This article is part of an ongoing series called Across Africa with Bitcoin, detailing the writer’s current journey in exploring financial inclusion through Bitcoin in multiple countries across Africa.
I had the opportunity to speak with this super busy Crypto entrepreneur on Thursday night before boarding a flight the next morning to Neighbouring Zambia. For two weeks now, yours sincerely has been trying hard to get this man to grant me an interview without succeeding.
Anytime I go to his Central Business District office, he is surrounded by clients who have come to buy Bitcoin or arrange for payment of goods and services outside the country. Absorbingly, some of these patrons have no idea what Bitcoin is really about.
Together with his compatriot Verengai Mabika, they founded Zimbabwe’s only Bitcoin Exchange, BitFinance in December 2014. It all started when a Zimbabwean resident in the US called William read Tawanda’s blog on Bitcoin and called to ask him if he could take Bitcoin and buy someone mobile airtime worth of $5.
A couple of weeks later after some small other transactions, William again asked Tawanda if he could send his mother $300 via mobile money for him and receive Bitcoin and 5 percent commission, and that it will still be cheaper than Western Union. This is when he realised he can turn his hobby of writing about Bitcoin into a business.
“We eventually pivoted and focused on the problem we all had which was the difficulty of getting Bitcoin to buy and we didn’t want others who were getting into Bitcoin to have the same problem,” Tawanda revealed. “At the time it was almost impossible to get Bitcoin to buy if you live in Zimbabwe.”
He explained Bitcoin Exchange is their full-time business but there are a number of people who come to them and say they want to import a car and other products from Japan and want to make payment in Bitcoin. “These and many other cross-border trade and services are what we facilitate, he expressed.
When I asked him to tell me what is really going on with the Zimbabwean Monetary System this was his reply:
“The concept is simply that Zimbabwe doesn’t have its own currency. We last had a currency in 2008 which people stopped using because of hyperinflation. At the time I was in college and I remember when we walked into a bar to buy beer, and if you’ve enough money to buy six bottles you buy it at a time and sit with it at your table because anytime you get up to go to the counter the price had changed. The price will change multiple times in a two hour period you’re in a bar. Inflation went crazy and I was a cash-strapped student with a quintillion in my bank account.”
The Blockchain Dev further explained because they have no currency of their own they use mostly the US Dollar alongside nine other currencies that are legal tender and you can walk into a shop and pay with the USD and get a change in South Africa Rand or Botswana Pula.
However, Tawanda acknowledges the real challenge is making a cross-border payment. “Corresponding banks can only facilitate your international transfer if you’ve funds in your Nostro account, and in Zimbabwe, all the banks are underfunded with Nostro Account and people can’t make cross-border payment.”
In fact, that’s where BitFinance comes in. This Bitcoin Exchange, in the midst of one of the world’s acute monetary crisis, is facilitating the exchange of good and services with Bitcoin. All that Zimbabweans has to do is to transfer funds to Bitfinance’s account and the payment will be settled globally. He also said some of the clients purchase Bitcoin and do the payment themselves.
Insightfully, the Zimbabwean Bitcoin Exchange founder is of the opinion that Bitcoin is the way Zimbabweans are going to do transactions in the future. “Bitcoin is going to survive here and if I’m wrong it’s going to be another cryptocurrency that will take over,” he stipulated.
According to Tawanda, he has interacted with so many government officials including those from the central bank and there are two categories when it comes to government approach towards Bitcoin. Number one is government officials who are indifferent and don’t care nor see the potentials yet, and the other is those that have problems that can be solved by this technology.
“A Good example is forex crisis is a serious problem in this country that even those in government can’t send money outside,” he described. He revealed there have been instances where government officials have approached his company to asked for the facilitation of payments outside the country through Bitcoin but Bitfinance didn’t have the capacity to take care of the millions that were at stake.
The Bitcoin King went ahead and cited how last year the Zimbabwean government bought a company called Telesom and initiated payment through one of the banks but the money could not go through and it took eight months to settle.
“Our biggest challenge is liquidity, as we don’t have more Bitcoin in circulation,” Tawanda remarked. “Like we couldn’t meet the millions government was looking to settle the payment.”
It is clear that people elsewhere use Bitcoin as a store of value and speculation, but in Zimbabwe, it is used as a utility. Tawanda, therefore, urged investors to look at such markets and invest in companies like BitFinance.
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Images from Frisco d’Anconia for CCN.
Last modified: May 21, 2020 9:48 AM UTC