How do Africans use Bitcoin without internet access?

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Bitcoin’s expansion reached areas where people barely have internet access, let alone a bank account. But this is its purpose, after all, to allow citizens to have better control over their financial resources and not be limited by institutions that can hinder transactions due to the legal framework.

Since its release in 2009, Bitcoin’s value increased considerably, and now it’s one of the most treasured cryptocurrencies on the market. Its development and increase in price allowed it to enter developing markets, such as Africa. Here, anyone could buy Bitcoin with debit card, bank deposit and P2P trading, but only if they have an internet connection in their neighborhoods. 

Considering this issue, a digital structure came up with a solution for those without internet access to be able to use Bitcoin for P2P transactions.

Machankura, the tool that offers financial freedom in Africa

Machankura is a tool built in 2002 by a South African software developer. Kgothatso Ngako wanted to break the barriers of unstable internet connection, therefore creating a link between the Lighting Network and an interface called the USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data). 

This system uses the Subscriber Identity module telecommunication from mobile phones.

This service already has almost 3.000 users across countries like Nigeria, Uganda and Namibia. 

It is also easy to use by nearly anyone since they only need to dial a code (that’s specific to the country) to interact with Machankura and send an online application. 

Some of the app’s features include sending or receiving bitcoin, buying goods or services and accessing the account’s details.Machankura provides access to a Lighting-friendly wallet so anyone can send bitcoins with only a username or phone number to someone with a Lighting address.

Despite low internet penetration, Africa is an emerging technology hub

It’s true that Africans may not have access to the internet, but the continent is constantly challenging the technology sector by promoting the rise of digitality. With numerous startups and businesses that approach revolutionary solutions like blockchain, companies have the opportunity to create solutions that fit citizens’ current lifestyles.

For example, phone usage is frequent, with 74% of sub-Saharan Africans owning SIM cards. People have phones without mobile connectivity, such as Motorola C113, for example. But this aspect didn’t stop the South African developer from creating the perfect solution for this target audience.

Challenges and solutions for the Machankura app

The app is still new to the market, and it must overcome a few difficulties before becoming a widespread technology in Africa. To provide security and reliability in the long term while being censorship resistant, Machankura has to work on a collaboration with USSD because the system doesn’t use encrypted messages, which are easy to be interfered with by a third party. Still, the team is currently working on developing this aspect.

The service also lacks custodial features, so customers can’t hold the key to the account, which increases the risk of people losing their funds. There’s a proposed solution that includes the use of a SIM card that enhances wallet backup. However, this implies that SIM cards are programmable, which is not that easy to do.

Finally, the messages sent by users to the Machankura servers are handled by a third party, which is a centralized system. This means that the government may interfere to modify or even cancel the service. But the organization is already thinking of implementing a way of hosting the app through a mobile virtual network operator, which would also be easier to scale in the long run.

The African environment has one of the most expensive internet connections worldwide

Despite Africa’s growing interest in technology, the continent has one of the world’s priciest connections to the internet. For example, only one GB of data is almost double the cost compared to Latin America. This means around 8.8% of an African’s monthly income. Moreover, the speed of the internet isn’t even that qualitative.

This situation is due to the unregulated market and improper infrastructure, which control the prices and keep them high. That’s because around 70% of the companies in South Africa own the wireless broadband market. Unfortunately, this makes the subject of an ongoing debate regarding the nature of the internet and if it’s a public or private good. It also seems like corrupt parts of the government are trying to keep citizens away from the internet because this tool would give them a voice and an opportunity to report irregularities.

Cryptocurrency would offer more financial stability to Africans

Corrupt governments might also dismiss digital coins because they would help citizens control their money. The increasing number of people using their mobile phones to trade or invest in Bitcoin is posing a risk to these institutions, which may be why a few countries banned cryptocurrencies.

Still, there are many other motives as to why Africa is not emerging in a matter of technology. The citizens need help in many different sectors, such as healthcare and education, which would better propel them into approaching tools like cryptocurrency.

Some African countries are indeed trying to provide a legal framework for the crypto and blockchain sector, but these assets aren’t easy to regulate. At the same time, they’re also risky to use, considering the high volatility and lack of management. Given that they’re operating decentralized, even developed countries are challenged to come to terms with allowing individuals to freely and legally use these coins. Plus, the government has some sort of control over them in case the market crashes, like in the situation of the FTX collapse. And it’s not advisable to make Bitcoin legal tender everywhere because we’ve seen the case of El Salvador, where there is an internet connection, but not that many people own mobile phones.

Final considerations

As the African crypto market is booming, a developer designed a solution for citizens to use Bitcoin without an internet connection. The system permits them to send requirements through their SIM cards, allowing for selling or buying Bitcoin in a few simple steps.

 

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