Connect with us


Nigeria’s Digital Currency: What the eNaira is for and Why it’s not Perfect



Spread the love

By Iwa Salami

Nigeria recently became the first African country to introduce a digital currency. It joins the Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank in being among the first jurisdictions in the world to roll out national digital currencies. The Conversation Africa’s Wale Fatade asks Iwa Salami what a digital currency is and whether Nigeria can achieve its aims of introducing the currency.

What is a digital currency and how does it work?

A digital currency is a means of payment or money that exists in a purely electronic form. Central bank digital currencies are issued and regulated by the nation’s monetary authority, or central bank, and backed by the government. They are different from existing electronic central bank money, which is provided by central banks but can only be used by banks and selected financial institutions. When financial institutions pay each other, they pay in reserves from accounts held with a central bank.

Before central bank digital currencies, the only way consumers could use money that is a direct liability of a central bank was with physical cash. Existing digital retail payment from customer deposits accounts in banks are based on money that is the liability of the institution providing the account, not a central bank. A central bank digital currency is a direct liability on the central bank and is available to all households and businesses giving them access to electronic central bank money.  It can be transferred or exchanged using technologies such as blockchain. Blockchain is a system of storing records of transactions across a network of computers.

Nigeria’s digital currency will be the digital form of the Naira and will be used just like cash.

A central bank digital currency is not a cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, are not currencies in most countries since they are not a generally accepted form of payment. Although they are still widely referred to as cryptocurrencies, they are best described as digital assets, or crypto-assets.

The Bahamas, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda are among the seven countries that have launched central bank digital currencies.

Why has Nigeria launched a digital currency?

The Central Bank has given several reasons for launching the eNaira. It is to:

  • promote and facilitate financial inclusion
  • enable direct welfare disbursements to citizens
  • facilitate diaspora remittances
  • reduce the cost of processing cash
  • improve the availability and usability of Central Bank money
  • increase revenue and tax collection
  • support a resilient payment system
  • improve the efficiency of cross-border payments.

The introduction of the eNaira will enable peer-to-peer payments, cutting out ‘middle men’ or the use of intermediaries, such as financial institutions.

What are the risks and how can they be mitigated?

One is its potential to disrupt existing banking systems. This could occur if citizens decide to hold digital currency instead of keeping their physical Naira in a bank account. This would mean that banks would not have money to grant loans and other financial products. It could result in banks raising their interest rates as an incentive for customers to keep deposits within the banks. But then interest charged on loans would also go up to cover interest on savings.

However, since the eNaira is non-interest bearing and the Central Bank can place transaction and balance limits on certain eNaira wallets, this risk is minimized.

The second risk is operational. For example, if IT systems were to fail or if there were technological glitches, or cyber-attacks. These can compromise user privacy. The Central Bank will need robust technology and IT security systems.

Closely linked is reputational risk to the Central Bank if the operational risks materialise. They are likely to have a huge impact on its credibility and reputation both domestically and globally.

When the Central Bank takes on this new function – issuing the eNaira and maintaining a central ledger of all transactions – it might find it harder to perform its key function of ensuring a safe and sound financial system since its focus could be diverted towards managing the eNaira system in addition to carrying out its other functions in the domestic economy.

A possible way to lighten this burden is through creating synthetic central bank digital currencies. This idea was put forward in 2019 in an International Monetary Fund paper. In such a system, the central bank does not directly manage the system, but outsources tasks to private institutions. Financial institutions issue the digital currency, which is fully backed by central bank money.

Closely linked is the risk of the system being used to launder money and finance terrorism. Financial institutions would need strong systems for combating these threats, supported by national legal infrastructure.

Another risk is around data protection and privacy. The Central Bank claims that the:

eNaira system is built with deep considerations around privacy and data protection and in compliance with the National Data Protection Regulations.

However, as the system is designed in line with the guidelines to prevent the illicit flow and use of funds which require identifying transacting parties and the details of their transactions, proper systems need to be in place to ensure that the privacy rights of users of the eNaira system are not violated.

There’s also a need to educate people about the eNaira. Although the central bank says there are ‘campaigns to deepen the understanding of eNaira amongst the population’ it is unclear what this entails. Citizens need to know the difference between the digital representation of cash deposits in bank accounts and the eNaira in digital wallets.

Is Nigeria ready for it? If not, how can the gaps be addressed?

Nigeria could certainly pull this off, provided the technology infrastructure and the technological know-how are in place. It is stated that the eNaira shall be administered by the central bank through the Digital Currency Management System to mint and issue eNaira but it appears this system has been built by Bitt, a global financial technology company. It provides digital currency and stablecoin solutions to central banks, financial institutions and ecosystem participants worldwide. As such, the maintenance of the eNaira system would very much depend on the technological strength of this company and the extent to which they are retained to provide a maintenance framework for the system.

