Despite there being so much potential for Bitcoin in Africa, it would appear that the uptake has been surprisingly slow. To put it simply, Bitcoin is a monetary system for the unbanked. It is trust less and far less corruptible, and can create a new monetary system where there is no long legacy of banking and financials, but still, even though this is the case, right across the continent in different countries, it has not taken off at the same speed it has in other countries. South Africa and Nigeria are some of the biggest players in Bitcoin, but it is the smaller nations like Tanzania, who are seeing big growth, but with small numbers.
What could be causing this struggle?
One of the biggest issues that Bitcoin is facing is that people simply do not have enough knowledge surrounding digital currencies. Educating people about the industry would go a long way to bridge this gap, but at the moment, it is still a compete minefield for those who are actively using it, so trying to teach a whole continent about it is no mean feat. As a whole, Africa is a cash-based infrastructure, with a simplistic model, where even conventional banking is still a very novel concept to a large proportion of the population. Bitcoins, and digital currency just therefore isn’t a clear alternative, which naturally means that their adoption into the industry is very slow.
Chad Robertson, who is the co-founder and chief executive officer of South African startup Regenize, echoes this belief that education and awareness will help matters; “Specifically, in South Africa, we have such a huge gap that keeps on growing regarding wealth, but also knowledge, on the ever-changing tech landscape. If I’m sitting in a coffee shop in the CBD, it’s quite likely someone will know what Bitcoin is. However, head down to the Cape Flats or townships (slums), and it’s highly unlikely that there’ll be many people who are aware of it.” Interestingly though, he does go on to say that the root cause of this struggle cannot be blamed on education alone, and rather the unwillingness to accept because it is just not relevant to them or their needs; “…This lack of education and awareness could be drilled down further on to find the root cause. There are too many people living in poverty in South Africa and Africa. They simply cannot think about using Bitcoin, as it’s not relevant to their needs. The local Spaza shop does not accept Bitcoin, so how will someone get their bread or milk? Schools don’t accept it for school fees. You cannot buy electricity with Bitcoin to keep your lights on. So why would they care or want to be educated on it?” It has to be argued that he makes a valid point. How can you expect something to grow in an area where there is simply no need for that product?
Is this the only issue?
Africa is hugely diverse with a massive gap between rich residents and poor. Those who are less financially secure have not heard of it, or have no need for it, and those who are, have other issues…namely how secure it is. In order for Bitcoin to fully take off and become more widely accepted, these security concerns must be addressed before the residents will adopt to the idea. Robertson again, backs up this argument saying; “There are many people who’ve been scammed on the internet, especially those who are digitally uneducated. Therefore, there’s a fear and a stigma around using the internet as a place to transact”. From this, it is easier to see why Bitcoin as a concept is struggling to take off in this continent. Until more research and education is carried out as a whole, and it becomes more widely accepted throughout the world, it might be a tough one to crack!