“Without Bitcoin my daughters wouldn’t go to school or eat. I send it to an exchange and, within a minute, I get fiat on my cell phone,” Ghana native Kofi Akosah tells Crypto Insider. “Bitcoin is my only source of income.”
Africa is a world leader in Google searches for the key term ‘Bitcoin’, and a lot of that might have to do with stories like the one above.
Mr. Akosah was the first person to start Bitcoin education in Ghana at his Liberty & Entrepreneurship Camp in 2011, supported financially by Roger Ver and others. Nowadays, he writes for the bitcoin press when he can’t make ends meet. The challenge for Bitcoin adoption in Africa, according to Mr. Akosah, is convincing merchants to accept the digital currency.
“Way back in 2010 a friend gave me 3 bitcoins worth $60,” Mr. Akosah shares. “In 2013, it was a reasonable amount which I used to start a restaurant.”
The first African to buy and sell on Bitmit, Mr. Akosah has been active in bitcoin ever since. “The community here consists of young people who are interested in cross-border trade and forex trading,” he details. “There are many informal exchanges here as well.”
In 2013, if it weren’t for bitcoin, Mr. Akosah believes he would have gone to jail. “I was trying to go to Nigeria with 40 Ghanaian students to attend an SFL conference and border officials extorted all our money through Togo, Benin and Nigeria,” he recounts. “When we got to Nigeria we were refused entrance and had to return home, but there was no money to pay the Bus company. The bus managed to get us home, but I was threatened to pay in three days or risk being arrested.”
He adds: ‘After the community learnt of our plight at the borders, someone anonymously sent me bitcoin that covered almost all the cost involved, thank God. Life is full of love and pain.”
Mr. Akosah sends bitcoin to the exchange addresses, and within a couple of minutes, he receives fiat on his mobile phone wallet via payment apps. “You can also go to the exchange in person,” he says. “There are entrepreneurs just using laptops and cellphones on street corners and roadside kiosks and stores.”
Mr. Akosah says he has experienced some oppression for his libertarian views in Africa. His life was threatened by hoodlums who didn’t appreciate his libertarian radio show, which regularly discussed Bitcoin.
“My restaurant was closed on trumped up charges of not paying an electricity bill.” He went to the police, but they did not help.
Currently, Kofi works for blockchain companies. “Bitcoin at the moment is what I live on with my two daughters,” he says. “We spend it on everything after changing it to fiat.”
Phil Agyei Asare runs both the remittance platform BtcGhana in Kumasi and DreamBitcoin.org.
“We set up Dream Bitcoin Foundation in 2014 to help educate people about this new technology,” he tells Crypto Insider. “And since then we have been able to organize conferences in some of the tertiary institutions here and we participate annually in Coinfest, which is done to help the working class.” Ghana, which ranks for Google search queries, needs bitcoin to do business in the 21st century, says Mr. Asare.
“BtcGhana helps Ghanaians in the diaspora to send money back to their family and friends using btc and we send the recipient mobile money to be cashout from the nearest mobile money agent,” he says.
Dream Bitcoin Foundation is a registered nonprofit organisation that helps educate young entrepreneurs on how to sell their products and services to the international market in exchange for the digital currency.
“With Western Union and Moneygram, Ghanaians may receive funds,” Mr. Asare explains, but customers cannot send funds outside the country through such companies. PayPal is not available in Ghana either.” The Bitcoin scene in Ghana is diverse, according to Mr. Asare.
“Bitcoin is popular among the young entrepreneurs here,” he says. “A lot of bankers are also making ways of getting to know much about Bitcoin and Blockchain. “
He adds: “The demand is high and the supply is insufficient,” he says. “Sending money out of the country is really a cumbersome issue, so many people here tend to use bitcoins for international payments when paying business partners overseas. Due to the cumbersome way of sending money outside the country, the best possible way for many of us is Bitcoin, which has helped a lot of people buy things outside the country with a click of a mouse from their bedroom.”
Entrepreneur Alakanani Itireleng, who lives in Botswana, celebrates Bitcoin for similar reasons as many of the digital currency’s enthusiasts.
Bitcoin entirely funds her business, Satoshicentre, where education via blockchain-centered events and meetings takes place. “Most of the bitcoin I receive are converted to our currency, Pula, and I am able to run Satoshicentre, pay for my flights and accommodation on Bitcoin accepting merchants like Expedia, a Bit Sky, and BTC Trip whenever I want to attend bitcoin conferences,” she says. “I mostly top up my phone with bitcoin on bitrefill, which recharges prepaid phones with bitcoin. Bitcoin makes life easy for me.”
Satoshicentre seeks to provide a home to help Blockchain technology and other technology startup companies develop and execute their ideas. “Our aim is to be a Blockchain solution based technology centre with the aim of empowering young people in the world of blockchain technology,” explains Ms. Alakanani.
Satoshicentre enjoys a working relationship with Google Developer Group at the University of Botswana.
The Bitcoin community in Botswana has grown since 2013, she says.
“At first the community was made mostly of young people,” Ms. Alakanani describes. “Nowadays it’s a mix of both the young and old. Reasons for getting involved in bitcoin also vary. Some they had you can get super rich quickly with bitcoin (gospel preached by ponzi schemes),some they heard its easy to send money anywhere,some are tech guys who want to explore the blockchain while some they want to play as far away from bitcoin as possible.”
What makes Bitcoin so popular in Africa?
“The element of borderless currency opens doors to everyone to be able to send and receive money,” Ms. Itireleng contends. “For the first time in history with Bitcoin people can directly send and receive money to friend and relatives in far countries cheaply and quickly.”
Shark Tank shark and Bitcoin entrepreneur Vinny Lingham, who now heads blockchain based identity service Civic, shared some of his ideas about Bitcoin’s popularity in Africa, as well, with Crypto Insider.
“There are a number of factors,” he tells Crypto Insider. “Africans have become very comfortable with the idea of digital currency – given that products like MPesa were created in Africa. After Zimbabwe’s currency inflated beyond belief, there is a general lack of faith in the ability of some African governments to protect their currency from inflation or devaluation. Capital controls in Africa generally mean that money is not able to move freely. Credit card and payment fraud is rife in countries like Nigeria. Most online merchants won’t accept any payment other than Bitcoin from these countries. In addition, something like 60-70% of Africans have a mobile phone and internet access…it’s a staggering number.
He adds: “Another reason is capital controls. Because african citizens are often not allows to invest money overseas (or there are limits), buying Bitcoin gives them USD exposure and prevents their local currency devaluation from hurting their wealth and savings.”