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Bitcoin in Africa

Blockchain Startup, Blockstale Launches First Ever Bitcoin ATM in Nigeria

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In Brief:

  • Blockstale launches first Bitcoin ATM in Nigeria.
  • According to a source on Twitter, the Bitcoin ATM comes with a paper wallet.
  • The Bitcoin Teller Machine does not accept bank cards. 

If you’re based in Lagos and you’re yet to have a taste of the bitcoin experience, there’s a new Bitcoin Automated Teller Machine (ATM) installed in the city. Nigeria’s bitcoin machine vendor, BlockStale, has finally launched its long awaited first bitcoin ATM in Nigeria.

Bitcoin has garnered serious interest in Nigeria over the years, and the momentum is definitely not slowing down anytime soon. According to recent data from Google Trends, Nigeria ranks as one of the hotspots for Bitcoin, in sub Saharan Africa. A 2019 study by Bitcoin economist, Tuur Demeester, also ranks Lagos as the number one city with the most bitcoin searches in the world. 

With the introduction of a bitcoin ATM in the country’s most populated and vibrant city, there is no doubt that there will be an increase in cryptocurrency adoption. 

Nigeria's popular Instagram comedian, Woli Arole, amongst other notable names, present in the Bitcoin ATM launching.
Nigeria’s popular Instagram comedian, Woli Arole, amongst other notable names, present in the Bitcoin ATM launching. 

Unlike conventional ATMs, Bitcoin ATMs allow users to buy and sell bitcoin without the interference of a third party. The launching of the ATM places Nigeria amongst the list of African countries with active bitcoin ATMs installed. 

Cryptocurrencies, still not a legal tender in Nigeria

Despite the massive volumes of bitcoin trades in the country, there are still uncertainties as regards the status of cryptocurrencies. Particularly, the Nigerian government is still indifferent in their stance towards cryptocurrencies. As such, digital currencies like Bitcoin, are still not a legal tender.  

Speaking during the launch of the Bitcoin ATM in Lagos, Blockstale CEO, Adekunle Daniel, had this to say:

“I know there is a scarcity of these machines in Nigeria, and that’s why we’re quietly filling the gap, for now. For about three years now, I have been working on blockchain technology and BTMs hardware, software and firmware, most especially.”

The Blockstale BTM or Bitcoin ATM, according to sources on Twitter, claims to come with a paper wallet. This means that one can easily buy Bitcoins, even without a digital wallet. The machine simply prints a barcode which holds the private key to spending the bitcoins. 

Also, the Blockstale Bitcoin Teller Machine(BTM), does not accept bank cards. It only accepts the Nigerian Naira. 

The bitcoin ATM is located in the Dazey Lounge and Bar, Ajah, Lagos. 

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Bitcoin in Africa

The rise of CBDC in African economies

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Many nations have taken cues from the world of crypto and its resounding successes over the last decade. In order to avoid getting left behind, governments worldwide are increasingly turning their attention towards implementing some form of digital currency, a CBDC which in full is Central Bank Digital Currency. Although inspired by cryptocurrencies, CBDC’s are quite different from traditional crypto platforms. The main differences are that CBDC’s are unlikely to be decentralized, the supply of this currency regulated by the host’s country’s central bank as the CBDC is designed to operate as a sovereign legal tender, the digitized form of the host country’s fiat currency. Thus, a central bank may issue digitized tokens of its currency of which their value is pegged to the fiat currency of the nation in question, making CBDC’s stablecoins.

Africa has seen a rise in the use of cryptocurrencies and it’s still pushing frontiers in this sector. Although the use of crypto in many African nations is becoming more and more pervasive by the day, the tone of governments in many of these countries toward the sector is cautious at best and threatening at worst. However, a few nations have voiced interests in creating digitized versions of their legal tender to function as a CBDC. Amongst these are Ghana, Nigeria, Morocco, Kenya and Tunisia.

Many of these projects are still in the research phase or developmental phase however. A good example is Ghana’s proposed CBDC, the E-cedi being developed in partnership with German company, Giesecke + Devrient. Nigeria’s CBDC project, the eNaira has been announced and according to Nigeria’s central bank, this CBDC will be launched sometime in 2021. To that end, the CBN has partnered with fintech company, Bitt Inc. to serve as the technical partner in the eNaira’s development. Reportedly, the CBN had made the decision to digitize the Nigerian Naira in 2017.

While the pursuance of digital currencies in African nations is a welcome development, implementation of these schemes isn’t without challenges. Chief among the issues countries in Africa face would be the already existing financial service inequality and poor penetration of internet access in the continent. These challenges must be tackled in order to allow for mainstream adoption of CBDCs and the subsequent provision of financial inclusion. The benefits largely depend on the peculiarities of the nation deploying them. For instance, a digital currency is thought to help Nigeria increase foreign remittances, it’s second largest source of forex after oil. Whatever the outcome of these projects, it is becoming apparent that CBDC’s have come to stay.

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Bitcoin in Africa

Why the Nigerian Government is Panicking About Bitcoin

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Fear, social media clamour, open outrage amongst citizens and vivid apprehension of the outcome of what the ban on crypto means for traders and investors as well as fintech companies. To some, it was a welcome development aimed at driving the ship of the country towards a better shore. To others, it was another rule by the Nigerian government to clamp down on technology. On February 5, 2021, the Central Bank of Nigeria issued a circular directing all commercial banks to close the accounts that are connected to cryptocurrency platforms. This was later given further clarification in a 5-paged article stating a plethora of reasons why it is not advisable to trade cryptocurrency. The article explained that the ban does not mean that Nigerians can no longer trade cryptocurrency. However, it is a measure to dissociate commercial banks from all forms of crypto trading which are considered wrong. 

