Keeping it Local: 10 African Blockchain Companies Built By Africans, for Africans
One of the challenges of modern tech is equitable distribution of its benefits. The world’s biggest tech companies are often heavily white, heavily male, and primarily focused in a handful of cities globally. We have been promised for decades that tech will solve all of our problems — it will pull millions out of poverty, it will solve the energy crisis, it will bring disparate populations together, the list of promises is endless. A core tenet of the tech-will-save-us-all philosophy is that very smart people with fancy degrees, who are holed up in office towers in Silicon Valley or Shanghai, will be able to save the rest of us through technological solutions. This philosophy isn’t exactly incorrect, it is just misguided. In order for technology to deliver on its promises, it must spread take into account every corner of the globe, and the people who live there. Truly sustainable development must incorporate local populations, and share the economic gains of these technologies. Without a dedicated focus to diversifying the people who make these technologies, we will continue to have economic inequality that only serves to fill the coffers of already-wealthy nations.
The solution rests in distributing technological resources globally, but also in supporting local populations who are already developing solutions for the challenges facing modern society. This reality is taking place in Africa today, and it is changing the economic destiny of the continent. The historical legacy of colonialism in Africa still lingers, resulting in challenges ranging from food insecurity, to poverty, to armed conflicts, to corruption. In spite of this, African blockchain companies are proliferating across Africa, in what is shaping up to be a potentially transformative economic revolution, one which is being powered by local Africans. These are nine, home-grown African blockchain startups that are changing the narrative behind African tech.
Wala is a blockchain startup based in Capetown, South Africa, which focuses on the remittance industry that many local economies rely on in Africa. The company was founded two years ago in 2017, and their goal is to offer financial services to the millions of “unbanked” Africans who are unable to access traditional financial institutions. Wala aims to help ordinary Africans open bank accounts, access credit markets, improve remittance transactions, and participate in the digital economy.
The Wala platform operates around their Dala token (DALA), an ERC20-wrapped token, which enables seamless (and borderless) payments with no transaction fees. Wala is currently available in Uganda, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, with plans to expand to neighboring African countries through 2019 and into 2020.
This African start up is causing waves not only in Africa, but across the entire global renewable energy industry. Sun Exchange is a South African-based marketplace that allows anyone in the world to invest in solar energy projects in South Africa using Bitcoin (BTC). Sun Exchange primarily focuses on South African solar projects, but is expanding to other African countries like Kenya. This startup is unique in that it facilitates anyone with Bitcoin to purchase solar energy systems, and lease them to schools, communities, businesses, and government facilities. This investment scheme will allow investors to earn rental income, while providing clean energy to local communities in areas which have a critical need for energy infrastructure.
Tari is an innovative blockchain startup in South Africa which runs an open source, digital assets blockchain protocol which will operate as a sidechain with Monero. Launched in 2018 by Monero Founder Riccardo Spagni, Tari Labs’s protocol will allow its users to operate different dAPPs in order to transfer their digital assets across the Tari blockchain. The goal is to integrate payment solutions across Africa, under Monero. They are also in the game of supporting local African blockchain startups through a free blockchain university, in order to spread blockchain knowledge across Africa.
This Kenyan blockchain startup is focused on cross-border and B2B payments and cryptocurrency exchange transactions. Cross-border payments are a keystone in the pan-African economy, as many Africans live and work in one country, and send back payments to family in a neighboring country. Founded in 2013, BitPesa aims to reduce the cost of money transfers between different African currencies, and reduce the reliance on legacy financial systems originating in European countries.
BitPesa recently expanded its services to Tanzania, Senegal, Uganda, DRC, and Nigeria, and is expected to move into Africa’s largest economy, South Africa. BitPesa wants to empower local Africans to seize control over their financial lives by giving them access to a more cost effective way to pay each other, and for money transfers.
Bitland is a Ghanaian blockchain company that is helping Africans cement legal ownership of their lands by providing land registry services through blockchain technology. Among the many negative legacies of European colonialism, land theft has had one of the most profound impacts on the continent, as it has had a compounding effect on national economies, peace between neighboring countries, and has left psychological scars as well.
Bitland has created a streamlined land registration process that records an immutable record on the Bitshares blockchain, allowing people to register their properties and deeds permanently, for the whole world to see. It currently focuses on Ghana, but it plans to expand its services globally within the next five years.
Tracr is interesting because its a blockchain application from the billion dollar diamond company De Beers. The South African diamond company has already begun using blockchain technology to track diamonds that are mined in Africa, to ensure that they are authentic and do not originate in war zones. In utilizing blockchain, De Beers is providing a permanent record for all diamonds from the minute they are mined to when they are sold to jewelry manufacturers. Providing this kind of traceability will improve the lives of those working in the diamond mining industry, as it ensures a positive feedback loop for suppliers.
