Unlocking the global digital economy in Africa
Africa is a region that is unique in many ways. Before the arrival and exploitation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries of western imperialism, the continent was one of the most prosperous and economically thriving regions of the world, mainly because of its immense natural resources.
Today, it is the world’s largest but poorest region. However, it represents a significant opportunity for FinTechs and cryptocurrencies, particularly those focused on eradicating financial exclusion.
Why it represents an opportunity
On November 1st, Worldometers reported that just over 1.3 billion people were living in Africa. That represents 16.7% of the world’s 7.7 billion inhabitants. The median age in the continent is 19.4 years.
The United Nations says that provided with the knowledge and the opportunities, youth represent a positive force for economic development. The younger generations are also the most tech-savvy and open to change. They represent the largest age group in today’s workforce, according to a study. However, the World Bank says youths account for 60% of all of Africa’s unemployed.
The 54 countries in the African continent are home to newer generations and the middle of Africa is the youngest region in the world. Their global share of people younger than 15 years of age is 46%, according to PRB.
Most experts agree that millennials, including post-millennials, are particularly open to embracing new technology and cryptocurrency, agree Forbes and Cointelegraph. The same goes for those who are unbanked. Venezuela is a prime example.
Traditional banks vs Fintech and Crypto
Access to traditional financial services remains almost a mirage for the majority of the African population, as 66% is unbanked. However, the penetration of mobile devices in the regions has provided millions of access to digital banking. In fact, according to Forbes, mobile digital accounts are now higher in number than bank accounts. “The number of new FinTech users has increased by 250% to 7.2 million from the 2012 baseline,” the news outlet stated.
Sub-Saharan Africa (the African nations south of the Sahara desert) is the only region in the world where nearly 10% of gross domestic product (GDP) in transactions are processed through mobile currency, according to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) study. It added that most Africans currently depend on mobile payments to send and receive funds domestically and, increasingly, internationally. Mobile apps are also increasingly being used to pay bills, receive wages, and purchase goods and services.
Technological innovation is enabling an increasing number of Africans to move up the financial services value chain, the IMF added. They are accessing mobile financial services to open savings accounts for loans, insurance, and investments. With over 20 million users, M-Pesa is arguably the best example of this in Africa.
Electroneum is another start-up poised to help reduce financial exclusion in the region. Thousands of merchants in South Africa, Uganda, and other African countries are already accepting ETN, the name of Electroneum ‘s cryptocurrency. It is a mobile-based cryptocurrency that does not require users to have a bank account.
Users benefit from the up to US$3 worth of ETN every month, for simply engaging with the app. This can be used for mobile top-ups and, in some areas, for purchases of everyday items like bread, milk, maize and services, such as taxi rides, car washes, and haircuts. Electroneum’s ecosystem will grow further through the ETN Everywhere, their on-the-ground program to incentivise and educate thousands of merchants to accept ETN.
In a United Nations blog, business and tech journalist Rakesh Sharma said, “Africa is rarely mentioned among the largest markets for cryptocurrency, but it may be set to steal a march over other markets.” This is already true in South Africa, which tops the list of Hootsuite’s 2019 survey of internet users reporting they own crypto.
Freelancer and eLearning platforms
Electroneum’s mobile app is one of the fastest ways to globally send and receive payments, and it is free. Electroneum aims to spur local prosperity in developing countries by providing access to global digital economy through its AnyTask freelancer platform. It gives people the opportunity to sell skills online and earn ETN at no cost. Buyers of these digital tasks pay with credit and debit cards, and sellers seamlessly receive ETN. Electroneum’s upcoming free TaskSchool platform offers people online courses to learn skills they can perform and sell with a smartphone or laptop.
The new technologies that Electroneum, M-Pesa, and others have developed could help millions break the cycle of poverty in Africa, a region where the overall number of people living in extreme poverty is increasing, according to a report.
World Bank Senior Research Advisor Francisco Ferreira late last year said that 413 million in Sub-Saharan Africa live in extreme poverty. That represents half of the world’s total. He added that if the current economic trend in the region continues, by 2030, 25% of the population will continue to live in poverty. That means that nine out of ten poor people in the world will be living in Africa, he said.
The IMF agrees that greater digital inclusion and innovation has the potential to spur economic growth, which comes with new jobs.
In the same article, the GSMA said that by next year, there would be 725 million mobile phone subscribers, and that 70% of them would have adopted smartphones by 2025, which contributes to making the region ripe for unlocking its access to the global digital economy.