Tech tycoon and billionaire Jack Dorsey is moving soon to Africa next year. The CEO of Twitter and Square tweeted his intentions last month, after spending several weeks in Africa meeting with entrepreneurs.
Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!). Not sure where yet, but I’ll be living here for 3-6 months mid-2020. Grateful I was able to experience a small part.
His enthusiasm for Bitcoin and the African continent may seem like a strange combination, but Africa has seen a surge of interest from the technology sector. The Harvard Business Review has called Africa the “Next Big Growth Market,” citing the statistically young demographic and increased appetite for mobile technology.
The African population, like those of many other developing countries, has eschewed the desktop computer and jumped ahead to mobile phones as both communication devices and portals to the online world.
The sub-Saharan area of Africa alone contains over 450 million unique mobile devices, with half of them relying on these devices to gain access to the internet. The ability to tap into online resources allows users to compete, on digital ground, in the same arena as countries which utilized desktop computers in the past.
This enthusiasm for mobile technology has not gone unnoticed. Other tech giants, including Microsoft, Facebook, Airbnb, and Google, have all sojourned to the continent in search of talent.
Google opened its first AI lab and datacenter in Ghana in 2018, and Microsoft is expanding its reach there as well with an eye on women’s empowerment to make sure “Everyone has an opportunity to participate.”
As competition increases, companies are looking to formerly overlooked countries like Kenya and Nigeria to increase market share and make a strong push for technological adoption.
Jack’s interest at the moment appears to be focused on mobile payments: the Square payment processing platform and Bitcoin. While the crypto market continues to slump, plaguing social media timelines with bearish memes and projections.
Jack is taking the opportunity to spread Bitcoin’s reach. Currently still a niche economy, the demand for Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in Africa is growing despite the overall malaise in the markets. Sites like BlockNewsAfrica and Bitcoin Africa are publishing news stories and analysis on a daily basis.
Several conferences are planned for 2020, including the Blockchain and AI Africa Conference 2020, which will include international CEO’s and representatives from governments, regulation, strategy, development, and security.
Bitcoin’s popularity in Africa has surged since 2017. In September Binance Research’s Twitter account made a post visualizing the interest level based on Google Search, with Nigeria and South Africa topping the charts.
Additionally, retail infrastructure is slowly being rolled. There are 14 Bitcoin ATMs in Africa, with most of them located in South Africa. In 2018 there were nearly 3,000 worldwide, with the US hosting 2,000.
Jacks’ company, Square, has long been a supporter of Bitcoin. In August, Square hired its first full-time Bitcoin developer and has collaborated with Elizabeth Stark on Bitcoin’s Lightning Network: a solution for micro-payments. In February of 2019, Jack announced that the Lightning Network would be coming to the Square App .
In an interview with Livera, Jack also added, “We don’t think it stops at buying and selling [bitcoin]. We do want to help make happen the currency aspect.”
Secure payment has always been Bitcoin’s “Killer App” and this move to Africa could be a way to tap into the 11 billion transactions over 37 million accounts that exist on the M-Pesa network. M-Pesa is a branchless banking system that allows users to deposit, withdraw, and make payments using their mobile phones.
M-Pesa is functional across the entire mobile phone ecosystem, both smart and feature alike, and has been in use since 2007. It was introduced as a payment feature through the cellular supplier Vodafone.
Having access to traditional banking services without a bank has been a major influence in the development of local African communities. Payment for medical supplies, bill pay, retail goods, and micro-finance are all possible with M-Pesa.
A 2016 article hosted on MicroCapital.org attributed the payment platform to “increased per capita consumption levels and lifted 194,000 households, or 2% of Kenyan households, out of poverty.”
The impact of M-Pesa is seldom mentioned outside of Africa but is a strong use case for a bankless payment system. This is similar to the promise of Bitcoin and the Lightning Network, currently still a beta release.
Furthermore, M-Pesa is fulfilling one of the promises of Bitcoin – banking the unbanked. Though Jack’s agenda and plan for Africa remains a mystery, an attempt to steal a piece of M-Pesa’s pie may be in the works.
Feature by FomoHunt.