Crypto fever

The Curious State Of The (Beleaguered) First African Country To Legalise Bitcoin

By  |  April 29, 2022

The Central African Republic (CAR), a French- and Sangho-speaking country of some 4.8 million people, is the second country in the world and the first in Africa to adopt the flagship cryptocurrency, bitcoin, as legal tender.

The country appears to be following in the footsteps of El Salvador which made the first move in that direction last year, yielding mixed reactions though generally perceived as an interesting development, partly because of the advocacy of the exciting and young President Nayib Bukele; a vocal believer and doer in the cryptoverse.

However, the confirmation from the CAR government that bitcoin is now legal tender in the country has mostly puzzled and baffled the cryptocurrency world and the international community, just as much as it has citizens/residents of the country in a state of confusion.

The legalisation of bitcoin in the CAR has come off as putting a square peg in a round hole to observers in the local and international community; seemingly a cosmetic achievement with little meaning and little or no connection with the country’s socio-economic realities. The move is viewed as akin to putting shiny duct tape over a cracked wall.

“Using bitcoin, a digital currency that exists on a shared ledger across a global network of computers, to buy and sell goods and services relies on reliable, fast Internet and widespread access to computers or smartphones,” reads a Reuters analysis.

“Yet the Central African Republic has Internet penetration rates of just 11 percent, equal to some 550,000 people online last year, the DataReportal website estimates. Meanwhile, only around 14 percent of people have access to electricity and less than half have a mobile phone connection, the Economist Intelligence Unit says.”

Analysts and crypto experts told Reuters that great challenges lie ahead in adopting bitcoin in one of the world’s poorest countries with low internet use, widespread conflict, spotty electricity and a population among which crypto is still mostly an alien concept. In fact, US blockchain researcher Chainalysis, which tracks crypto usage, had no data on the Central African Republic, which has been gripped for years by violence.

The CAR provided scarce details in its statement on Wednesday on how it plans to address these challenges. It did not respond to requests for comment.

The government’s statement said the move made the Central African Republic one of the world’s “most visionary countries”, but residents in the capital, Bangui where mobile money is a common route for paying for stuff and sending money, seem just as bewildered as anyone.

Featured Image Courtesy: The Times Hub

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