Blockchains, Tokens, Africa.
Part 1 — The Encounter.
I came across Bitcoin in 2015 whilst working for Safaricom PLC through a company called Bitpesa. Bitpesa was a company that was looking to launch its business in Kenya offering a way for Kenyans to buy and sell crypto. They also wanted to provide a money remittance service from Western countries to Kenya using the Bitcoin blockchain. To facilitate this, they needed access to M-PESA rails for on-ramping and off ramping of fiat on the blockchain.
Their efforts were swiftly nipped in the bud by the Central Bank of Kenya in 2015 when CBK issued a directive to financial institutions and payment companies, followed by an advisory to consumers not to deal with cryptocurrencies. (CBK advisory)
This encounter with Bitcoin did not pique my interest. The advisory from the central bank also played a role in my dismissal of the whole thing. I never did any research to understand what cryptocurrencies were until the crypto bull run of 2017. The price of bitcoin in 2015 was around $300. I regret not doing any research to understand the crypto space to date.
By 2017, Ethereum had launched, and the overall cryptocurrency scene was vibrant. This time around, I went into a crypto research rabbit hole. I came out convinced that Ethereum was a better protocol due to its promise of being a distributed computer. Ethereum’s positioning as a distributed computer resonated with me because I worked in a Bank-led Fintech as head of product management. I could see all the potential use cases the Ethereum protocol could support, especially in the financial sector. However, I did not predict what would happen in the DEFI space in just three years. The pace of innovation has been incredible.
I plunged in and bought 1 ETH. Little did I know I would learn a harsh lesson on managing private keys. After my purchase, I downloaded a non-custodial wallet, and I promptly set up a highly complex password so that I could protect my newly acquired digital wealth. You guessed it. I forgot the password. I spent a couple of days trying to remember the complex password I had set up in vain. This event taught me my first lesson in crypto, don’t lose your private keys. The funny thing is I still had my public keys which meant I could see my coins on Blockchain explorer. This frustrated the hell out of me.
Luckily the price of ETH at the time was around $721. I picked myself up, went to a local Dex, and repurchased 1 ETH. I was determined to own a piece of Ethereum. This time I quickly transferred my ETH to my Coinbase wallet. Coinbase had a better user experience than most non-custodial wallets at the time, and to be honest, I was not aware of the mantra ‘not your keys, not your crypto’. So I did not hesitate to move my ETH to Coinbase.
The price of ETH moved from $721 to about $1400 in January of 2018. This made me extremely happy as my bet was paying off. I did not doubt that the price was going to the moon! I thought I was going to be a crypto billionaire soon. By March 2018, the prices crushed down to $340, and my heart broke.
I decided to forget about the investment as, month after month, there was no upswing in prices. Little did I know the crypto winter had begun in earnest. I let my 1 ETH sit on the Coinbase for the next couple of years. I could not help but think that the Central Bank was right. Maybe this whole thing was a scam, just like the Central Bank had warned back in 2015. All the horror stories about ICOs did not help. During this period I would open my Coinbase base app from time to time, and I would come out depressed.
In 2020, there was a significant rebound in prices, and the market has not looked back. Fast forward to 2022, and a lot has happened in space. We now have thousands of tokens launched. Hundreds of blockchains developed, and new use cases have come up. These use cases include but are not limited to decentralised finance, central bank digital currencies, stable coins, DAOs etc.
There are many debates about whether Web 3 is the next computing platform. The jury is out on that. My view is that internet native currencies are here to stay.
The blockchain technology space is rapidly evolving, and it will power some useful use cases, especially in Africa. This world fascinates me. I continue to explore it. I will be documenting my discoveries on this blog as I continue to educate myself.