The first virtual version of Blockchain Africa provided an optimistic outlook on cryptocurrency and blockchain space on the continent as the world settles into a new normal dictated by COVID-19.
The conference was attended by a number of well-known industry commentators, attendees, and thought leaders from around the world, targeting an entirely virtual audience. According to organizer Sonya Kuhnel, the event drew around 4,000 visitors online, despite going virtual in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A key highlight of the conference was an insightful keynote speech by Cardano founder Charles Hoskinson on Africa’s burgeoning position as a hotbed for the introduction and development of cryptocurrency and blockchain. Hoskinson explained his belief that the continent would drive innovation in space and highlighted Cardano’s continued investments and work in various African countries.
Well-known podcast host Peter McCormack hosted a thought-provoking fireplace chat about the arrival of institutional investments in the cryptocurrency space. These included Dan Held von Kraken, Ben Zhou, Co-Founder and CEO of Bybit, Peter Tylczynski, Senior Vice President of MineBest, and Teana Baker-Taylor, General Manager of Crypto.com in the UK, all of whom are dealing with the changing cryptocurrency landscape from a global perspective Point of view. Stani Kulechov, founder of the popular decentralized financial platform Aave, gave an overview of the growing role of the DeFi protocol in the larger ecosystem.
Some prominent people from the field of African cryptocurrency and blockchain have dealt with the advances of the industry on the continent in various presentations and panel discussions. Regulation and adoption have been a major topic discussed later in this summary.
“All-you-can-eat buffet of progress”
Hoskinson’s address at Blockchain Africa painted a bright future for the continent, comparing Africa’s position as an emerging economy to China’s in the 1980s. Within three decades, China became a global powerhouse, and Hoskinson reiterated his belief that Africa could follow in his footsteps and even outperform the Asian powerhouse.
The key to this accelerated development is Africa’s position as a marketplace for entirely new systems such as blockchain technology, which will bring efficiency and lower costs, which Hoskinson describes as a great competitive advantage for nations that adopt them first:
“The first countries to hold national elections online that are credible, free, fair and verifiable are likely to be African nations. The first countries to have an end-to-end digital identity and economy have great potential for being African nations – not Germany, not France, not England, not the United States, not China or Japan. This is an all-you-can-eat buffet with advancements and new systems. “
Cardano has actively invested in and built the digital infrastructure in Ethiopia and other African countries to handle large government business. The rationale behind this, according to Hoskinson, is the fact that the citizens of these countries will use this new technology and its tools.
The hope is that Africans will take advantage of Cardano’s Catalyst funding system, which provides over $ 250 million in grants to individuals and businesses to build infrastructure, applications, services and products in the Cardano ecosystem. Cardano will also look to set up multiple headquarters across Africa, and Hoskinson hopes the company’s workforce locally in Africa will grow by the hundreds and even thousands. He also stressed the need to develop the right tools and systems that will make a difference:
“It would be a farce if these systems allowed this wealth to accumulate in only one place. I think it is incredibly important that we remember the first principle: that we are truly the same and that there is no centralized power. “
Africa’s blockchain and crypto teething troubles
While Hoskinson painted a clear picture of Africa’s potential to drive innovation in cryptocurrency and blockchain, the continent still has some teething troubles to tackle as this new technology adopts.
A group of speakers with intimate experience in an African blockchain and cryptocurrency context explored the key challenges that countries and companies are currently facing as they find a path in this area.
These included Marius Reitz, General Manager Africa at Cryptocurrency Exchange Luno; Marvin Coleby, Co-Trustee of the African Digital Asset Foundation; Roselyne Wanjiru, director of the Pesabase digital wallet; Brenton Naicker, Business Development Manager for South Africa and Kenya at Binance; Buchi Okoro, CEO and co-founder of the Nigerian cryptocurrency exchange Quidax; and moderator Farzam Ehsani, co-founder and CEO of the South African crypto exchange Valr.
Luno has become a popular option for cryptocurrency users in South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zambia. Given that Reitz operates in these African countries, it has addressed some of the vulnerabilities for crypto users on the continent, highlighting the simple fact that acquiring cryptocurrency securely remains a significant hurdle: “It’s still very early days. Exchanges often think that most people know about crypto and know how to buy and sell it safely – but it really is not. “
He added, “One of the biggest challenges we face is still that we don’t have enough secure access points for people to use their local currency to buy crypto and vice versa across Africa.” He concluded with the words: “The infrastructure is still a challenge for us Africans.”
Wanjiru reiterated the fact that so many people around the world are completely uninformed about cryptocurrencies and that trust will be another stumbling block for adoption in Africa: “You can’t bypass trust. On the technical side of crypto, we could argue about how mature it is, how ideal it is, how much revenue it has, but on the personal side, we need to build trust. “
Regulation or lack of regulation is another challenge for cryptocurrency exchanges and service providers in Africa. Reitz highlighted the fact that at this nascent stage of cryptocurrency usage in Africa, banks must play the role of regulator:
“We see very little regulatory guidance across Africa. The result is that banks are being turned into de facto regulators. This is a huge risk for crypto companies as customers cannot use their products effectively.”
On the other side of the coin, stubborn regulation can completely suppress adoption, as has been shown in Nigeria over the past few months. The country’s central bank has effectively banned local banks from serving cryptocurrency exchanges in recent weeks. Oido von Quidax, who operates in Nigeria, said the move has deprived citizens of the benefit of the ongoing rally in cryptocurrency markets:
“Nigerians were excluded from economic prosperity. When all of this happened, Bitcoin was sitting around $ 38,000 and people were like,” Hey, I want to get into Bitcoin. “Now Bitcoin is sitting around $ 60,000 and all the wealth that someone might have received to get into BTC. The time was missed. “
Binances Naicker identified a number of prominent use cases for cryptocurrencies in an African context. Compared to First World countries where the demand for crypto is driven by investment purposes, Naicker noted issues such as currency devaluation and tight capital controls that are helping new use cases for cryptocurrencies across the continent:
“We see such an aggressive acceptance in Africa because, in addition to the investment case, cryptocurrencies also solve some of our weaknesses – inefficiencies in payment systems, expensive and long transfers, the ability to make and receive micro payments. We see a lot of these things in the African market. “