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My Crypto Journey: Kayode Babarinde – Director, Africa Blockchain Institute (ABI)

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Tracing the African evolution from traditional banking systems, to seemingly, the current proliferation of fintech and agritech startups, there is no gainsaying the fact that blockchain, and by extension, cryptocurrencies, will constitute a major player in the continent’s evolution story. 

With the increasing fluctuations in the African economic systems, coupled with the need to key into relatively stable forms of investment as an alternative to unemployment, several Africans have turned to crypto assets. 

However, in spite of this large user base which crypto has garnered over the years, there is a plethora of stories involving African crypto traders who have ventured into the crypto market and have either lost their capital, or generally failed in their quest to gain profits. This is the backdrop for the launch of the My Crypto Journey series. 

The series is a compilation of interviews conducted with experienced and successful cryptocurrency and blockchain professionals, who would be willing to share useful experiences, tips, as well as mistakes they made during the course of their respective journeys. The first edition of this Series an interview with one of early active crypto and blockchain professionals, Kayode Babarinde, currently the director at Africa Blockchain Institute headquartered in Kigali, Rwanda.

Meet Kayode Babarinde

Executive Director, the Africa Blockchain Institute. 

Kayode Babarinde
Executive Director, the Africa Blockchain Institute.

In 2015, I met Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof, the founder of Bitnation, at a camp I attended. This was majorly my first step towards discovering blockchain. Subsequently, the camp organizer had me host MeetUps and Workshops on blockchain. It sparked my interest in the concept, and I became very curious. But of course, at the time, I was more interested in educating interested people on the complexities of blockchain and cryptocurrency. 

During the first few years of my blockchain journey, the proliferation of mistrust was quite overwhelming. Many Africans were heavily suspicious of cryptocurrency trading, and viewed it as another scam which was set to take over the market for a while, scoop profits, and suddenly vanish into thin air. 

The regulatory gaps didn’t let up either. There were (and still are) limited or no legal pronouncements on operating crypto businesses on the African continent. The best we often have access to are recommendations from the policy makers, warning citizens on Ponzi Schemes. Asides that, there is virtually nothing. As a result, many law abiding crypto businesses now have to operate under FinTech Laws instead. However good this is, it still limits the full potentials of crypto business operations.

But looking back, if I had to retrace my steps, one of the major things I would have paid attention to, especially as a cryptocurrency enthusiast, is the fact that losing is basically built into the system. It is inevitable. Investment is the Interplay of risks, and cryptocurrency trading is not an exception. As a trader, your major focus should be on optimising your percentages, and not gunning for perfection or a perfect record of correct trade predictions. Also, whilst being in the process of optimising your productivity, it is pertinent to learn how to pause and verify information before moving to trade based on such pieces of information. This is because should the information turn out to be wrong, it could be quite detrimental to profitability. So, one thing you need to have as a cryptocurrency investor, is a list of reliable sites you can always consult to verify any piece of cryptocurrency-related information. 

Similarly, an important element in the journey of every cryptocurrency trader should be the ability to only invest what one can afford to lose, and be considerably comfortable with the fact that one might lose it all. These elements do not necessarily connote the adoption of failure as a mindset, they only reiterate the nature of cryptocurrency as an investment where massive profits are attainable, and deep losses can equally be incurred. 

My cryptocurrency journey has been quite interesting, to say the least. Of course, there are challenges, but as a saying goes, “If you want to quit, remember why you started”. The journey is definitely for a long ride, and I have packed my bags.

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From Libra to Diem: What happened to Facebook’s Digital Currency plans

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Facebook digital currency
Source: Getty Images (modified)

In 2019, Facebook Inc. announced the Libra, a digital currency project being developed by the company. Libra was unveiled to be a blockchain based stablecoin backed by bank deposits and short-term government securities and was to be integrated into Facebook’s services like Messenger and WhatsApp. The Libra blockchain was said to be able to handle 1000 transactions per second, in stark contrast to Bitcoin’s 7 transactions per second. Needless to say, the news that the largest social media company was working on a cryptocurrency rocked the market for a while. But for some reason, we haven’t seen anything really significant happen since then. Why?

