Why African millennials can’t get enough of Bitcoin

Bitcoin’s eye-watering price surge over the past year is proving too tempting to resist despite fears that cryptocurrencies are a bubble floating towards an inevitable burst. One group for whom it holds particular appeal is African millennials, writes the BBC’s Catherine Byaruhanga from Uganda.

Thirty year-old Peace Akware in Kampala is a convert to the cryptocurrency craze.

Like any self-respecting middle class millennial here her smartphone is always within reach and with it her digital wallet.

“I check my Bitcoin every day and any chance I can get.

Any minute, any hour, anytime, as often as I can,” she tells me from the small bungalow she rents on the outskirts of Kampala.

Peace Akware

Peace Akware is hoping to buy a car with the money she makes from Bitcoin

Finding a job here is almost like a lottery for graduates so Ugandans often have so-called side hustles.

Peace has sold clothes and even got into money lending. Both failed.

But buying cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin appeals to her because it requires less of her time and there are no upfront costs.

She’s bought more than a thousand dollars worth of Bitcoin.

So far the gamble is paying off and overall she is seeing her digital value rise.

“You know there’s potential for it growing even further. I would like to buy a car. I would like to buy land. I would like to build with it.”

Disrupting remittances

It’s not just those hoping to get rich quick who are getting in on the action.

In parts of the continent – especially commercial hubs like Lagos, Nairobi and Johannesburg – a small but growing number of people are finding that cryptocurrencies offer a cheaper solution to an expensive problem – transferring funds across borders.

The technology platform Bitpesa uses Bitcoin as a medium to transfer cash across borders.

It is like a remittance company.

With traditional remittance companies like Western Union, when you transfer money initially it goes from your local currency into dollars then on the other side they receive dollars which are then converted into the local currency.

You lose a lot of money in that conversion.

What Bitpesa does is substitute the dollars with Bitcoin.

It is cheaper, especially when there is a shortage of dollars in the country or restrictions on accessing dollars.

It is also quicker because you don’t have to go through long complicated bank approvals.

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New Land Record Keeping through Blockchain Technology Explained

The land is the most valuable asset in most of the African countries since the past up to now. However, the major problem in the African land sector is the documentation. There is hope after experts from blockchain technology explained how it offers a solution to this problem. The poor documentation that fails to show the landowner has led to land problems which have led to death or displacement of individuals. Where records are there, there are possibilities of them being tampered with by self-centered people. The only solution to the problem is using blockchain method to keep the records.

The blockchain is a digital way of keeping records that is independent and requires verification. You cannot delete the information once recorded. The main difference is that the ledger is not stored in a single place rather it’s allocated to a number of computers globally. The fact that everyone can access the most recent version of the ledger makes it verifiable, transparent, auditable record of any data.

One of the companies that are using blockchain technology to record its data is Cybersecurity Company WISeKey that is in charge of data registrations in Rwanda. The company announced collaboration with Microsoft in 2017 aimed at supporting the government in affirming blockchain technology. The year 2018 is coming with much expectation from the Rwandans towards the company.

First, the way of adopting the blockchain in Rwanda is by making Rwanda land Registry more digital. Therefore the company is opening a blockchain Centre of Excellence in Rwanda which can go a notch higher and develop a Rwandan cryptocurrency that resembles bitcoin.

There are a low number of software developers globally. However, there is hope with the increasing number of trained young African software developers. Some companies like Andela in Nigeria trains African developers that can be hired by the US and other European nations. Iyin Aboyeji who is the co-founder of Andela said that the initial target was to educate people on the practical skills and tap back the money they generated to facilitate their education.

Andela managed to raise $40 million funding in October 2017, and this comes after it had obtained $24 million given by Mark Zuckerberg in 2016. iAfrikan says that there are signs of the company opening up its services in Egypt before the end of 2018.

