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7 African Blockchain Startups to Watch in 2019

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If blockchain technology was the hype last year, then this year it has moved beyond having the potential to transform industries to actually cementing its place as a formidable disruptive entity in its own right. Despite cryptocurrency markets experiencing a bear market since the start of the year, African blockchain startups are focusing on implementing distributed ledger technologies as they look to solve everyday challenges with this innovative new technology.

In this guide, you will discover seven high-profile blockchain startups that are spearheading innovation in Africa.

BitPesa

BitPesaBitPesa is a blockchain startup that focuses on cross-border business-to-business payments and bitcoin exchange services. The company was founded in 2013 by Elizabeth Rossiello, with the aim of providing an alternative payment system to consumers that would surpass legacy systems and reduce the cost of money transfers. BitPesa incorporates blockchain technology to hasten payments by utilising its peer-to-peer nature for transactions and relies on bitcoin (BTC) as a transactional currency.

BitPesa has managed to attract funding from a number of reputable venture capital firms over its history, which is a testament to the confidence investors have in its innovative business model. The company is also actively seeking out strategic partners as it seeks to roll out B2B products like trade finance and lending.

Early this year, BitPesa purchased Spanish money transfer platform TransferZero. The acquisition will enable the startup to grow its presence in European remittance and payment markets. The Nairobi-headquartered startup is now operational in seven African markets including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, DRC, Ghana, Senegal, and Nigeria. There are also plans in the works to launch in South Africa soon.

Golix

GolixGolix is a Harare-based cryptocurrency exchange that was founded in 2014. Formerly known as BitFinance, the local exchange aimed to offer digital currencies as an alternative to alleviate the economic woes brought about by Zimbabwe’s failing monetary system. In 2018, Golix set its sights on the broader African market and announced a token sale.

The Golix ICO was intended to raise money for future expansion into other African markets as well as expand their portfolio of services. However, the company would have to contend with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe which issued a cryptocurrency ban. After taking the matter to court, the order was rescinded and the company proceeded to relaunch its ICO. Subsequently, investors were able to purchase the Golix utility token (GLX).

Throughout 2018, the exchange expanded its operations to Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Cameroon, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Rwanda. Currently, investors can purchase a range of cryptocurrencies on the Golix platform including bitcoin (BTC), ether (ETH), monero (XMR), bitcoin cash (BCH), bitcoin gold (BTG), Dash (DASH), SureRemit (RMT), and Dala (DALA).

Wala

DalaWala is a blockchain startup that offers remittance services and payments using an Android app. Launched in 2017, the company aims to offer financial services to the un(der)banked through strategic partnerships with banks and financial institutions and at low cost. The goal is that Wala users will be able to open bank accounts, apply for credit, access remittance services, purchase value-added services and transact with retailers and merchants.

The blockchain-powered platform is underpinned by the Dala token (DALA), which is a general purpose ERC20 token that enables quick and borderless micro-payments at zero fees. The Wala app is available for download on Google Play Store for Android users in Uganda, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

CentBee

centbeeCentBee is a cryptocurrency wallet provider and offers payment processing services for merchants. The South Africa-based blockchain startup was founded by Lorien Gamaroff and Angus Brown, and its vision is to allow users to make payments for products using bitcoin cash (BCH) and settle payments in digital currency at accepted retailers.

The company received a substantial equity investment from nChain in February 2018 for the development of its new mobile bitcoin cash wallet and released the Alpha version of its bitcoin cash wallet just a few months later. While the service is currently limited to South Africa, the company plans to expand to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.

The Sun Exchange

Sun Exchange PowerhiveThe Sun Exchange is a peer-to-peer marketplace that allows anyone, anywhere to invest in solar panel projects using bitcoin (BTC). Founded in 2015, the South African startup enables bitcoin users to purchase solar panels and lease them to schools, factories, and communities to earn rental income. The company’s business model has been successful and attracted $1.6 million in seed funding from several investors ahead of its token sale.

The Sun Exchange launched its very own token in April 2018, known as the SUNEX token, which is being utilised for the design of a Solar Project Insurance Fund for users on the platform.

Moreover, the company announced a partnership with Powerhive to create solar-powered rural electrification mini-grid projects in rural Kenya. The platform has so far facilitated funding for six operational solar projects via its micro-leasing service and is gearing up for a seventh project. The Sun Exchange also received an additional equity investment from Alphabit bolstering its potential to create a global solar-powered economy.

Pesamill

PesamillPesamill is a cryptocurrency exchange that allows users to purchase digital currencies using payment methods like mobile money. The Nairobi-based startup was launched in September 2018 and aims to offer an alternative solution to users who find it difficult to access international cryptocurrency exchanges on account of their lengthy KYC processes.

As such, the site offers simplified registration and KYC procedures for new users to sign up and trade digital currencies. Currently, users can trade in bitcoin (BTC), litecoin (LTC), ether (ETH), ripple (XRP) and bitcoin cash (BCH). Users can make deposits on the platform using their local fiat currency making it more accessible for the mass market.

