2019 year in review: Blockchain and crypto take root in Africa

When Jack Dorsey came to Africa a few weeks back, he concluded that the continent would determine the future, especially that of Bitcoin. Jack visited a few African countries towards the end of 2019, a year that saw cryptocurrency and blockchain gain even more popularity in the region. From South Africa leading in crypto ownership, to Ghana working on a CBDC to blockchain education in Kenya and Rwanda, it’s been a great year for the African crypto industry.

South Africa was one of the early adopters of crypto in the continent. The country has always been ahead in technology in Africa, and with crypto, it was not different. In February, a study by Hootsuite revealed that South Africa was first globally for the ratio of internet users who own crypto. At 10.7%, the country ranked just above Thailand and Indonesia respectively.

Centbee, a crypto payments service based in South Africa, continues to develop its innovative payment solutions in Africa. Centbee has been busy developing products for payment and remittance on the blockchain—Bitcoin SV (BSV) in particular—designed to make it easier for users in Africa and elsewhere to send and receive money, both domestically and overseas.

CEO and co-founder Lorien Gamaroff told CoinGeek that South Africa has a keen sense of adoption, and a large part of the appeal comes from the low cost nature of payments delivered by BSV as well as cryptocurrency’s accessibility not just to mainstream users, but also to the unbanked.

As South Africa led in crypto ownership, Nigeria’s quest for knowledge on Bitcoin saw it emerge tops in Google searches globally. The West African country generated the most Google searches for Bitcoin in 2019, with South Africa coming in at second place. Nigeria’s neighbor Ghana came in at fifth place, a clear indication that Africa was hungry for Bitcoin.

Ghana’s interest in crypto went beyond Bitcoin, with the country working on a central bank digital currency. The Bank of Ghana is already in talks with stakeholders on the project and could issue the CBDC in the near future. Ghana’s mobile money industry exploded in 2019, and a digital currency could help elevate this growth further.

Over in East Africa, Kenya led the blockchain and crypto push. The country’s blockchain initiatives were recognized earlier on in the year, with Paxful’s CEO Ray Youssef predicting that Kenya would lead in blockchain adoption in East Africa. IBM’s initiatives in Kenya in February proved that IoT sensors and blockchain technology can accurately measure groundwater. The project provided crucial foundation to solve water problems across the globe.

Kenya’s neighbor Uganda took a cautious approach to crypto, with the country’s central bank warning the public against ‘risky’ cryptos. Still, the country’s crypto industry has grown tremendously, with Binance opening operations in the country. Blockchain use in public and private entities has also risen.

Africa’s thirst for blockchain skills has seen the rise of institutions that offer related courses. This year, it was announced that the Africa Blockchain Institute would open Rwanda’s first blockchain institution. It will offer such courses as blockchain development and blockchain for lawyers. In Kenya, Strathmore University saw its first cohort of blockchain students graduate earlier this year.

Still in Kenya, Betty’s Place, a restaurant 150km from Nairobi, grabbed headlines for being one of the first places in East Africa which accepted crypto payments. The operator also educates the locals on crypto and blockchain, even partnering with a local university on the education efforts.

More crypto startups were founded this year, with some of the established firms also launching or joining blockchain initiatives. They include Africa’s largest bank Standard Bank which joined the Marco Polo blockchain consortium. Led by R3, the consortium works towards blockchain adoption in trade finance and has some of the largest banks as members, including ING, BNP Paribas and Danske Bank.

One of the standout companies has been Paxful, a P2P crypto exchange and wallet. The company has grown greatly, and now rivals LocalBitcoins as the largest peer-to-peer platforms in the crypto industry. Paxful this year partnered with global crypto exchange BitMart to offer more opportunities to African traders. The company has also built more schools this year in the continent.

Ray Youssef, the CEO and founder of Paxful, sat down with CoinGeek this year. He broke down how his company is betting on the youth in Africa, educating them on blockchain, cryptos and the need for decentralized platforms. Paxful conducted a number of events to educate university students in Africa this year.

The year hasn’t been without its fair share of challenges as well. Paxful, for instance, was accused of robbing Nigerian traders by locking them out of their accounts. Youssef denied the charges, telling CoinGeek that his company had only suspended a few traders who it believes conducted fraud on the platform.

In South Africa, criminals hacked into several smartphones and installed cryptojacking malware. Still in South Africa, hackers took over the city of Johannesburg’s systems, demanding ransom in Bitcoin. These attacks have become quite common in the U.S. and elsewhere, but this was the first time the hackers had attacked an African city.

While there were ups and downs, the African crypto industry has undoubtedly taken huge leaps in 2019. With more governments expected to formulate enabling regulations; more global giants expected to launch blockchain projects in the continent; more startups expected to sprout; crypto trading expected to hit new heights and more; 2020 will be a landmark year for the African crypto and blockchain industry.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated.

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