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United Africa Blockchain Association optimistic about adoption of digital assets on the continent

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The Bitcoin Party 2020 was recently held in Cape Town as a celebration of crypto adoption in South Africa which was in the top 5 countries with high cryptocurrency ownership among global internet users. Sentiment according to the United Africa Blockchain Association is that interest in digital assets like cryptocurrencies will only continue to grow.

Despite some local banks in South Africa looking to sever ties with cryptocurrency companies particularly exchanges due to perceived ‘risks’ and lack of regulatory certainty, interest in crypto has actually surged – moving South Africa into the top 2 countries in the world with the highest rate of Bitcoin searches after Nigeria according to the latest stats on Google Trends.

“What we are seeing in fact is an increasing number of people beginning to grasp the real fundamentals of blockchain technology and the different use cases particularly in financial services where Bitcoin for instance is seen as a solution to the redundant way traditional finance deals with cross border payment processing,” said the founder of Proudly Associated.

One of the first exchanges to launch in both South Africa and Nigeria was iCE3X back in 2013, founded by crypto pioneer Gareth Grobler. He believes the market in South Africa will eventually mature and is on a steady trajectory with huge growth potential. “As long as players in the space operate ethically, that will give credence to the idea of a self-regulating financial ecosystem that everyone can trust without overreaching regulatory oversight that could stifle innovation and slow adoption,” he said. “From the outset we took the necessary measures to ensure the platform is secure and offers users stable cryptocurrency trading. We’re still the only Kaspersky approved exchange in the world. As the internet currency industry continues to evolve we’ll be launching more customer-centric features on the exchange to provide users with tools that empower them to make smart financial decisions,” he explained.

Another promising industry that could see tremendous uptake of crypto and blockchain-based products is the gaming industry. South African government statistics show that over 50% of South Africans bet on sports regularly. The rise of mobile gaming via smartphones has meant that many more South Africans can afford to play. Research shows there are more than 11 million gamers in South Africa and a report issued by South Africa’s National Gambling Board projects gross gambling revenues to grow to R34.8 billion in 2020. Some estimations put South African gross gaming revenue at $2.5 billion by 2021.

Sports betting in particular had a projected rise of 12.5% compound annual rate in 2019 and with South Africa being the largest gaming market on the continent, “international companies such as Playbetr see Africa as an important market,” said Alakanani Itireleng, CEO of Satoshicentre, a Bitcoin community hub in Gaborone, Botswana.

Also Read: How Tech Is Enhancing Recruitment: An Interview With Sandy Simagwali, Co-Founder Of Graft Africa

What is clear for UABA is the undeniable relevance of blockchain innovations with respect to opening opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds. “We run different initiatives and making tech events fun is an effective way to get the youth engaged and interested in new innovations,” said Grey Jabesi of UABA and host of The Grey Ave Podcast. “We believe that by combining technology, entrepreneurship and business education – together with our partners – the blockchain community can make a positive impact,.” he added.

We are fortunate to have supporters such as Paxful, the peer-to-peer finance platform where people can trade bitcoin globally using multiple payment methods. We are optimistic that education around peer-to-peer finance will help bring much needed financial inclusivity in South Africa and the rest of the continent.

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Africa dominates crypto searches, demonstrates huge potential for uptake of blockchain technologies

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It is becoming more apparent that crypto markets will grow exponentially and not only in financially sophisticated markets with secure internet connection, high mobile penetration rates and a highly skilled labour force but even more so in developing countries where the use of cryptocurrencies for remittances, ecommerce and payments is more out of necessity than choice. LocalBitcoins and Paxful are peer-to-peer Bitcoin trading platforms that are popular among crypto users in Africa connecting as buyers and sellers. Despite recent setbacks such as the announcement by LocalBitcoins that the entity was suspending user accounts and implementing geo-restrictions in Ethiopia, Ghana, Botswana, Tunisia, Libya, and Nigeria, uptake of these new digital assets is still on the rise.

