For as long as one can remember, Africa has been called the land of opportunity that promises many ‘emerging markets of the future’. However, this then raises the question ‘which catalyst is atually going to bring forth the emergence of the African market?’. The main answers have always been healthcare, education and a reduction of corruption, amongst many others. But a new solution may have entered the market, with a large shift towards mobile money over the past few years, many members of the crypto-community believe Africa is a ripe for cryptocurrency adoption.
Firstly, its use as a currency could serve to benefit many economies in the region. The local currencies used in many countries in Africa are quite difficult for local businesses as many do not hold value, or are too volatile. This would mean they need to be changed into dollars to access the international market for essential business operations such as purchasing materials. Cryptocurrency has an advantage here by being able to hold the same value everywhere in the world, thus giving Africans quicker access to the international market but also being protected from local inflation that may be triggered by war or internal crisis. This would be especially useful in countries recovering from political instability such as Egypt where inflation amounted to 24.4% in 2016 compared 13.6% in 2010.
A common misconception is that the blockchain is cryptocurrency, when in fact cryptocurrency is only one function of the blockchain. The blockchain is essentially ‘a distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, secured from tampering and revision’ and this technology has evolved to be able to hold contracts and conditions. The fact that this can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection comes as a strength to many African countries as the lack of infrastructure will not affect the capabilities of the blockchain.
Another benefit of the blockchain is that exchanging data through it does not depend on the help of a central authority or traditional bank. Currently, in Africa, there is a large dependence on foreign capital as a source of investment which is coupled with a small financial services industry. The use of the blockchain can help alleviate this problem by cutting out the use of banks. In 2014, the World Bank reported that only 34% of adults had a bank account. The blockchain is potentially something that could provide better access to capital since it is not run by complicated bureaucracies. This implies the technology can be more efficient providing capital, at a cheaper rate and faster speeds.
A strong theme of corruption has led to a reduction of trust towards governments in African nations. Using a blockchain, everybody would have a copy of the ledger so there is no longer a need to trust a single organisation. The trust-less nature of the blockchain has already started being utilised in some parts of the continent. Bitland in Ghana has been focused on building a blockchain to “streamline and automate the entire land registration process so it provides a better system of record.” This system aims to allow people to register property ownership through a blockchain. This again removes the need for an authority that people are forced to trust to guarantee property rights.
Currently, news substantially affects the cryptocurrency sphere. The rumours of China banning Bitcoin exchanges wiped 15-20% off the whole market value. This could cause problems for countries where currencies would be widely adopted, making them highly susceptible to macroeconomic events which would lead to constantly evolving prices. Secondly, the aspect of regulation is also an issue facing cryptocurrencies. The current unregulated state is unlikely to last forever. With there already being little trust towards African institutions, the way they choose to regulate cryptocurrency will affect how willing crypto companies are to venture in these locations.
This week Ripple announced their entry into the Indian market, aiming to facilitate global money transfers- a large theme in growing economies. This is an example of a step towards bridging the gap between LEDC and MEDC countries. But for this to exist in Africa there needs to be more awareness of its potential benefits. With a stronger emphasis on the uses of the blockchain rather than just the benefit of a new currency, financial markets could be accessed and used in a much easier and safer way with the new technology.
Crypto Carnage: Blood on the Dance Floor
It is said that ‘Blue Monday’, typically the third Monday of January, is the most depressing day of the year. This has, undoubtedly, been the case for cryptocurrency owners worldwide; from Monday onwards, almost all of the world’s major cryptocurrencies have seen a drastic slump in their prices.
Having reached the $14,000 mark last week, Monday onwards marked a severe fall in Bitcoin’s value. On Wednesday, the dubbed ‘king of cryptocurrencies’ dropped to below $10,000 for the first time since the end of November, before making a small recovery on Thursday. It stands at $11,500 at the time of writing, but the day is still young.
And Bitcoin has only been leading the way. At this point last week, the price of Ethereum, the second most valuable cryptocurrency, was approximately $1,200; a slump on Monday saw it fall to a low of $800 on Wednesday before pushing through the $1,000 threshold again, and reaching $1,030 a day later.
Ripple’s XRP also followed suit; the cryptocurrency has almost halved in value over the past week – from around the $2 mark to a low of $1.20 on Tuesday. Since then, it has marginally recovered in price, to $1.48 at the time of writing.
Monero, IOTA and Cardano were also impacted – since Monday, they have declined in price by 35%, 22% and 21%, respectively. Litecoin now sits at $195, down from $240 at the beginning of the week.
The crash occurred at a time of optimism and hope for cryptocurrency owners. Just earlier this week, US money transfer company MoneyGram announced a partnership with Ripple in the aim of streamlining money transfers. Yesterday also marked the expiration of the first Bitcoin futures contract that had been listed by the CBOE.
Still, China’s offensive rhetoric against Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in the last seven days is likely to have stoked fears amongst investors, causing a major sell-off. The country confirmed earlier this week that it was seeking to further clamp down on its restrictions against virtual currencies by eliminating cryptocurrency trading.
It has also recently announced plans to further restrict Bitcoin mining within the country. Recent statements coming from Chinese governmental circles could go as far as to suggest that China wants to eliminate cryptocurrencies outright: the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) vice governor, Pan Gongsheng, purportedly encouraged the state to introduce a total ban on cryptocurrencies.
China is by no means the only country to have espoused hostility toward cryptocurrencies. Russia also partially echoed China’s scepticism – President Vladimir Putin noted this week that “in broad terms, legislative regulation will be definitely required in future”.
South Korea’s unreceptive stance toward digital coins – it was reported earlier this week that its finance minister, Kim Dong-yeon, had stated that the government would be introducing measures to clamp down on the “irrational” cryptocurrency investment rage – may have also played a part in driving prices down.
Still, for every bear, there seems to be a bull. Time shall tell whether increasing restrictions on cryptocurrencies from different governments will further impinge on their price, or if they will find a way to adapt to the new obstacles and prove all those championing them (and making millions in the process) right.
UK Banks Shun Bitcoin
No UK banks have partnered with cryptocurrency exchanges.
Editor’s Remarks: The lack of any relationships between UK banks and cryptocurrency exchanges means that UK investors currently have to move their money through a series of foreign exchange transactions and services before they can cash out their profits. As a result, they incur high fees and often the suspicion of their banks. This is contrary to many European banks, which have partnered with such exchanges. To an extent, this is because the UK retail banking sector is highly concentrated, whereas in Europe and the US the consumer has more options. The UK government is also due to release guidance on how cryptocurrency gains are to be taxed in the next few days.
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Hacks on Cryptocurrency Exchanges Linked to North Korea
A report has linked a hacker group, responsible for targeting crypto-investors and exchanges, to the North Korean state.
The attacks took place against South-Korean crypto-exchanges and included attempts to harvest users’ passwords. The report does not say if the attacks were successful.
The report, by internet technology company, Recorded Future, has identified the attackers as the group Lazarus, known to be associated with the hermit kingdom. The malware was similar to that used against Sony Pictures in 2015, the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017 as well as the Bangladeshi bank heist in 2016.
Attacks began when cryptocurrencies started to rapidly increase in value. It is believed North Korea favours attacks on cryptocurrency because they are not linked to any bank or government, making attempted heists less politically incendiary.
North Korea has shown a great interest in crypto-currency, potentially as a means for funding itself. In 2017, the elite Pyongyang university started to run courses on the virtual tender.
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