Africa has a low number of people who possess bank account. The mobile banking has successfully moved in to bridge the gap. The mobile banking has taken the lead in the African continent with more than 100 million owning a mobile money account by 2016. The challenge is the fact that many different systems don’t work harmoniously with one another making it hard for a good number of people to access online payments of their goods.

Flutterwave is the recently innovated means that makes it easier for African businesses and banks to make payments across Africa. The platform allows people to make payments using their local currencies and allows people to send money from the US to the mobile wallet with a small service fee charged to the seller that the company shares with the bank.

In the first three months of 2017, Flutterwave managed $444 million transactions across Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria. Since the launch, the company has processed above $1.2 billion in payments across 10 million transactions. Flutterwave is expected to boost the continents economic growth in 2018 by employing more individuals. The company expects to expand its operations in many countries across Africa. Africans will now be able to access online purchasing platforms like Amazon and make payments with ease.

Drones

Commercial drones are getting public attention except in US and Europe where it has been banned due to aviation rules. In Africa, the drones are highly taking control of delivery of the medical small package. A good example is Rwanda where drones are used in the delivery of medical equipment and drugs to the locals. The drones which can deliver small packages like anti-venom, blood, and vaccines are run courtesy of Zipline which is a logistics company.

In October 2017 the first ever African drone port was opened in Rwanda, and it was announced that the next destination was going to be Tanzania. The Tanzanian operations are expected to start in Dodoma at the beginning of 2018. There will be a total of four distribution centers across the country that offers a variety of medical supplies.

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Central African Republic looks to end digital isolation

The African Development Bank (AfDB) and European Union (EU) have jointly organised €33.3m to finance the construction of a national fibre optic backbone for the Central African Republic.

The AfDB has contributed €16.7m and the EU €16.6m towards the project which is expected to run from 2018 until 2021.

Ousmane Doré, AfDB’s Director General for Central Africa said, “This flagship project will put an end to the digital isolation of the Central African Republic. The project will greatly contribute to the integration agenda of the sub-region supported by the African Development Bank, in line with its High 5s strategic priorities.”

On completion, the optical fibre network will support CAR’s fibre optic interconnection in Cameroon and Congo.

Samatar Omar Elmi, who heads up the project at the AfDB, said the project is a perfect illustration of “the significant impact of digital in the transformation of African economies, improving the quality of public services and a creating job opportunities for the continent’s youth.”

The project is considered central to the nation’s efforts to diversify its economy and advance its digitalisation strategy.

The country will also establish a national data centre and several digital community centres along the network to bolster access to ICT. There is also a digital training centre and a business incubator at the University of Bangui.

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Why Gender Is Key to African Off-Grid Solar Energy Sales

Gender equality could have a significant impact on rural electrification moves in sub-Saharan Africa, new data suggests.

Fenix International, which sells off-grid solar kits in Uganda and Zambia, has uncovered a gender difference: Although only 20 percent of its kits are purchased by women, they bring in more new clients than men.

In 2016, Fenix got about 60 percent of its sales through personal referrals, according to Erin Boehmer, a data scientist at Fenix. A third of these sales came via customers who had provided more than one referral, with eight out of 10 referrers being men.

Digging deeper into the data, though, it is clear the women are better ambassadors for rural electrification. On average, women can be expected to refer four new customers, compared to three for men. Fenix customers get a small commission for each referral.

Anecdotal evidence suggests women might have even greater influence in solar kit purchase decisions than the referral figures indicate. For example, once Fenix contracts are signed it is usually women who pay the bills, Boehmer said.

While the men like to be seen as the main decision-makers in many sub-Saharan African off-grid families, it is actually the women who are pulling the strings and spreading the word about the benefits of solar.

A report published a year ago by the African Development Bank Group said: “In rural and peri-urban areas, women and girls are mainly responsible for procuring and using cooking fuels; they are disproportionately affected by the negative effects of limited access to energy.”

The bank said it had “traditionally concentrated on large‑scale, capital‑intensive technology projects designed to provide energy for growth in the formal sectors of the economy, including cash crops and mechanized production, which tend to be the domain of men.”

