Potentially, Africa’s huge unbanked population combined with the burdensome process of opening and operating a bank account should make Bitcoin an instant hit.
However, its adoption has been irritatingly slow even though the basic infrastructure is not missing. It is estimated that by the end of this decade that 80 percent of the continent’s more than 1.2 bln population would be using Smartphones.
Then what hinders Bitcoin penetration in Africa? Cointelegraph spoke about it with experts in the cryptocurrency community on the so-called dark continent.
Fear of change
Scrutinizing the bottlenecks to penetration, Andrew Tudhope, Bitnation Ambassador of South Africa noted that access to, and interest in, complicated technologies, especially software is the bane. “Who really cares what form one's money takes when one has none?” He asked emphatically.
However, Alakanani ‘Motherpky’ Itireleng who is the Director of the Satoshi Centre in Gaborone, Botswana, thinks it is associated with unconsciousness. She thinks the fear of change and being comfortable with the status coalesce with Africans unwillingness to educate themselves accounts for the current state of the digital currency in Africa.
John Karanga of BitHub.Africa seems to agree with both Andrew and Alakanani on their various Views. The Kenyan Crypto enthusiast noted:
“The main hindrance to adoption of Bitcoin technology, which we do not often talk about, is the lack of awareness and skills to adopt the technology. Bitcoin currently is a sophisticated technology compared to the simplicity of existing platforms like M-Pesa, which my grandmother who does not even speak English can use. The Bitcoin technology needs to get simpler or integrate into other simpler platforms. We also need to get better at educating Africans about this technology.”
Interestingly, there are differing opinions from the three African Cryptocurrency advocates on how pervasiveness of smartphones in Africa can speed adoption. Alakanani believes many Africans are not in the known on the power their smartphones wield.
“What I have realised is most people buy smartphones for prestige and hardly explore the ability these phones have. People often use their phones for calls, SMS and downloading games and music. If people receive the education and are shown how to use these gadgets, maybe we might see adoption,” Alakanani pointed out.
From the standpoint of view of Andrew it’s partially not the case. According to the Senior Citizen two factors among a few accounts for his observation. He sums it up here:
“Not necessarily, as the situation in Kenya and the recent fuss around BitPesa proves. Obviously, the more people online with smartphones, the better it is for internet-based things (and this goes doubly for money native to the net), but there are a number of factors at work. First, data costs on the African continent remain some of the highest in the world. Second, it remains essentially impossible to run a full node from your phone, and certainly not over mobile networks. While adoption need not require people running full nodes, it means once again being forced into the position of consumers rather than co-creators. Again, I think it is more likely that Bitcoin, and the technological innovations it represents, will form the foundations on which significant social and political changes will take place, and it is not just the smartphones, but the Africans who are using them are the most interesting part of the peer-to-peer equation.”
The CEO of BitHub.Africa slighly agrees with Andrew particularly with internet connectivity and how it is expensive. John’s position was that “Yes, the fast adoption of smartphones across some African countries e.g. Kenya is very encouraging. It means people are connecting to the Internet at an unprecedented rate, allowing them to access more opportunities previously inaccessible to them. Bitcoin just adds fuel to the fire and allows them to transact freely across the globe. Think about Africans living in the diaspora for example, they can now send money directly to their relatives, invest, and therefore contribute to the economies of their respective countries. This is possible through mobile connectivity.”
However, the Eastern African also thinks all is not rosy. “There are a few challenges remaining like the cost of Internet data and the quality of the smartphones but more importantly, we can also see the shift to a mobile digital economy happening.”
In recent times the Kenyan government has been clamping down Bitcoin citing the use of Bitcoin by terrorist as the rationale behind the onslaught. These African experts agree that it is the usual fabrication from the incompetent state.
Alakanani calls it an unsubstantiated accusation which African leaders bereft with ideas, want to stand on & bury Bitcoin in Africa but it will never hold water. In the same vein Andrews rejected the claim outright.
“Not really, I think most are easily and empirically falsifiable, so, don't tend to lose sleep over it. If you ever get the chance, read Judith Butler - she has piles of interesting stuff to say about the (deliberately) never-ending war on terrorism and the way the American state constructs it,” He asserted.
How Africa benefits from Bitcoin
Some pessimist and shortsighted people think Bitcoin is irrelevant to Africans and for that matter adoption won’t take deep roots. John maintained that Africa will gain immensely from the Blockchain/Bitcoin Technology and it is even already reaping the fruits in some parts. This was his stance:
“Bitcoin represents the world's truly trustless system, where it is possible for two parties previously unknown to each other to exchange value (money) over large distances almost instantly without need of a third party mediating the transaction. This fact alone has huge implications on how business, commerce, and essentially trade can happen globally. A digitally connected African today can now access funding, credit, and even trade with counterparts across the globe in real-time because of Bitcoin technology. This presents new challenges on how we as Africans can take advantage of this opportunity.”
How Bitcoin benefits from Africa
On the contrary, Andrew suspects it is the other way round. “I think, rather, that Bitcoin stands a lot to gain from Africans. It is what Africans can bring to Bitcoin a more human face. A deep, traditional, and ingrained notion of community - what we call in South Africa ubuntu - that could interface in ways too many to detail here with technological peer-to-peer networks which aim primarily to establish consensus about a given state of things. The most interesting parts of Bitcoin, for me, having almost nothing to do with money, but rather focus on the political and social consequences of installing a new operating system that runs both how we agree on what has value, as well as how we move that value and put it to us.”
Refreshingly, the experts rejected government involvement and called for civil society involvement in educating Africans about Blockchain/Bitcoin. “We rather need to improve more on educating Africans about what Bitcoin is offering us as a continent,” Alakanani suggested.