Bitcoin is pushing the boundaries of economic change in Africa. In East Africa, a new deal between digital currency exchange Bitpesa and a Japanese firm shows Kenyans are using bitcoin to pay for used Japanese cars, cosmetics and electrical gadgets. In Nigeria, Sure Remit is helping make cash transfers cheaper and in Zimbabwe, TV subscriptions, university fees, and second-hand car imports.
Also read: US Dollar Losing Dominance As A Means For Settling Transactions In Africa
Bitcoin as A Cure for Africa’s Cash Addiction
When Elisha Owusu Akyam bought his Macbook Pro laptop using bitcoin (BTC) earlier this year, he wasn’t just fulfilling a long-time desire – he was making a statement of change in a continent hooked on cash.
Elisha Owusu Akyam
“Making payments in bitcoin is easier than existing methods,” the 17 year-old cryptocurrency investor from Accra, Ghana, told news.Bitcoin.com.
“Barriers exist for financial inclusion on the continent. Bitcoin eradicates these barriers,” said Owusu Akyam, founder and chief executive of Token Media, a startup that has helped other emerging businesses raise millions of dollars in token sales through its marketing services.
“For instance, the purchase I made in just one payment would not have been possible without bitcoin. I would have had to make payments in parts for a couple of days. This wastes time and costs money,” he said.
Although Africa has been touted as the cradle of mobile money payments, mobile is effectively only widely used in a few countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe, where about 30 million people combined use cell phones to pay for goods and services. In most countries, cash is still king.
But bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are starting to catch on, not only as a means of payment, but also for remittances and as a store of value.
Ghana is one of a number of countries in Africa whose economies are currently being reshaped by cryptocurrency. In the West African country, the crypto market is still very small, with issues around regulation casting a shadow over the market’s future, but it “has seen a lot of growth lately,” according to Elisha Owusu Akyam.
Adoption, Regulation, Fraud
Some small businesses have started to accept payment in bitcoin, Owusu Akyam says, while digital currency exchanges are flourishing, with about 15 different platforms, mainly over-the-counter exchanges, allowing Ghanians to buy and sell cryptocurrency.
Basic services like buying mobile phone airtime and data can also be done with the use of bitcoin, he added. At some point in 2016, the highest number of bitcoin searches on Google originated from Ghana, though that in itself didn’t mean much.
“This awareness doesn’t translate into the understanding of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as many think it is a scam or fraud,” explained Owusu Akyam, via email. And then there are the issues around regulation.
“The closest we have come to [regulation] is a statement by the Bank of Ghana, cautioning the public on the use of bitcoin as an unregulated activity,” he said. “This unregulated environment has led to the spread of several scams and fake investment schemes that are hurting the image of the cryptocurrency industry as a