Tari Labs

TariTari Labs is the blockchain startup that runs Tari, an open source, digital assets focused blockchain protocol that is being designed as a merge minded sidechain with Monero.

Tari was launched in 2018 by South African blockchain developer and Monero founder, Riccardo Spagni. The protocol will enable consumers to utilise applications developed on top of the Tari blockchain to easily transfer their digital assets while respecting the parameters set by the issuers. The company is backed by reputable venture capital and equity firms and the development team plans to integrate payment channels and transaction cut through to make Tari scalable. In addition, the startup launched a free blockchain university, to assist in the development of blockchain developers locally and internationally.

Blockchain Technology

Women in Blockchain: An Interview with Blockchain Association of Kenya’s Roselyn Gicira-Mwangi

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Women in Blockchain

On June 22, 2019, the Blockchain Association of Kenya (BAK) elected a new chairperson during its AGM. Bitcoin Africa talked to the newly elected chairperson, Roselyn Gicira-Mwangi, to understand what the association has accomplished so far, what she plans to achieve as chairperson, and about women in blockchain.

BAK Achievements

Blockchain Association of KenyaSince it was registered in 2017 as a non-profit, the Blockchain Association of Kenya (BAK) has played a big role in catalysing the largest Kenyan community and network of people working in the blockchain space. According to Gicira-Mwangi, this is one of the achievements that is the “foundation and catalyst of everything that is happening regarding blockchain in Kenya and East Africa.”

BAK has been an inspiration and role model to other blockchain communities and networks in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda. Furthermore, the association has grown its non-profit brand through the commitment and help of its community and network.

Current Projects

Through the guidance of a two-year strategic plan, BAK is currently working on several projects to promote blockchain awareness, adoption, and to expand the blockchain community.

“We are creating linkages with strategic partners to roll-out educational programmes for the public. The programmes will span from simple understanding and application of blockchain technology to actual courses for developers. We are also positioning the BAK as a platform to highlight all our partners’ activities to make it easy to plug into events whenever is convenient for them,” Roselyn said. “To get there, first we are working to get representatives in the different regions of the country to enable seamless representation for all Kenyans. This will lead up to a Blockchain summit at the end of the year hosted in one of these regions,” Gicira-Mwangi told BitcoinAfrica.io.

The association is reassessing its constitution and charter as it strives to grow its leadership, advisory, and board structure. A membership recruitment process for institutions, corporations, and individuals will follow this reassessment.

To support blockchain adoption, BAK has established working group forums to extract feedback and suggestions on how emerging technologies such as blockchain can drive development in the country at both levels of government.

Women in Blockchain

More than 50 percent of the people that reach out to BAK for a wide range of reasons are women, Gicira-Mwangi stated. As a woman in the blockchain industry, she believes that the diversity of players in any sector is crucial.

“My personal experience with Kenyan women is that they are keeping up with changes in technology and are keen to get a grasp on the future technological advancements and its impact on their lives. Women are also great networkers because they talk to each other about trends and events. Every other day, I get more women who want to be taken through Blockchain, its implications, and benefits,” she added.

Currently, women in Kenya are holding a wide array of positions in blockchain companies. They are trading and investing in cryptocurrencies, and increasing blockchain awareness to the people within their circles.

Future Plans

In anticipation of the rising demand for blockchain developers in the coming years, Roselyn plans to lead BAK in promoting the training of professionals in this line of work. Furthermore, collaborating with other regional blockchain organisations is another item on her to-do list during her term. Such partnerships could be used to promote blockchain awareness, increase blockchain innovation, and implement blockchain projects.

Gicira-Mwangi is passionate about emerging technologies and formerly worked as a programme officer at UN Women East and the Horn of Africa for eight years. Besides heading BAK, she is the director of Azuri Blockchain Consultants, a firm that connects investors with blockchain startups.

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Blockchain Technology

Blockchain Game Gods Unchained Secures New Game Director and Introduces Debit Card Payments

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Blockchain Game Gods Unchained
Image by godsunchained.com

Blockchain card game Gods Unchained has added Magic: The Gathering Arena Game Director Chris Clay to its team and introduced debit card payments. These two decisions aim to drive the game closer to mainstream appeal.

Experience and Achievements

Clay’s experience of more than 20 years in design and game development will be valuable to his new position as game director at Gods Unchained. His task entails prioritising visual designs, new features, and supporting community experience.

In his previous role at MTG Arena, Clay brought on-board three million active players and more than one billion games were played. According to a report by Dot Esports, MTGA – a digital collectible free-to-play card game published by Wizards of the Coast – grossed around $225 million.

Currently, Gods Unchained is the top-selling blockchain game of the year and with Clay’s help, the game could reach greater heights and attract traditional players.

“I believe blockchain represents a new frontier for game developers. Digital asset ownership on the blockchain lets developers support games and their communities in ways we have never seen before in electronic gaming. […] Blockchain is not just for digital currency; it is laying the foundation for a whole new digital economy,” Clay explained.

