Many consider Africa the sleeping giant of crypto, and several speakers at last week’s Blockchain Africa Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, picked bitcoin and stablecoins as the top two levers of crypto mass adoption on the continent.
The Central African Republic (CAR) adopted bitcoin as legal tender last year. Marius Reitz, general manager for Africa at crypto exchange Luno, said bitcoin adoption will likely accelerate over the next decade.
“I think in the future, in 10 years or so, you could start seeing a situation where neighboring countries also start to declare bitcoin as legal tender,” Reitz said. “Bitcoin could become a regional currency or it could even become a common currency across the African Union.”
Luno is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, CoinDesk’s parent company.
Jonathan Ovadia, CEO and co-founder of South African crypto exchange Ovex, is slightly more bullish on stablecoins than bitcoin – despite three U.S. banks imploding just over a week ago, causing major stablecoins like Circle’s USDC to temporarily depeg as billions of dollars hung in limbo before federal regulators swooped in to “protect depositors.”
“Things like bitcoin are great, they’re permissionless, they’re free to transfer, but you can’t really store your entire net worth in them if you’re a minimum wage earner in Africa,” Ovadia said. “I think in general, stablecoins are probably one of the biggest innovations in the entire crypto ecosystem.”
Emphasis on the utility of stablecoins was a common theme at the conference. Hundreds of attendees from Africa and beyond showed up to hear more than 45 speakers discuss topics like “The Future of Stablecoins” and “The Adoption of Cryptocurrencies Across Africa” – panels on which Reitz and Ovadia participated.
Maya Caddell, chief of staff at Web3 startup Nestcoin, said according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Africa’s population will double from its current 1.3 billion to 2.6 billion by 2050. Conversely, Western populations are on a steady decline.
“In two years time, one in six global Internet users will be African,” Caddell explained. “One in three youths globally – those between the ages of 15 and 35 – will be African by 2050.”
By the time 2050 (or some other future date) rolls around, several experts foresee a proliferation of stablecoins pegged to multiple fiat currencies or even hybrids of stablecoins and central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). These assets and the protocols governing them will likely run in the background with most users oblivious to their presence.
Crypto mass adoption wouldn’t be the first time Africa experienced a digital payments revolution. In 2007, a couple of Kenyan mobile network providers created M-Pesa, a service that provides payments, credit and savings with no bank account or Internet connection – just a basic old school feature phone.
Services like M-Pesa are called “mobile money,” and about a third of adults in sub-Saharan Africa now have a mobile money account.
But mobile money doesn’t have the global interoperability inherent to assets like stablecoins and bitcoin.
“You’ve got a lot of nuances in the African financial stack,” Caddell explained. “Not just between the West and Africa, but also between African markets. In Nigeria, people use bank transfers a lot. In Kenya, M-Pesa is king and dominates. In Ghana, it’s MTN’s Momo, which is MTN’s mobile money.”
Such fragmentation makes solutions like stablecoins and bitcoin extremely attractive, at least in theory.
Frederick Munawa is a Technology Reporter for Coindesk. He covers blockchain protocols with a specific focus on bitcoin and bitcoin-adjacent networks.