Bitcoin’s Big Opportunity in Africa
Thursday, February 5, 2015
On a Tuesday night at a Nairobi tech incubator, Michael Kimani preaches the virtues of crypto currencies to a small gathering of tech-savvy Kenyans.
The startups at the meeting are already busy building businesses—to disrupt Kenya’s large remittances market; or create Kenya’s first bitcoin exchange; or establish a crypto-wallet app as the on-campus currency of nearby Kenyatta University.
While global entrepreneurs and investors have been cautiously eying the potential of bitcoin in Africa, a more aggressive homegrown breed of African startups is already experimenting in Kenya, East Africa’s powerhouse economy. There are the same problems with criminal use of bitcoin—this month, hackers reportedly demanded a ransom of bitcoins from a major Kenyan bank—but also an unusually big market hungry for an easier way to move money.
“It’s up to us to decide how to use it,” says Kimani, head of the African Digital Currency Association (ADCA). Kimani first heard about bitcoin three years ago on a BBC podcast. A year later he found a way to buy bitcoins in Kenya, buying and selling bitcoin speculatively with a small handful of traders in the country.
In March of last year, Kimani met up with the founders of Kenyan digital currencyBitPesa and other bitcoin startups and established the ADCA as an industry lobby group to promote the local bitcoin ecosystem, pushing for adoption, awareness, and policy around digital currencies.
“I saw an opportunity to be a pioneer,” he said. “I compare it to the Internet of the 1990s. As much as I see people are not really aware of it, in the next 10 years I think it’s going to be huge.”