Are mobile wallets in East Africa the way to a ‘crypto’ future?

Like Mutamba, millions of customers on the continent continue to circumvent brick and mortar banking services, boosting Africa’s financial technology (fintech) and providing accessibility for the unbanked.

In 2020, mobile money transactions jumped 15%, with sub-Saharan Africa making up nearly half of all registered mobile money accounts worldwide, according to mobile industry body GSMA.

Eversend, a Ugandan-led, mobile-only financial service, is among a plethora of apps across Africa experiencing rapid growth. “We’re growing 30% in terms of gross revenue … moving about $5 million dollars every month,” says co-founder Ronald Kasendwa.

However, when it comes to funding for mobile finance, e-commerce and even cryptocurrency ventures, Uganda fintech startups lag behind those located in larger tech hubs in places such as Nigeria and Kenya.

For Kenneth Ntende, co-founder of Ugandan startup DusuPay, the biggest hurdle is figuring out a way to move towards a borderless payment system. “Africa is too fragmented in the world of payments,” he says.

Ntende knows first-hand the potential in East Africa but worries about the fintech bubble. “Everyone tries to capture the opportunity, but only the strongest … will survive,” he says.

DusuPay co-founder Kenneth Ntende says fintech companies face a complicated set of challenges as they scale up across the continent.

For new e-commerce business owners like Sandra Namakula, global payment systems can provide life-changing solutions. With DusuPay, she was able to create her own e-commerce store, fulfill orders from suppliers in China and collect payments from clients in neighboring countries all amid the pandemic.

“With an online business you have to be as fast and efficient as possible,” Namakula says.

Crypto investments go mobile

The internet economy or “e-conomy” could add $180 billion dollars to the region’s GDP by 2025, according to a report by Google and the International Finance Corporation.

“There’s a vote of confidence for the tech industry in Africa,” the GSMA head of sub-Saharan Africa, Akinwale Goodluck, tells CNN. “We’ve seen a lot of innovation coming out of Africa … and this attracts interest from Twitter, Facebook and Google.”

With Facebook opening offices in South Africa and Nigeria this year, and Google and Twitter choosing Ghana for their regional headquarters, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s 2019 prediction that “Africa will define the future” seems ever closer to reality.
With growing attention on cryptocurrency and in-app stock trading, companies including Uganda’s Eversend have started offering trading and crypto investments within their apps.

Eversend’s Kasendwa says Africans will continue to create and adopt the latest tech.

“You can’t deny the fact that there’s mass adoption of cryptocurrencies,” he says. “We want to focus on making sure people can transact without killing their social norms … (while) building a networked community.”

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