We’ve seen a lot of positive sentiment this year and a spike in interest in all things blockchain and cryptocurrency related. Google trends shows Nigeria and South Africa as the top countries in the world with the highest searches for terms such as Bitcoin. Uganda is also among the very top of the list of countries worldwide with the highest search interest in cryptocurrencies. Searches for blockchain are also on the rise worldwide with countries like Ghana leading the search traffic.

“This in addition to on-the-ground proof of interest makes us as the United Africa Blockchain Association certain that the future for deploying blockchain technologies in these key African markets is bright. Our first blockchain community engagement event for 2020 had over 200 attendees,” explained Grey Jabesi, UABA’s biz dev director and host of the Survival Skills podcast.

Africa to dominate crypto markets in the future? A closer look at the facts:

  • By 2025, nearly two-thirds of the estimated 303 million African households will have discretionary income.
  • Africa Annual report by Ornico Group expects consumer spending on the continent to rise to US$1 trillion by 2020.
  • Consumer expenditure on the continent has grown at a compound annual rate of 3.9 percent since 2010 and reached $1.4 trillion in 2015. This figure is expected to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025, and $2.5 trillion by 2030.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, annual growth rate is expected to average 12% through 2035.
  • In Africa’s eight largest markets, private consumption is expected to grow at 5% a year (in real terms) to $1.25 trillion in 2025.
  • By 2025, almost half of Africans will be living in cities and mobile penetration – currently over 950 million mobile subscribers in Africa, according to telecommunications researcher Ovum.
  •  in Africa is estimated at over 90%.The African continent’s population is expected to reach 2 billion by 2050, accounting for 24% of the world’s population.
  • The working-age population in Africa is growing at a clip of 2.7 percent each year. 53% percent of income earners in Africa are between 16 and 34 years old – these consumers will contribute to more than $400 billion in total consumption growth in the next decade.

Blockchain adoption challenges

“Political instability and conflict, poor infrastructure, linguistic diversity, differences in consumer behaviour, fragmented markets, and low data availability and quality could pose some challenges to adoption of some blockchain powered innovations,” said Gareth Grobler, founder and ceo of iCE3X, one of the first digital asset exchanges to launch in South Africa and Nigeria. “Despite all those potential challenges, South Africa is still one of the leading countries worldwide as far as trying to find a way to create a digital asset friendly environment.

Our COO, Eugene Etsebeth was the inaugural Chairperson for the Intergovernmental Fintech Working Group back in 2016 during his tenure at the South African Reserve Bank. The wheels of government, unfortunately, do not turn as fast as we would like, but we are moving in the right direction and we look forward to being a licensed crypto-asset service provider (CASP). I personally have been consulting with the financial regulator since 2012 and I can honestly say that it is one of the best jurisdictions in which to operate,” Grobler explained.

Also Read: Gareth Grobler, Founder and CEO of iCE3X on the role of Digital Asset Exchanges in Africa

Examining factors that can influence or inhibit blockchain technology’s adoption and proliferation within the African markets is key. This includes analysing social factors and characteristics of adopters in terms of identifying behavioural barriers to adoption within different markets across the region. In addition, analysing the rate at which diffusion of innovation takes place in order to be able to device strategies and processes by which innovation is communicated through particular channels is critical.

Measuring the extent to which potential adopters perceive an opportunity to experiment with the blockchain-based innovations prior to committing to usage is necessary. Real market penetration can only be fully realised if companies consider factors that affect the rate of adoption of innovation including the extent to which the technology is perceived as difficult to understand and use, and also the degree to which the innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis, as well as the degree to which the results of those new products and services are visible to the potential adopter.

Ultimately, the extent to which these new 4IR technologies are perceived as being consistent with the existing values, past experiences, and needs of potential adopters will have a significant impact on which blockchain businesses will succeed in potentially the most important market for global businesses in the future just based on population growth the fastest growing consumer base on in the world.

Success in most markets, particularly those across sub-Saharan Africa requires companies to tailor their offerings to local needs and preferences of the different demographics of potential adopters. Understanding local needs and preferences that drive mass adoption of products and becoming aware of not only local product preferences but also local buying behaviours in order to maximise on first-mover advantages in a growing consumer market such as Africa could be the key to an effective market penetration strategy for companies developing blockchain-based products.