CBN’s reasons for banning cryptocurrency 

The 5-paged article was released 2 days after the crypto ban. It explains why it is inadvisable to trade cryptocurrency and the justification behind the orders of the CBN. Rather than give a fair definition of cryptocurrency, CBN focused on the partial lapses of the currency in explaining its meaning. In the explanatory article, cryptocurrency was defined as “digital or virtual currencies issued by largely anonymous entities and secured by cryptography. Cryptography is a method of encrypting and hiding codes that prevent oversight, accountability, and regulation.” 

While explaining the rationale behind the ban, the circular reiterates that Nigeria is not the first country to place restrictions on cryptocurrency. Countries like China, Canada, Taiwan, Indonesia, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Bolivia, Kyrgyzstan, Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, Bangladesh, Nepal and Cambodia have placed certain restrictions on the trading of cryptocurrency. Quoting various instances where cryptocurrencies have been derided by various persons and institutions without reference to cases where Bitcoin has been praised by reputable investors and institutions. In the latter instance, Bitcoin was referred to as the new gold.  

One of the reasons behind the ban is that the cryptocurrencies are issued by unregulated or unlicensed persons which contravenes the CBN Act of 2007. Also, its anonymity and decentralization quality show that “its patrons and users value anonymity, obscurity, and concealment”. The CBN explained that there would be no need for such concealment if the activities of users were legal. Nevertheless, the CBN forgot that apart from using crypto for transactions, it can also be used as a store of value. 

Lack of centralization and the accompanying issues of anonymity are the predominant reasons stated by the CBN before its ban on cryptocurrency. 

You may wonder why the CBN waited till 2021 to place a ban on crypto despite its popularity since 2010. This reason is not far-fetched as it explains the true reason behind February directives on cryptocurrency. 

Hidden reasons behind the ban on cryptocurrency 

Few months after the directives were issued to commercial banks in Nigeria, Chainalysis, a blockchain research firm, issued a report that the volume of a dollar received from crypto users in Nigeria has grown between 2020-2021. In May, Nigeria received $2.4 billion worth of crypto compared to $684 million received in December 2020. The increase occurred after the clampdown on crypto by the central bank. This shows that CBN orders have little or no effect on cryptocurrency trading. 

Last October marked an important turning point in the history of Nigeria. It marked a month of consciousness amongst the youths, protest rocks every state in Nigeria against police brutality and an end to the Sars police unit under the hashtag #Endsars. The protest was the first of its kind after more than a decade. During the EndSars protest, various groups sprang up to receive donations for demonstrators to provide them with first aid, food and security. The accounts of these groups were suspended which led one of such groups, Feminist Coalition to start receiving Bitcoin for donations due to its decentralization. About $150,000 worth of Bitcoin was received which was used to support EndSars protesters.

 Jack Dorsey, Founder/CEO of Twitter reshared the FemCo Bitcoin donation page with the caption “donate via bitcoin to help EndSars”. His actions might have explained the ban on Twitter by the Nigerian government. The use of cryptocurrency to fuel such protests is the main unstated reason behind the recent ban. 

In conclusion, the Nigerian government may pretend that the clampdown on cryptocurrency is a result of its lapses usually quoted by various countries as reasons behind restrictions. However, the activities of the Nigerian government is the fear of the inability to control the currency. It is gradually becoming the action of the current government to restrict whatever it can not control. 

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Bitcoin in Africa

How Demographic Trends are Pushing Cryptocurrencies Adoption in Africa

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Demographic trends

The African crypto market has seen a tremendous boom in the last few years. Driving this growth are a myriad of factors among which are economic inequality, volatile fiat currencies, low financial inclusion as well as high unemployment rates. These drivers of market growth are also greatly intertwined with Africa’s unique demographics which entail the distribution and categorization of the population.

The goal or aim of many cryptocurrency projects and the movement of the community in general is to get to a point where they’re widely used and accepted by individuals, corporations and governments. This implies mainstream adoption, much like the pervasive nature of mobile banking today. Africa presents unique opportunities owing not just to the socioeconomic clime but it’s demographics as well.

For cryptocurrencies to achieve mainstream adoption, they would have to in a sense become the norm and be widely accepted and recognized by virtually all corners of society, much like Facebook is in the social media world. In Africa, despite the size of the crypto market, cryptocurrencies are still a good distance away from what one would describe as popular acceptance. The sector is growing no doubt, however, that growth is reflective of Africa’s unique demographics and population scene.

It is without question that the African continent is the youngest, in terms of median age at 19.7 years. There are about 600 million people aged between 15 and 45 in Africa, representing nearly half of Africa’s population. Many nations, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa are in stage 2 of the demographic transition (high birth rates and high death rates – relatively low life expectancy) which is representative of the economic climes of these nations. A report found that around 13 million young Africans enter the labour market each year against 3.7 million jobs, most created by the informal sector. Therefore many African youth are laden with economic difficulties at that important time in their lives.

However, Africa’s young population, generally speaking, has a greater proclivity for being more open minded to technology adoption. Education and literacy has played a role in this with Africa’s literacy rate at around 70%. While not comparable to that of other continents, this rate is driven greatly by the large young population Africa boasts of. In any case, seeing the economic conditions of many African countries, and a tendency for young people to adopt and/or trust new technologies better and faster than other age groups gives some explanation to how quickly the crypto market is growing on the continent. As the years go by, the level of adoption would inevitably continue to increase as the current youth population expands till it gets to the point where blockchain becomes so pervasive that it achieves the necessary trust and acceptance to become mainstream.

Right now, in some African nations, that line is being crossed already with central digital currencies in development.

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