Not only do women represent the biggest source of demand for rural electrification in sub-Saharan Africa, they also might be slightly better than men at keeping up payments to solar kit providers, based on Fenix’s data.

Although it is hard to generalize, said Boehmer: “As a general trend, what we see is that women can tend to be a bit more reliable, but they can also be more dramatically unreliable. If they have a shock, it might hit them harder.”

Underpinning Fenix’s experience is an implication that gender-sensitive companies might do better in the rural electrification market than those that are more male-oriented.

Boehmer noted that many cleantech and IT firms operating in Africa appear to have greater gender equality than their counterparts in the U.S.

It is unclear why this is the case, although “the green industry draws people who are idealists,” said Boehmer, including women who are motivated by making a social contribution as much as building a business.

At Fenix, for example, the entire data science team is made up of women. The company, which was bought by the French utility giant Engie in October, has a woman CEO and “has been very powered by women thus far,” Boehmer said.

Other rural electrification players might want to take note, although the need for a woman’s touch is not the only thing that sets this market apart from other energy sectors worldwide.

Take customer relations. Most customers in developed countries dread a call to a service provider. Fenix reports that 60 percent of its customers have contacted the company, often just to praise the service.

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Digital Revolution Holds Bright Promises for Africa

Internet penetration is creeping up in Africa, bringing the prospect of digital dividends to a continent long marked by digital divides.

“Africa has reached a penetration which has broken the barrier of 15 %, and that’s important,” says Nii Quaynor, a scientist who has played a key role in the introduction and development of the internet throughout Africa. He is known as the “father of the Internet” on the continent.

However, Africans have not developed the ability to produce enough software, applications and tools to give economies the dividends they sorely need.

The shift to low-cost submarine connections from satellite connections is less than a decade old. The new undersea fibres have led to a remarkable increase in data transmission capacity that drastically reduces transmission time and cost.

Today 16 submarine cables connect Africa to America, Europe and Asia, and international connectivity no longer presents a significant problem, reports Steve Song, founder of Village Telco, an initiative to build low-cost telephone network hardware and software. This has allowed countries to share information, both within the continent and worldwide, more directly. It has created more space for innovation, research and education.

“Networks have ended the isolation of African scientists and researchers. You now have access to information from the more developed countries, and this is changing the way people think,” says Meoli Kashorda, director of the Kenya Education Network.

Internet penetration on the continent has not kept pace with mobile phone diffusion. In 2016 only 22% of the continent’s population used the Internet, compared to a global average of 44%, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN agency that deals with issues concerning information and communication technologies. And only 11% of Africans could access 3G internet, which allows mobile operators to offer a high data-processing speed.

Access to technology

The ITU notes that the people most likely to have access to digital technology in Africa are males living in urban areas or coastal cities where undersea fibres are available.

McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, estimates that if Internet access reaches the same level of penetration as mobile phones, Africa’s GDP could get a boost of up to $300 billion. Other experts concur that better access to technology could be a game changer for development and the closing of the income inequality gap in Africa.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the richest 60% are almost three times more likely to have internet access than the bottom 40%, and those in urban areas are more than twice as likely to have access as those in rural areas, according to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2016.

The World Bank’s development report of 2016 notes that digital dividends, which it describes as “broader development benefits from using these technologies” have not been evenly distributed. “For digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere requires closing the remaining digital divide, especially in internet access,” maintains the Bank.

Businesses that incorporate digital technologies into their practices will create jobs and boost earnings, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB). The bank reported in 2016 that two million jobs will be created in the ICT sector in Africa by 2021. Analyst programmers, computer network professionals, and database and system administrators will find jobs in the sector.