First off was the regulatory hurdle. It would appear that Facebook realized that it didn’t have top marks in the trust department, especially in public opinion. To this end, the Libra project was grilled by U.S lawmakers in July 2019 and the central theme was the issue of trust and data privacy. Other regulators also commented on the issue, with European Central Bank board member Benoit Coeure reportedly saying that digital currencies such as the Libra could challenge the supremacy of the U.S. dollar. Similarly, France’s and Germany’s finance ministers at the time had expressed concerns over the Libra, citing risks around financial security, investor protection and anti-money laundering laws.

Libra also faced the hurdle of its project partners dropping out of the initiative. Founding members eBay, Visa, Mastercard as well as PayPal withdrew from the project which may have had a hand in stalling it. The regulatory scrutiny surrounding the project and Facebook’s own unpalatable reputation might have influenced the decisions of the partners who left the project.

This story would be incomplete without mentioning the efforts at rebranding which morphed the project from Libra to Diem in late 2020. These efforts may have been subtly aimed at distancing the digital currency from the scandals and scrutiny that plagued Libra as a result of its association to Facebook. However, those efforts haven’t been particularly successful. As a result of these factors and more, the Diem association scaled back its earlier hoped for global launch and instead settled for a U.S. stablecoin. That doesn’t seem to have happened.

All in all, it would appear that Facebook is adamant in the pursuit of this blockchain system. However, regulators aren’t completely convinced. The headache seems to be about the issues around it’s possible widespread use, considering the amount of Facebook users. The apprehension is about such a currency’s competitive power with other fiat currencies as well as privacy concerns.

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Africa Blockchain Institute

Africa Blockchain Institute Organized The First African Blockchain Summer Bootcamp For Teenagers In Ghana

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In the spirit of catching them young, the Africa Blockchain Institute organized the first-ever Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for teenagers (age range 13 to 19 years old). A successful Bootcamp, according to the participants’ testimonials and stakeholders, held at the OpenLabs, Ring Road, Accra Ghana, between Monday 2nd August, and Friday 6th August 2021. 

The teenagers applied from across Africa, and selected participants all converged at the OpenLabs, Ghana, for an intensive five days of learning, interacting, and implementing personal  Blockchain projects. The participants were divided into three significant tracks, thus; Blockchain Development, Blockchain for Creatives and Blockchain Entrepreneurship. 

Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for Teens by ABI
Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for Teens by Africa Blockchain Institute

Across these three tracks, the teenagers learnt introductory units to Blockchain Development for societal challenges, Blockchain evangelism, Non-Fungible Tokens, and how Cryptocurrency works. Another highlight of the program was the excursion to the Accra Digital Centre, where the Boot Campers were introduced to the tech ecosystem and feel of the Ghana Tech Lab and Accra Innovation Hub spaces. A visit was also made to the Museum of Science and Technology, and the teenagers got to understand the history of technology in Ghana. 

Worthy of mention was the panel session aimed at motivating the students to pursue a career in technology. While making his comments during the panel session, the founder of BankLess Africa, Mr. Muntala Mohammed Shaibu, urged the teenagers to stop seeing themselves as too young to experiment with new technologies. In her remarks, Ms. Elohor Thomas, CEO & Co-Founder of CodeLn, urged the teenagers to continue to explore their interest in technology and blockchain early.

Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for Teens by ABI
Panel Session, Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for Teens by ABI

The Bootcamp ended with personal project presentations from the Blockchain Development and the Blockchain for Creatives & Entrepreneurship tracks. Projects such as NFT blogposts, Blockchain product reviews and Blockchain for transport and logistics were presented. The best presentation won the OpenLabs scholarship for Robotics Course. Thanks to Dr Sujith Jayaprakash, the Director of OpenLabs, Ghana, for the offer of scholarship. In his closing remark, the Executive Director of the Africa Blockchain Institute, Mr. Kayode Babarinde, urged the teenagers to continue using the  skills and knowledge gained during Bootcamp to explore Blockchain-related solutions further. We also appreciate Mr. Ganzaro Omar, Chairman, AfroBlocks, for his supports, and fostering collaborations with the Ghanian Blockchain community.

