is quite very rewarding.

Mohammed states,

“I believe in the future of cryptocurrency – nobody can refute it. It’s already happening now, some countries are already making bitcoin official. I hope that Egypt uses it eventually. They have to know that people here are using it now, that people believe in it and put their trust in it.”

Source: CairoScene.com

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Nigeria’s Capital Markets Regulator to Create Framework for Cryptocurrency Regulation

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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

traderOne 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. 

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Poor Financial Infrastructure? Why Ghanaians Need Crypto More Than Ever

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Ghanaians Need crypto

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 

Why Ghanaians Need BitcoinThe 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.

bitcoin in ghana

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.

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Is Bitcoin Really A New ‘Safe Haven’ Asset?

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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

goldFor 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.

Potential Drawbacks

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.

goldTraditional 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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