Although the World Bank paints a less rosy picture for digital dividends in Africa, the potential for millions of jobs in the sector is encouraging news for the continent’s youths, who make up 60% of Africa’s unemployed and are jobless at a rate double that of adults. Youths can easily take advantage of the jobs that digital revolution brings, says Bitange Ndemo, a former permanent secretary in Kenya’s ministry of information and Communication.

Technology can also help bridge inequalities caused by the education gap. According to the UN UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, over one-fifth of children between the ages of six and about 11 are out of school, along with one-third of youth between the ages of about 12 and about 14. Almost 60% of youth between the ages of about 15 and about 17 are not in school.

On the bright side, as mobile Internet access expands, so will the Internet’s potential to narrow the continent’s education gap. E-learning continues to grow due to its affordability and accessibility. In fact, IMARC Group, a market research company with offices in India, the UK and the US, reported earlier in 2017 that the e-learning market in Africa will be worth $1.4 billion by 2022. It will improve the education level of Africa’s workforce that will contribute positively to the continent’s economies.

Eneza Education, for example, a Kenya-based learning platform, surpassed one million users in 2016. The platform allows users to access learning materials using various devices. They can access courses and quizzes via text messages for only 10 Kenyan shillings ($.10) per week. Eneza caters to students and teachers in rural areas where opportunities are limited.

Also, Samsung’s Smart Schools initiative equips schools around the world with tablets, PCs and other devices, and builds solar-powered schools in rural areas. Currently 78 Smart Schools are operating in 10 African nations, including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. The company’s strategy is to encourage underprivileged students to use digital devices.

With women 50% less likely to use the internet than men, some organisations are now making efforts to attract women to the digital world. Digital technologies can provide opportunities for women in the informal job market by connecting them to employment opportunities.

Analogue complements

High digital penetration is good, but good governance, a healthy business climate, education and health, also known as “analogue complements,” will ensure a solid foundation for adopting digital technologies and more effectively addressing inequalities, advises the World Bank. Even with increased digital adoption, the Bank says, countries neglecting analogue complements will not experience a boost in productivity or a reduction in inequality.

“Not making the necessary reforms means falling farther behind those that do, while investing in both technology and its complements is the key to digital transformation,” notes Bouthenia Guermazi, ICT practice manager at the World Bank.

Yet digital migration is receiving pushback from obsolete analogue operators who are concerned about the risks of digitizing. Automation poses a threat to those whose jobs can be done by cheaper and more efficient machines, a phenomenon that primarily affects already disadvantaged groups. For example, many banks and insurance companies have automated customer services.

The United Nations has set the goal of connecting all the world’s inhabitants with affordable, high-speed internet by 2020. Likewise, the African Union launched a 10-year mission in 2014 to encourage countries to transition to innovation-led, knowledge-based economies. This mission is part of its ambitious Agenda 2063, aimed at transforming the continent’s socioeconomic and political fortunes.

Rwanda is leading the charge via its Vision 2020 programme, which aims at developing the country into a knowledge-based middle-income country by 2020. Earlier this year, Rwanda rolled out its Digital Ambassadors Programme, which will hire and train about 5,000 youths to teach digital skills to five million people in the rural areas.

Unfortunately, digitization ranks low on the priority lists of many developing countries. And according to a recent report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), productivity gains from digitalization may accrue mainly to those already wealthy and skilled, which is typical in internet platform-based economies, where network effects (additional value for service as more people use it) benefit first movers and standard setters.

In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, an intergovernmental economic organization of 35 countries, where the digital economy has evolved the most, growing use of ICT has been accompanied by an increasing income gap between rich and poor.

The UNCTAD report also states that developing the right ICT policies depends on countries’ readiness to engage in and benefit from the digital economy, but the least-developed countries are the least prepared. To ensure that more people and enterprises in developing countries have the capacity to participate effectively, the international community will need to expand its support.

Ms. Guermazi urges leaders to develop a comprehensive approach to transforming their countries rather than rely on ad hoc initiatives.

“Digital dividends are within reach,” Ms. Guermazi insists. “The outlook for the future is bright.”

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