SureRemit is a Nigerian blockchain company that aims to turn the remittances industry on its head. They are majority owned by the Nigerian fintech holding company, GreenHouse Capital, and the company is based in the capital Abuja. SureRemit works by utilizing blockchain technology to allow Africans anywhere in the world to make non-cash remittances to their friends and families back in Africa. Users purchase vouchers by using the RMT utility token, and can even pay utility bills with it. SureRemit has partnered with over a hundred affiliate merchants where the vouchers can be redeemed for real world goods and services.
Instead of sending back fiat currency, which can be taxed, SureRemit offers a different methodology to transfer value back to families. With increasing fees on standard remittances, more and more of the earnings people wish to send back to their loved ones is being eaten up by unnecessary fees imposed by financial institutions.
This Kenyan blockchain startup has a brilliant business model. Chamapesa is designed to help the traditional chamas to improve and enhance their bookkeeping systems. Chamas are unofficial investment pools that are indigenous to East Africa. Since they are not strictly regulated by the government as they would be in more economically advanced markets, there is room for human errors and corruption. This is where Chamapesa steps in. This app permits users to create their own chamas, and offers different contracts and other financial instruments for the groups. Estimates put the value of the hundreds of thousands of chamas in East Africa at $3.4 billion. Chamapesa is sitting on top of a goldmine, and will allow East Africans to engage in a more digitized bookkeeping system, which can increase prosperity for those who choose to engage.
Another prominent exchange in Africa is the Nigerian-based NairaEx cryptocurrency exchange. Launched in 2015 by a venture capital group operating in Nigeria, NairEx allows users to buy and sell the major cryptocurrencies on its exchange. With over 100,000 users which have performed over 1 million transactions, NairaEx is one of the most popular exchanges in all of Africa.
NairEx allows for same day funding and withdrawal, and according to users, has an easier KYC for Africans who may not have identification that is required by many Western crypto exchanges. Another feature that is hyped by many of its users is the incorporation of the trading fees into the transaction price, so there is no remaining fees that need to be sorted out once the transaction has occurred. Keep the money local, rather than sending it overseas.
The agriculture sector in Africa is perhaps the top sector of the economy that can be transformed by blockchain, in ways that bring hundreds of billions in revenue, and providing societal stabilization at the same time. Agrikore is a new blockchain startup headquartered in Nigeria, which has a plethora of actual use cases for blockchain technology.
First, Agrikore provides a marketplace where sellers & byers are able to meet digitally, without having to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to meet. Agrikore is designed to transparently inject funds into the ecosystem, thereby providing liquidity to a sector that is often struggling. The marketplace design also allows for on-chain payment which is secure and instant, instead of relying on week-long payment transfers. For the end food supplier, Agrikore helps identity of all the players in the value chain, so that they can properly label their products, and ensure all of it is accounted for. This centralized database allows for real-time management of the entire value chain of agriculture, enabling efficient participation in the agricultural markets for every shareholder involved. This has the ability to boost sustainable development in Africa, providing food security to a billion people.
The Roots of a Blockchain Revolution In Africa
Africa is prime for an economic revolution that can be driven by blockchain growth. With a growing population now cresting past 1.2 billion, one quarter of them are aged 15–24. Additionally, one third of mobile phone users currently have a smartphone, with 65% of mobile users expected to own a smartphone in the next 3 years. The increasing young population that is increasingly using their mobile phones to connect to their neighbors and to the global economy, is already transforming economies across the continent.
Perhaps most importantly, these blockchain solutions are arising in a vacuum of legacy interests, which will allow for these solutions to be decentralized.Blockchain companies in China and the West are predicated on technologies and systems built over the last two centuries, and come with the baggage of government surveillance and institutional inefficiencies. African blockchain tech is starting from scratch, presenting a unique opportunity for the pan-African economy. They can establish entirely local, entirely decentralized networks, which will increase freedom and social equality across Africa. These companies are starting completely from ground zero, and elevating the idea for what is possible in innovation in Africa.
The blockchain companies that are sprouting up across Africa are being founded and driven by these young iAfricans, who are seeking solutions to centuries old problems in their communities through blockchain technology. They seek to solve problems that may not be specifically African, but problems that affect Africans in a uniquely structural way. These blockchain companies are addressing everything ranging from the inefficiencies in the agriculture sector and the energy sectors, governmental corruption, land rights, and even the financial payments services industry.