Another issue is the electricity crisis and lack of widespread access to the internet across the country. These should be immediate priorities for the Central Bank, and the government, to resolve for the eNaira system to be successful. It is good to see that there’s a plan for the system to be usable while offline.

Another challenge that the poor may have in accessing the eNaira system is the difficulty of attaining digital identity. The eNaira design plans to use the existing Bank Verification Number and National Identity Number regime. Getting the documents needed for these is expensive and cumbersome.

As Nigeria has the largest population on the continent, spearheading this process could signal the start of a regional monetary integration. If central bank digital currency arrangements could work together across the continent it could solve the challenge of the inconvertibility of African currencies. This could help intraregional trade, which has been challenging to achieve in Africa. With the African Continental Free Trade agreement now operational, the successful launch of the eNaira might be a step towards regional monetary integration in Africa and potentially a regional central bank digital currency.

Iwa Salami is a Reader (Associate Professor) in Law, University of East London

Courtesy: The Conversation

Spread the love
Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


The African Village Mining Bitcoin




Spread the love

By Ian Birrell

Bondo is a scattered cluster of villages in a remote region of Malawi near the border with Mozambique. It sits in the foothills of Mount Mulanje, where residents rely on their feet for transport and a few crops to feed their families. Yet unlike in most places in this impoverished country, when night descends they can now switch on lights, stoves and televisions in their homes.

For electricity has arrived in Bondo. Three turbines were installed in a micro-hydro scheme exploiting the fertile region’s rainfall. And the impact has been life-changing for the 1,800 homes so far connected to a mini-grid. Children can study after dark, so now have a better chance of passing the exams for secondary school rather than having to leave aged 11. Drugs and food can be stored in fridges, so villagers do not have to make the 12-mile trek to the hospital and can produce batches of food or drinks to sell at market. Cooking the evening meal is three times quicker — and far less destructive to the environment — without the need to collect firewood.

One group of women giggled when I asked if they had televisions and watched football in their homes. “Before, our husbands would say they were going off to watch football when they were really walking out with other women. Now they can no long claim they are going off for football,” Bertha told me. The senior chief told me they had never dreamed of having energy supplied to the villages, with a dozen maize mills, many small enterprises, schools, shops and churches also connected to the grid. “When you move around Bondo you see happy people — and that’s because of electricity.”

Yet the big surprise in Bondo is not simply the supply of energy to such an isolated community, in a country where only one in eight citizens has access to grid electricity and on a continent where almost half the 1.2 billion population still lack this life-changing supply. The real eye-opener is the stack of 32 computers inside the concrete pump shed. This innovative mini-grid — located more than two hours from Malawi’s second city of Blantyre along bumpy roads and tracks that can become impassable in a torrential downpour — is mining Bitcoin to fund its operation.

It is a smart idea. The computers used to create valuable new Bitcoin tokens and validate transactions consume around the same amount of energy as a medium-sized country such as Sweden would generate. Hence the stinging critique of how this cryptocurrency wastes the planet’s precious resources. This initiative flips that narrative by using Bitcoin mining to fund energy in parts of Africa that are too poor or remote to merit connection to grids, but which do have plentiful supplies of potential power sources. Mining soaks up the excess energy of these renewable plants. And this delivers not just electricity but a powerful jolt to to drive development in the local economy.

The concept comes from a Kenyan firm, Gridless, set up in 2022, whose backers include Twitter founder Jack Dorsey. There are four other sites in Kenya and Zambia and plans for scores more across the continent. Its aim is to demonstrate how Africa could play a central role in countering the conventional belief that Bitcoin, now 15 years old, is used simply for risky speculation and dodgy transactions. Instead, it backs those who claim it will lead to more inclusive financial systems as it usurps the control of dysfunctional governments and manipulative central banks.

It will also release the community from reliance on foreign handouts to survive. The Bondo power plants were built by Mount Mulanje Conservation Trust, a local group trying to protect the mountain region’s unique bio-diversity, and were initially supported by finance from aid and development agencies — but now Bitcoin covers the running costs. This offers a commercial incentive that does not rely on altruism or subsidies to deliver power to remote regions, while exploiting energy waste at times of low use such as overnight.

Malawi, one of the world’s poorest nations, provides a powerful case study in the failures of aid. As former development minister Rory Stewart said in a lecture at Yale, Britain gave £4.5billion over half a century to this southern African country corroded by corruption and bad governance, yet it ended up “if anything, poorer than it was when we started”. “Bitcoin can prevent Bondo becoming the sort of white elephant that you see across Africa, built by aid groups and then abandoned,” said Erik Hersman, chief executive of Gridless. He admits that he is “not a big fan” of the sector. “They come in with low-cost loans and grants to finance all these schemes that they say will pay their way in 30 years but the sums never add up. This is a new way to finance development.”

