Hacker in Africa Codes Bitcoin to M-Pesa Bot: 'I Had Some Spare Time'
Michael Bumann has been in Nairobi, Kenya for several months updating himself on the tech scene there.
Michael Bumann has been in Nairobi, Kenya for several months updating himself on the tech scene there. He noticed the widespread popularity of feature-phone enabled M-Pesa fiat transfers, and realized that by combining a few open-source tools into a bot, he could send Bitcoin through a messenger to deposit fiat directly into his cab driver's M-Pesa account. Bumann says:
“I wondered how we can make use of the existing infrastructure to increase Bitcoin adoption. Because I had some spare time, I tried to use an app that everybody is already using (WhatsApp and Telegram) as an interface to integrate Bitcoin with M-Pesa.”
Cointelegraph tracked down the world traveler and picked his mind about his secret (yes, still currently secret) bot, Kenya's tech scene, and his vision of the future.
Cointelegraph: What gave you the idea to connect Bitcoin with M-Pesa?
Michael Bumann: I'm very interested in the mobile and pre-paid economies in places like Kenya – how technology is used there and its influence on development. Obviously this also includes the mobile money systems and the ecosystem around.
CB: What made you decide to visit Nairobi?
MB: Actually I was going to Rwanda and wanted to visit some friends on my way and catch up on what's new and changing in Kenya. It had been a while since my last visit and so it was about time. But I like Nairobi, its life, its energy, its chaos, so I stayed longer than expected.
CT: I see on Github you're involved with AfricaHackTrip. What is that?
MB: The AfricaHackTrip took place in 2013. It was an initiative by a group of developers and designers from Europe who were curious about the emerging African tech hubs. Since we had no idea what was going on in this part of the world and wanted to learn more, we decided to travel to East Africa. We visited some tech spaces in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania.
“Our aim was […] to bring the European and African hacking cultures together. We believe that it takes personal contacts to establish lasting networks.”
Our aim was and still is to learn and to connect with our peers here and bring the European and African hacking cultures together. We believe that it takes personal contacts to establish lasting networks. I've learned a lot and I do encourage everybody to go on a HackTrip to an unknown place. Come visit!
- Michael Bumann.
CT: What is Internet connectivity like in Nairobi? Do many people have Internet, or just feature phones?
MB: Interesting question. I guess it is different from place to place. But in general you can get a good connection there today. Depending on where you are, you use mostly 3G/4G and you are more conservative in your data consumption. Sometimes you are annoyed about developers who don't care and force you to download megabytes of data to just visit a simple website! Most cafes provide free wifi, and the co-working spaces have a good connection. So you can easily come here and work from there.
CT: What other programs or projects have you been involved with in the past that you're most proud of?
MB: In the last years I've been involved in building Railslove, a German-based IT consultancy.
Apart from the projects I have worked on with the Railslove team, I am happy that I had a chance to help support and connect the tech community in Cologne/Germany. We established the Coworking Space in Cologne and supported a lot of tech meetups and organized events there. So I am proud that I could be a part of that and contribute a bit.
CT: What is your vision of 10 years into the future?
MB: Oh, the future will be kind to us.
The entrance to the coworking space in Kigali/Rwanda where I am currently working reminds me about that every day:
- Entrance to Bumann's current coworking space.
And I hope borders will be gone and that we start space travel. So let's hurry up!
CT: What other projects or programs would you say people should be keeping their eyes on right now?
MB: Hmm. The Internet is full of all these amazing projects - and I get easily distracted, which is not a good combination. I am currently looking into DNSChain, projects like OpenAssets, and I try to get a better understanding of OpenBazaar.
“[T]he energy here to create things is what is very exciting and that's what I probably will miss.”
CT: Do you plan to stay in Africa? If not, what will you miss most about it?
MB: My plan so far is to stay until January in Rwanda, but I have no further plans. I don't know Rwanda/Kigali and the people here well enough yet. So far the energy here to create things is what is very exciting and that's what I probably will miss.
CT: How did you learn to hack and code?
MB: When I was a kid, there was this machine in our house (thank you dad, thank you uncle), and somehow I had to learn to make it do something. And that's was how my interest in coding started. I see it as a tool to create something – hopefully, sometimes, something useful.
CT: When can the community expect to see a release of the Telegram/Whatsapp bot you wrote?
MB: I will try to write a more technical blog post soon. But all this is actually simply combining some tools that are already out there. I just stand on the shoulders of giants.
Michael's project descriptions and contact information are located at michaelbumann.com.