Game Payments

As an Ethereum-based esports game, Gods Unchained has been allowing its community to purchase booster packs using ether. Users now have an alternative payments option of debit cards. This move could help the game to reach a wider audience by appealing to traditional players.

“To date, blockchain games have provided a niche group of individuals a fun and experimental game ecosystem of NFTs. But now is the time for mainstream adoption. We need these games to show value, and we do not want ‘blockchain’ to sit as just another buzzword. Gods Unchained will become a game that any person can play, regardless of their blockchain familiarity. And the fun of the game will not be predicated on the underlying tech,” stated Gods Unchained co-founder Robbie Ferguson.

In a press release, Gods Unchained announced the rebranding of Fuel Games to Immutable. Immutable is the creator behind Gods Unchained.

Last month, Gods Unchained launched its beta version enabling more players to experience blockchain-based gaming. The game also debuted its gameplay trailer in 2018.

If you are into blockchain gaming, check out our guide to the best blockchain games in 2019.

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Kenya’s Blockchain Taskforce Releases DLT Implementation Strategy for Kenya

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Kenya Blockchain Report

Kenya’s Blockchain and AI Taskforce released its first report to the public since the ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru launched the body in 2018. The report depicts an implementation strategy for the adoption of these two emerging technologies that will steer Kenya to the fourth industrial revolution.

Implementation Strategy

Kenya Blockchain ReportThe report, titled Emerging Technologies for Kenya: Exploration & Analysis, has stipulated an implementation strategy based on blockchain technology and AI that will solve challenges such as financial exclusion, corruption, high public debt, inefficient public service delivery, food insecurity, and high transaction costs.

Furthermore, the report will guide the government in attaining the Big Four Agenda, which encompasses affordable housing, food security, manufacturing, and healthcare.

The Chairman of the taskforce, Bitange Ndemo stated: “I am confident that this report will guide policymakers in their efforts to stimulate an efficient and resilient economy with respect to the digital transformational technologies, especially with the realisation of the Big Four Agenda.”

Some of the implementation strategies are as follows:

  • Digital Asset Framework

The Blockchain and AI Taskforce has proposed a digital asset framework that will guide companies wishing to list a cryptocurrency on an exchange. According to the report, the Capital Markets Authority (CMA) is looking into how to regulate initial coin offerings (ICOs) by using the authority’s legal framework and the forthcoming regulatory sandbox.

The digital asset framework is meant to help small and medium-sized enterprises that are unable to raise capital through IPOs to have the alternative of using token sales.

  • Digital Currency

The taskforce had earlier announced its proposal for a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), which would facilitate financial inclusion and low-cost transactions.

With 90 percent of Kenyans already using mobile money, credit cards, and bank transfers to make transactions, adding a CBDC to the existing digital economy could be a seamless process.

To introduce a digital currency in Kenya, the taskforce acknowledges that the country first requires a regulatory sandbox and the tokenisation of government fiscal operations.

  • Tokenisation

Another proposed strategy is the tokenisation of the economy which could help to solve unemployment issues. The unemployment rate in Kenya is one of the highest in the world and the taskforce envisions a platform where work is exchanged for tokens to tackle this issue. Service providers will use the platform to build a work marketplace, store data, and manage transactions.

The Ajira Program, an initiative created to enable more Kenyans to work online, will adopt this proposed strategy. Using the Ethereum platform, Ajira will offer inter-person and inter-service settlements and payments. The initial stage of creating the Ajira platform is ongoing. A flagship service called Ajira Machine Learning (AML) is currently running on this platform. The AI-based service links crowd workers to digital tasks.

AML offers human language interfaces in African languages and pays people for teaching the AI to translate these languages.

The Chairman of the blockchain taskforce, Bitange Ndemo, had mentioned in an interview with BitcoinAfrica.io the need to tokenise Kenya’s economy. In addition, he had observed the importance of helping Kenyans to understand this process.

Target Implementation Areas

blockchainSome of the target implementation areas for blockchain and AI include the Ministry of Lands, Huduma Centres where important documents are issued, and the Ministry of Transport.

In the Ministry of Lands, illegally duplicated title deeds are a common issue. With blockchain technology, the land titling process will become transparent and secure.

Moreover, the blockchain will enable Kenya to build an efficient public service delivery system where digitised documents are sharable between various government offices and where Kenyans can trace the payments they make for services.

The Ministry of Transport can build a public transport model based on a sharing economy. This model is then built on a blockchain to ensure that all relevant stakeholders in the transport sector are part-owners and that everyone benefits.

“The Organisation would determine which participants would form part of the networked nodes that would run the validation software as well as the consensus mechanism. Typically, the network of participating nodes would include stakeholders with specific roles and mandates within the ministry and across the transport sector,” the report reads.

The taskforce believes that the proposed strategies and solutions in this report will propel Kenya’s economic development. Additionally, the ICT CS Joe Mucheru illustrates his commitment to have the entire contents of the report executed and to gain the backing of all stakeholders in making these recommendations a reality.

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