This April, the city of Cape Town, South Africa plays host to the first ever Bitcoin conference in Africa. The event is set to take place on the 16th and 17th April 2015 at the Atlantic Imbizo Conference and Function Studio, located at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront.
The Bitcoin Africa Conference will bring together merchants, investors, venture capitalists, startups and Bitcoin enthusiasts who are all looking to move Bitcoin forward in Africa. Bitcoin in Africa is at a decidedly infant stage. Subjects to be discussed include what bitcoin is, the blockchain, merchant adoption, and the financial, legal and regulatory implications for Bitcoin adoption in Africa.
Like everywhere else around the world, Bitcoin is an exciting development for the African continent. All over the continent, young Africans are busy in innovation labs developing apps that will begin to tackle some of Africa’s most pressing problems. At the same time, Africans no longer want to see the standard depictions of their continent as a place of misery, famine, war and deadly pestilences anymore. There is a feeling across that there is a need to change the prevailing narrative.
Though huge challenges remain all across the continent, there is nonetheless tremendous opportunity for investment. Governments that have in the past been better known for ineptitude are rolling red carpets for investors, sometimes figuratively and other times literally. Lots of Africans who have grown up in the diaspora particularly the West are now returning and hoping to contribute positively to the fortunes of their motherland.
Bitcoin promises huge potential specifically for this African diaspora. Each year, the sons and daughters of Africa send about US$ 40 billion homeward. Most of the money sent is meant for family and friends back home, and aid greatly in mitigating against poverty. African governments are alive to the potential of remittance money and are actively encouraging remittance for investment in a much more structured manner. It is in this area that Bitcoin can play a major role. The remittance market has been dominated by money transfer companies who have often been accused of charging high transaction fees especially in countries where they hold monopolies.
For example, in Nairobi, Kenya, the Bitcoin startup Bitpesa has been able to bring the best of both Bitcoin and M-PESA for the London-Nairobi transfer corridor and charge only 3% in transaction fees while at it. The company says that there is huge growth in many other transfer corridors and many other countries in East Africa. The continent needs more Bitpesas so as to fully bring Bitcoin into the mainstream of Africa’s economies.
The second area in which Bitcoin can be of use to the continent is in agriculture. On the continent, Nigeria’s Agriculture Minister Dr. Akinwumi Adesina has stood out in his determination to make millionaires in Nigeria’s agricultural sector. He has instituted critical reforms, notably in the procurement of fertilizer, introducing a voucher system that has restored sanity in a sector known for lethargy and middlemen. Bitcoin’s blockchain technology would be of great use in Nigeria and elsewhere around the continent in creating a system that would reward participants either with bitcoins or some other cryptocurrency.
Lastly, Bitcoin would also be great for business on the continent. It would enable seamless trade across the continent. It is borderless and instant, and with the growing numbers of exchanges around Africa it will be possible change between Bitcoin and any local fiat currency easily. Indeed it is hoped that the upcoming Bitcoin Africa Conference will be able to explore these and other aspects to enable Africa and Africans participate more meaningfully in what promises to become the biggest financial innovation of the 21st century.
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