Bitcoin has made a lot of progress over the last six-plus years. It has gone from a Western-based invention used by a few computer guys like Satoshi Nakamoto, the late Hal Finney, and Mike Hearn to a mostly Chinese-mined digital currency, with millions of users, worldwide. The final frontier is acceptance and use in “The Third World,” where traditional banking is the exception, and economic development is more of a need than a societal given.
Recently, Bitcoin has begun to see fledgling use in some countries of Africa.
Meet Sinclair Skinner. He is the founder of BitMari, and his company is looking to bring Bitcoin into the African mainstream. He connected with me on LinkedIn, and I interviewed him about how things are progressing in the country for his business and the local interest in “The Future of Money.”
Zimbabwe: From economic ruin to cutting-edge global economics
The tumultuous history of Zimbabwe has been well documented when it comes to financial difficulty. Since their Zimbabwe dollar collapsed in 2008, the country is just now starting to recover and rebuild a working currency around the U.S. Dollar. Using the South African Rand for smaller purchases and the U.S. Dollar for larger ones, this has been the short-term solution. As has been reported her before, the U.S. Dollar has its own problems, and may not be viable long-term, so others see a future in a digital currency that could work better over time.
“In 2009, after the collapse, instead of continuing to try to bail out their currency, the [Zimbabwean] people did the unthinkable, they went on without it!”
Cointelegraph: Can you go over the history of Bitcoin in Zimbabwe?
Sinclair Skinner: Many have joked about the Zimbabwe quadrillion note. However, much of this intellectual sarcasm has missed the brilliance and courage of the Zimbabwe government and people. In 2009, after the collapse, instead of continuing to try to bail out their currency, the people did the unthinkable, they went on without it!
Zimbabwe, free of the yoke of a nationalized fiat currency, is poised for a revolution more dynamic and defining then the 1980 victory of the Chingaria freedom fighters that lead to the Lancaster Agreement, that was left unfulfilled.
The difficult work of the freedom fighters being completed has left a firm and stable foundation for the indigenous people of Zimbabwe to move forward. Now, we have the ability to move faster, more directly, and more collectively to continue to raise the quality of life for this nation state and for all post-colonial economies around the world.
Zimbabwe with “dollarized" currency is one of the few international economies. Zimbabwe currently uses the South African Rand, U.S. dollar and Botswana pula currencies. Now with the high amount of cell phone penetration the many unbanked are turning to mobile banking and are the driving force of this economy. Again, the Freedom Fighters will operate from the bush, back roads, small towns to create a critical mass that will continue to free Zimbabwe’s economy.
CT: Please provide your company's history and a progress report of how your business is doing in the Bitcoin market in 2015. How is it helping Bitcoin grow in the area and helping the people save money?
SS: Our team is lead by indigenous Zimbabweans who have extensive knowledge of local technology, regulations, and markets. This is a great advantage in working with local regulators and institutions. Furthermore, Zimbabwe remittance fees, when using a traditional measure like Western Union, can be more than 15%!
Bitmari will increase bitcoin adoption by solving a real problem by reducing these fees and generating real financial opportunities for local financial institutions. By working with the government and local major financial institutions, we are able to leverage existing customers, networks and trust to encourage the use of our platform. Success in Zimbabwe will demonstrate a model that will be able to be used in other countries in the region and throughout the world.
CT: I noticed there seem to be a lot of steps to actually doing transactions. can someone just send Bitcoins and not go through you to do the currency exchange? Can the service be shorter or less complicated?
SS: We will continuously improve and streamline the transactional steps:
- Person has bitcoins and wants to send money to their family in Zimbabwe;
- Person sends Bitcoins directly to BitMari;
- BitMari converts the coins into USD;
- BitMari delivers USD to the family via cash pick-up at a bank.
The KYC and AML are very important to get right with new clientele. Perkins Coie is our counsel and is continually vetting our compliance through all Zimbabwean remittance regulations. We are working closely with the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank and local financial institution to introduce our bitcoin remittance platform so we are following guidelines that provide the local authorities the confidence that bitcoin is a useful and secure technology. As we successfully progress, we see the institutional acceptance growing and economic demand growing.
“More and more bitcoin-based solutions will be developed and proven in Zimbabwe.”
CT: What is your forecast for Bitcoin in the country over the next 1-5 years? Are you seeing a real enduring interest in the new payment option?
SS: Most people of the world face economic environments more similar to Zimbabwe than the U.S. or the UK. Bitcoin in Zimbabwe will fuel a Fintech movement that will make Zimbabwe a powerhouse in the Fintech arena. Zimbabwe has the strong fundamentals of a high literacy rate, high telephony penetration, an international economy with multiple currencies a highly professional diaspora and true sovereignty. More and more bitcoin-based solutions will be developed and proven in Zimbabwe.
They say necessity is the mother of invention. Well, desperation is it, father. We see bitcoin as a real benefit to the many successful land reform farmers who will one day be able to use bitcoin to more freely trade their commodities on the international market.
CT: Are there other companies in the region Westerners should know about, maybe not in your niche, but related Bitcoin service industries?
SS: Tawanda Kembo is working on a project and is the Godfather of Bitcoin in Zimbabwe. He has a startup BitFinance as well as a very strong local following. The creativity and brilliance of Zimbabwe make it a great development in Fintech. The country has been bold in overcoming the economic crisis with boldness and ingenuity that Greece and many other countries could learn.
We think our Bitcoin company will be important to the already upcoming economic rebirth Zimbabwe. The vast Zimbabwe tech talent will continue build on the wisdom and experience from its economic crises to build many more useful applications of blockchain technology with the credibility of real world experience to back it up.
“Bitcoin will be the technology that unifies a ‘United States of Africa.’”
CT: What do you think Bitcoin will be to Africa in 5 years?
SS: Technology changes the world in ways that politics, militarism, and economics can't. Bitcoin will be the technology that unifies a "United States of Africa." The African Union (AU) has actively pursued ways to eliminate the border impediments to trading within the African continent.
Currently, African trade is set up to benefit the West and not the African countries. Bitcoin is a new technology that will overcome the political and nationalistic inhibitors as well as the neocolonial banking infrastructure that undermine Africa's development.
Sinclair and BitMari have now set up a Startjoin account for crowdfunding investment. For those who would like to help Zimbabwe continue their economic revolution through Bitcoin, go to startjoin.com/BitMari
- Bitmari YouTube Explainer Video