Written by: Heath Muchena is an author, journalist and the principal at Proudly Associated which advises international blockchain companies developing technologies that have use cases focused on emerging economy development, particularly in Africa.

Visit: Heath Muchena

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Gareth Grobler, Founder and CEO of iCE3X on the role of Digital Asset Exchanges in Africa

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Gareth Grobler is a digital currency entrepreneur and founded the cryptocurrency exchange iCE3X in 2013. He is a founding member of the UK Digital Currency Association. Gareth has over 15 years of experience in IT infrastructure and architecture development. He started iCE3X as a proof of concept and has been involved with other ventures including Merkeleon, a software company that builds exchange and processing software based out of Austria, with offices in Minsk and London. In this exclusive interview with Heath Muchena of Business Africa Online, Grobler provides clarity on developments in the industry within Africa and shares his views on cryptocurrency adoption on the continent. Excerpts:

Heath: What impact do you think cryptocurrencies will have on how people trade especially in Africa considering that a huge number of people on the continent remain unbanked and excluded from the traditional financial system and cross-border trade is slow and inefficient?

Gareth: It is a double-edged sword. Crypto gives more people access to more options but also creates a void where unscrupulous entities fleece consumers who are not as financially savvy due to the fact that they have not had regular exposure to financial products and or have no experience with investments.

Heath: What government issued African fiat currencies does your platform currently support?

Gareth: The iCE3X platform currently supports two fiat currencies, the Nigerian Naira (NGN) and the South African Rand (ZAR) in addition to the more than 10 cryptocurrencies.

Heath: iCE3X has been operational since 2013. What prompted the early move in the space especially in African markets you operate in i.e. South Africa & Nigeria?

Gareth: iCE3X began as a proof of concept for the SaaS exchange product but now we have more functionality and features than any other exchange in Africa. Our focus is on being the best trading platform and not a cryptocurrency custodian since our vision is to give end-users more options especially when it comes to storing cryptos and do not advocate storage on our exchange, only responsible trading. 

We have a loyal user base and are very proud to be one of the few exchanges with legitimate trades and volumes. We take a customer-centric approach to development and delivery of our offerings. Our primary focus is user education with regards to both cryptos and fiat money and blockchain technology adoption. An example is our free crypto trading platform feature which allows users to learn how to trade in real markets using demo tokens native to our exchange.

Heath: How is the cryptocurrency industry developing in South Africa?

Gareth: iCE3X is the abbreviation for “Internet Currency Evolution” so we understand that the industry still has a long way to go and we will see many transitions as the industry develops. We are constantly working on new ways to educate users about the underpinning technologies behind cryptocurrencies and are pleased with the trajectory.

Crypto markets are maturing and user security and knowledge is the main focal point for most honest operators. Part of the downside to the success of bitcoin has been the rise of scams being perpetrated under the bitcoin banner by opportunists looking to defraud unsuspecting ecosystem participants.

Also Read: Interview: Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy For Girls Executive Director, Gugulethu Ndebele On Girls And Leadership

Heath: You’re part of the group helping to advise the South African Reserve Bank with respect to cryptocurrency regulations. How would you ideally like to see them approach regulating the industry particularly crypto exchanges?

Gareth: We see cryptos such as Bitcoin as complementary financial instruments rather than replacements for traditional fiat. The SARB have been doing a great job in taking great care to understand the industry and any new challenges it faces, both technically and socially. It is pretty clear to everyone that cryptocurrency such as bitcoin itself cannot be regulated or controlled, but rather that the interaction of fiat money and cryptocurrency should and can be regulated.

Ultimately citizens require consumer protection and the best way to provide this is by vetting and licensing the operators who facilitate the interaction of FIAT and Cryptocurrency. The wheels of government, unfortunately, do not turn as fast as we would like, but we are moving in the right direction and we look forward to being a licensed crypto-asset service provider (CASP).

Heath: How would you describe the progress in South Africa in terms of regulating the industry?

