How bitcoin is moving money in Africa

africa25 Apr 2014 / USA Today – It’s OK to admit that you still don’t know what bitcoin is — but you may now officially be behind the curve. Because all of Africa could soon be getting onboard.

The virtual currency — straight up: computer money — created by an anonymous hacker in 2009 has captured hard-core geeks’ hearts. Its appeal? It enables bank-free (aka middleman-free) anonymous purchasing and, crucially, it’s a global currency that’s not tied to any central bank and not much different than a dollar or a euro. The key characteristics of this digital cash also happen to make it a great fit for people who aren’t so down with advanced digital technology: the 326 million Africans who lack access to basic banking services.

This isn’t such a crazy idea. Mobile payments that work on standard-feature phones have already made strong inroads in Africa, with 16 percent of Africans using the services. The largest provider of such payments, M-Pesa, already operates in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, as well as India and Afghanistan.

But if you were a member of the large and expanding African diaspora, and you wanted to send money home to grandma or the hubby left behind, you couldn’t count on mobile payments. M-Pesa, for instance, lets foreign-dwelling folk send money through a partnership with Western Union — but the latter tends to charge onerous fees. Which makes bitcoin super-appealing, if you can get past the expensive exchange rate — as of publication, one bitcoin was worth nearly US$500….. Read more

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