Malawi also demonstrates another reason why there is rising interest in Bitcoin in Africa: people are seeking a safer home for their cash than local currencies. Prices rose sharply after its currency was devalued two months ago by 44% against the US dollar — the second decrease in value of the kwacha in 18 months. Many African countries on the continent have suffered also from catastrophic inflation, while official currency conversion rates can be significantly lower than street rates.

One Kenyan entrepreneur told me she turned to the cryptocurrency after seeing her savings constantly eroded even in a country with lower than average inflation for the continent. “I was trying to save to buy a house but kept finding my sums declining. I wanted more stability so tried Bitcoin, and then found it had other uses,” said Marcel Lorraine, founder of Bitcoin DADA. Her clients include a trader of alternative health products in a Nairobi street market, who found it much cheaper to use than changing currencies after being introduced to it by a Nigerian customer and is now hoping it will provide a stable platform for building her business to obtain a shop.

While Warren Buffet dismissed Bitcoin as “probably rat poison squared” and the economist Paul Krugman has compared it to a Ponzi scam fuelled by libertarian fantasies and “technobabble”, devotees see it as a liberating force due to the decentralised design created by its mysterious and pseudonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto. BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, has even applied to launch a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund that may open up the market to the US wealth management industry.

Certainly Bitcoin, for all its fluctuations, can seem comparatively reliable if you live in Africa — or indeed many other parts of the planet, from Argentina to Lebanon. “This is what I have seen everywhere,” said Peter McCormack, who travels the world for a Bitcoin podcast. “Here is an alternative to gold and property for a middle class that has some money and patience, but is seeing expenses and costs rise while savings decline in value. And a strong middle class helps build a strong economy by driving consumer spending, reducing reliance on the state and driving innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Bitcoin has also become a helpful tool for activists and journalists in dictatorships, since it makes it far harder to track funds. In Togo, a West African state run by one despotic family since 1967, it is used to channel cash to opposition and civil society leaders despite the freezing of bank accounts. Bitcoin has been instrumental in delivering donations to Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation in Russia and the pro-democracy movements in Belarus and Myanmar.

Alex Gladstein, chief strategy officer for the Human Rights Foundation and author of a book arguing that Bitcoin offers freedom from archaic monetary systems and political strifebelieves the cryptocurrency is especially exciting for Africans, since they suffer “all kinds of financial repression”. He points out there are 45 currencies on the continent — with 15 still controlled by France — with high transaction fees on conversion deals that are largely processed by Western firms with heavily-fluctuating rates. “Bitcoin provides an escape and an alternative for Africans while its use is less limited than some people think,” he says. “Entrepreneurs there have figured out how people without the internet can use Bitcoin, which is frankly remarkable.”

This agility is typical of the technological innovation exploding across Africa, driven by a young, rapidly growing and increasingly well-educated population. “The beautiful thing about Bitcoin is that it is a bottom-up technology and its adoption has been genuine at all levels,” said one key figure at the second African Bitcoin Conference in Ghana at the end of last year.

Only time will tell if Satoshi’s invention will turn out to be a bubble with bad consequences or, as optimists believe, a driver of profound change in the world. The fraud conviction of Sam Bankman-Fried, who ran one of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchanges, and admission of money-laundering by the boss of another major exchange has hurt the reputation of cryptocurrencies for many in the West. But Bitcoin certainly seems to offer something positive in societies scarred by autocracy, colonialism, military coups and woeful governance — as seen with those computers in a concrete shed in rural Malawi turning water into streams of cash to fund electricity.

Ian Birrell is an award-winning foreign reporter and columnist. He is also the founder, with Damon Albarn, of Africa Express.

Spread the love
Continue Reading


Why are Indian Crypto Firms Making a Beeline for Dubai?




Spread the love

Lured by a favourable regulatory landscape, an increasing number of Indian crypto companies are relocating to Dubai in an attempt to evade the high tax regime in their home country.

Crypto analysts see the exodus as a reaction to the stringent tax rules and ambiguous legal guidelines for digital currencies in India. In June 2022, the government introduced a 30 per cent tax on cryptocurrency trading profits and one per cent tax on transactions exceeding Rs10,000.

Juxtaposed with the harsh crypto ecosystem, low taxes, ease of business establishment, and dedicated regulatory framework for digital assets make the UAE, Middle East’s prime financial hub, an attractive destination for crypto firms. Dubai, in particular, excelled as a crypto innovation centre, thanks to strategic policies, and a supportive regulatory environment, crypt strategists said.

“A lot of Web3 founders prefer Dubai or Singapore as their hub because they have clarity and certainty around regulations and greater community support. When you’re setting up a business, investors are more comfortable investing in a jurisdiction where there are no last minute surprises. I am starting to see this trend on the ground and it must be reversed,” Sumit Gupta, CEO of CoinDCX, was quoted as saying by the media.

