Booming African crypto adoption drives concerns over regulation

2020 has seen an acceleration in African crypto adoption, with the continent emerging as the second-largest region for peer-to-peer (P2P) trading, and two African nations ranking in the top eight of the Chainalysis crypto adoption index.

However, the booming growth has caught the attention of Africa’s financial regulators, sparking concerns that a rush to introduce heavy-handed oversight could quell innovation in the local crypto industry.

Nigeria has led the continent’s growth in 2020, posting weekly P2P volumes of between $5 million to $10 million, followed by Kenya and South Africa with between $1 million and $2 million a week each.

Speaking to Cointelegraph, a representative of top P2P exchange Paxful stated that Africa has been its strongest growing region in 2020, noting there was also dramatic growth in smaller economies like Ghana, and Cameroon.

Centralized exchanges have also reported a spike in trade activity, with Luno reporting $549 million worth of combined volume from Nigerian and South African customers last month — a 49% increase compared to the start of 2020. The exchange also notes that new customer sign-ups have increased by 122% from the fourth quarter of 2019 until Q2 of 2020.

Marius Reitz, Luno’s general manager for Africa, told business publication Quartz that the increasing demand for crypto is being driven by the benefits that virtual currency offers over the notoriously exclusive local banking sector.

Reitz notes that crypto assets are seeing increasing popularity among Africa’s large community of workers who live away from their home countries, with the steep fees on foreign exchange across the continent driving these migrants to explore crypto assets.

“The demand we see now is a result of the challenges that people experience across Africa.”

Lagos-based BuyCoins exchange has also noticed growth in “people trying to move money in and out of the country” with the exchange hosting $110 million in crypto volume this year, up from $28 million during the entirety of 2019.

However, the increasing popularity of crypto has also brought greater regulatory scrutiny — with African lawmakers analysts appearing divided on how to best respond to the crypto phenomenon.

In April, South African regulators proposed regulations that would impose strict licensing and monitoring requirements but do not recognizeng crypto assets as legal tender. Last week, Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed guidelines that would treat all crypto assets like securities by default.

Stephany Zoo of the Kenya-based exchange Bitpesa welcomed the consumer protections that will come from increased regulation. “It is important that the space is regulated and properly guided by the financial authorities to ensure confidence and protection of the consumer,” he said.

But Reitz warned that hasty, heavy-handed regulation could crush innovation within the sector:

“What we’d like to see is a phased approach. It can be very easy for regulators to want to regulate the entire industry from the onset but it could stifle innovation. Once governments regulate better, there’s more chance of opening up integration with traditional financial infrastructure and there would be more mass adoption as well.”

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