Africa: Opinion – Are Cryptocurrencies the New Digital ‘Blood Diamonds’ of Africa?

Across the world’s troubled spots, resource wars and economic crises are being fuelled by a new kind of high-tech “blood diamond” – cryptocurrency.

The Central African Republic (CAR) has become the latest country to adopt bitcoin as a national currency. The move follows last year’s adoption by El Salvador. But CAR’s sudden embrace of crypto is confusing. After all, El Salvador’s bitcoin adoption isn’t going well. Besides warnings by the International Monetary Fund and fears of default, a recent survey found 86% of Salvadoran businesses have never carried out a bitcoin transaction.

CAR, the world’s second-poorest country, is nowhere near ready for crypto payments. Yet CAR’s authorities threaten significant fines and other penalties on vendors who refuse to accept bitcoin for payments.

Some analysts say the adoption of crypto in CAR is meant to tick off the IMF and foreign-owned money transmitters. But unlike El Salvador, CAR doesn’t have a large pool of diaspora working overseas getting stung with remittance fees when sending money home. So, is CAR trying to attract crypto-rich investors? Unlikely, as land-locked CAR lacks the beautiful beaches and other trappings of crypto hotspots elsewhere. CAR is also among the world’s worst countries for internet access. What about opportunities for bitcoin mining with cheap renewables? Only 14% of CAR’s population has some access to electricity. Over 90% rely on foraged wood and charcoal for cooking and heating.

While Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele makes his crypto proclamations with fanfare and fireworks, CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s announcement last month featured a scanned copy of a press release, teeming with typos and posted on his Facebook page. Touadera claimed it was necessary to “improve the conditions of Central African citizens” and make CAR “one of the world’s boldest and most visionary countries.” CAR’s former Prime Minister said the country’s crypto law was a rushed “proclamation”.



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