Gareth: South Africa is one of the leading countries worldwide in this respect. Our COO, Eugene Etsebeth was the inaugural Chairperson for the IFWG (Intergovernmental Fintech Working Group) back in 2016 during his tenure at the South African Reserve Bank. I’ve been consulting with the financial regulator since 2012 so overall as a whole RSA have been keeping on top of the curve, yet have been very careful not to tie the industry with unnecessary red-tape so I can honestly say that it is one of the best jurisdictions in which to operate.

Heath: What are some of the legal and regulatory guidelines you currently follow and how will the organisation monitor emerging regulatory considerations? For example Anti-money laundering (AML) laws; and know your customer (KYC) laws.

Gareth: We are proud to have been ahead of the game since inception. We have in fact set the standard in some respects. We follow Financial Action Task Force (on Money Laundering) (FATF) recommendations and already comply with all the suggested government regulations in terms of KYC and AML, even though these requirements are not yet legal requirements. We are also fortunate as I am a FATF recognised private sector expert and as a result, get to not only influence regulatory thinking on an international level but also benefit from first-hand exposure to the direction regulators are taking.

Heath: What can you tell us about the product roadmap for the exchange? You continue to release new features and list new digital assets, what upcoming features are you most excited about rolling out?

Gareth: There are a host of new features, functionality and assets scheduled for release during 2020. This includes stable coins, auto trading, 5 new order types, completely revamped and unique rewards system, new mobile apps, gamification and more deposit and withdrawal options. We are most excited about Artificial Intelligence Coin, our native utility token which will take cryptocurrency adoption and use in South Africa to a whole new level. This is due for release towards the end of Q1 2020.

Visit: iCE3X

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Neil Sahota, IBM Master Inventor and UN Artificial Intelligence advisor to speak at AI Expo Africa 2020

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The AI Media Group, organisers of Africa’s largest AI Business Event – AI Expo Africa – is pleased to announce that IBM Master Inventor and UN Artificial Intelligence advisor Neil Sahota will speak at AI Expo Africa 2020.


AI Expo Africa is the continent’s largest B2B trade-focused artificial intelligence (AI) business event. The expo, which is now in its third year, will be held at Century City Convention Centre in Cape Town 3-4th September 2020.

AI Expo Africa Event Director Roy Bannister stated, “We are really excited to welcome Neil Sahota to our community, he has amassed 20+ years of business experience in a multitude of domains and has 17 awards, 26 publications and 15 patents under his belt. His thought leadership around helping clients and business partners create next generation products powered by emerging technology will be highly valued by our community.

Besides lecturing at UC Irvine in the US, he is also a keynote speaker and author on topics that include emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, as well as entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, innovation and social good.

Also Read: How Tech Is Enhancing Recruitment: An Interview With Sandy Simagwali, Co-Founder Of Graft Africa

Sahota stated, “I am very excited to gain insights from the African AI community. The AI Expo Africa 2020 event gives both myself and many business leaders the opportunity to immerse themselves in 2 days of real-world AI debate, talks and hands on demos of the 4IR technologies that are changing business and society, it’s the largest event of its kind on the continent and looking forward to making a contribution”.

During AI Expo Africa 2020 Sahota will deliver talk on “The AI Frontier: A Great Divider or A Solution?” in which he will discuss techniques and tools which organizations and under-served communities can use to ideate and implement value added solutions. In addition, he will be hosting a master class on AI for Good coupled to social innovation models and joining an expert panel discussing ethics in AI.

AI Expo Africa Event Co-founder Dr Nick Bradshaw stated, “His work experience spans multiple industries including legal services, healthcare, life sciences, retail, travel and transportation, energy and utilities, automotive, telecommunications, media, communications and government. He is also co-author of the best-selling book “Own the A.I. Revolution: Unlock Your Artificial Intelligence Strategy to Disrupt Your Competition” which will be made available at the show to delegates that attend.

Sahota joins a growing list of leading figures and companies that have engaged with the AI Expo Africa community, including the likes of AWS, Microsoft, Google Cloud, IBM, PWC, Kenyan Government, ITU, Nvidia, Intel, SA Government, Dimension Data, UiPath, Blue Prism, Vodacom, Hikvision, SAP, SAS, French Embassy, Telkom, Deloitte, Accenture, EY, Persistent Systems, ABSA & Standard Bank.

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