The Africa Blockchain Institute will continue to hold future Blockchain Summer Bootcamp series in various African cities to drive Blockchain knowledge into innovators early enough. 

Oluwaseun David ADEPOJU

Head of Research,

Africa Blockchain Institute. 

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CBN Crypto Ban Increases P2P But Is It Also Increasing Crypto Scams?

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Crypto ban

The Central Bank of Nigeria CBN on the 5th of February 2021 caused an uproar within the crypto community in Nigeria and globally. The Apex bank released a circular that prohibits financial institutions from processing crypto-related transactions. Banks and other financial institutions were also directed to close accounts that made crypto-related transactions.

As expected the directive did not sit well with crypto enthusiasts, traders and most Nigerians alike. In the CBN’s defence, they were protecting Nigerians from crypto-related scams, volatility of the crypto market and several evils perpetrated with cryptocurrencies. Though valid reasons, many Nigerians still express their resentment of the directive. Cryptocurrencies which serve as an alternative to the weakening Naira are faster and easier at facilitating cross border transactions. 

However, the ban has not hindered crypto transactions in the country. The country still ranks high when it comes to crypto transactions globally. Business Insider reports that between January and March 2021,  p2p trading value of bitcoin in Nigeria was worth $99.1 million. This is $9 million more than the value of bitcoin p2p transaction in Kenya for the whole of 2020. Cleary p2p has increased significantly since the ban. It is therefore safe to say that the ban has increased crypto activity in Nigeria. But has it increased crypto scams too?

The dark side of p2p

While volatile nature cryptocurrencies might in truth lead to loss of funds, the ban by the Central Bank of Nigeria could make Nigerians more vulnerable to crypto scams as they now purchase these digital currencies from unregulated sources hence, p2p.

“It was very easy just buying bitcoin straight from the Luno app but now I need to find someone who is willing to sell me bitcoin and there is really no way to ascertain the person’s trustworthiness.” This statement by crypto newbie, Adekunle Agbetiloye sums up the troubles and vulnerabilities crypto newbies go through to buy and sell crypto assets.

Kunle has been fortunate to have friends that are more grounded in trading cryptocurrencies. This has prevented him from falling into the hands of scammers that find newbies like him, easy picking. In his words “I know people that have fallen victim to crypto scammers that is why I only transact with people that I know personally”.

Ezekiel Juwon wasn’t lucky enough to buy from someone he knew personally. He recounts how he unsuspectingly sent money to a crypto scammer. In his words, “as a beginner I think it is more convenient to buy directly from crypto apps than dealing peer-to-peer. As someone who has experienced crypto scams first hand, I know this for a fact”. Juwon also adds that regulated p2p platforms created as an alternative to trading crypto can also be dangerous. He is convinced that more people will suffer his fate if the ban isn’t lifted. “Everyone wants to get in on crypto, it saves you from poverty so the ban just makes newbies vulnerable”. 

Just like Adekunle, Oyin Komolafe is fortunate to be surrounded by crypto veterans. She says “aside from the grace of God, what is helping me is that I am surrounded by people who know their way around crypto. However, I am sure that newbies will be susceptible to crypto scams because of the CBN ban”

What experts have to say   

However, Crypto expert and blockchain stakeholder, Samuel Attah feels crypto platforms have created alternatives that should keep crypto newbies safe. He sights Bundle as an example of these platforms. In contrast, some of these new users have said they do not find these platforms easy to use. 

Another crypto trader who identifies himself simply as Smogz, says these alternatives by crypto exchanges and crypto platforms require a lot of expertise. Smogz believes that the ban will increase crypto scams. “Crypto platforms serve as a shield to protect crypto beginners from scams. Now that these beginners have to look outside of the confines of these platforms they are open to being ripped off”

It is clear the crypto ban cannot stop Nigerians from using cryptocurrencies. Although a risky investment venture, crypto assets are known to be a source of wealth. Ensuring the safety of Nigerians while they use these crypto assets should be a priority.

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