“We have seen a decline of more than 90 per cent in volumes. That’s a huge, steep decline. And what you have seen is that India continues to be number one when it comes to grassroots crypto adoption, but a lot of that activity is happening on alternative channels because of the high tax rates,” he said.

On top of 30 per cent tax plus applicable surcharge, India introduced four per cent cess on profits made from crypto trading. Last year, Indian crypto traders faced the introduction of a one per cent tax deducted at source on crypto transactions above Rs10,000. According to an amendment to the Income Tax Act, failure to pay TDS may result in a penalty equal to the unpaid amount, a 15 per cent interest on late payments and in certain cases even a jail sentence.

The UAE has been proactive in creating a regulatory environment that is both robust and flexible. Over the past three years, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been driving most change by supercharging regulatory efforts to attract a global set of businesses focusing on digital assets, bringing significant talent, investment, and positive exposure to the region, crypto market experts said.

Dubai’s appeal as a crypto hub is fast growing because of its liberal initiatives in providing regulatory clarity with the launch of the Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (Vara), putting out guidelines and policies about licenses to get. Businesses are coming in, predominantly from the UK, India, China, the US, Russia. Vara oversees cryptocurrencies and related activities in all free zones in Dubai except the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). Abu Dhabi has a similar scope of work through the Abu Dhabi Global Market.

DIFC’’s independent regulatory authority, the Dubai Financial Services Authority, has been proactive in developing a regulatory framework that balances risk with innovation. DIFC has proposed to enact a new Digital Assets Law and new Law of Security regime, working closely with industry participants “to set out legal characteristics of digital assets, its proprietary nature, how it may be controlled, transferred, and dealt with by interested parties.”

The Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), which houses over 23,000 companies, has a dedicated Crypto Centre featuring 550 Web3 companies out of which 50 are Indian.

Dubai also has gone out of its way to attract top crypto talent. The Dubai World Trade Centre has become a dedicated free zone for regulated virtual asset businesses. The specialised zone for virtual asset businesses allows for: foreign ownership; zero corporate tax; business start-up packages; co-working and office spaces, and access to a community of over 1,400 companies.

According to Chainalysis, the Middle East and Africa region has become the sixth largest crypto economy with an estimated $400 billion or 7.2 per cent of global transaction volume recorded between July 2022 and June 2023.

Spread the love
Continue Reading


Blossom Finance: Leading Indonesia’s Islamic Fintech Revolution




Spread the love

The fintech world is witnessing a significant paradigm shift, led by innovative platforms like Blossom Finance. Established in 2014, this visionary enterprise initially focused on Muslim entrepreneurs in the United States. However, recognizing the niche market limitations in the States, founder Matthew Joseph Martin, supported by influential investors including Boost VC and Tim Draper, astutely shifted focus to Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population. This strategic move highlights a global fintech trend: the rise of Islamic finance.

Blossom Finance’s Shariah-Compliant Model

Blossom Finance employs the mudarabah model, a shariah-compliant profit-sharing agreement that aligns with Islamic financial principles. This model is a departure from traditional interest-based financial systems, instead promoting equity and shared risk between investors and entrepreneurs. This innovative approach not only caters to religious adherence but also to a growing global demand for ethical financial solutions.

Why Indonesia?

Indonesia’s choice as Blossom Finance’s operational base is not coincidental. Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, houses a significant Muslim demographic and an already thriving fintech scene. Giants like Grab, GoTo, and Sea have laid the foundation for a diverse financial ecosystem, which Blossom Finance leverages. Indonesia, with approximately 231 million Muslims, presents a fertile ground for Islamic fintech innovation.

Islamic Fintech Landscape in Southeast Asia

The Islamic fintech sector in Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia, is burgeoning. Notable Islamic fintech companies in the region include Hijra (formerly Alami), Bank Aladin, and LinkAja in Indonesia, and Ethis Ventures and Wahed in Malaysia. These startups offer a range of services from digital banking to peer-to-peer lending, all within the shariah-compliant framework.

Market Potential and Financial Inclusion

The World Bank reports that Indonesia leads the globe in the number of Islamic fintech firms. This growth is a testament to the immense market potential and the role of Islamic fintech in fostering financial inclusion. Traditional banking systems often overlook significant demographics, which Islamic fintech can effectively reach and serve.

Challenges and Opportunities

Despite the promising landscape, Blossom Finance and other Islamic fintech firms face unique challenges. These include navigating the complex regulations of Islamic finance, ensuring compliance with shariah law, and educating potential users and investors about the benefits of Islamic fintech.

Blossom Finance’s Impact and Innovations

Blossom Finance has not only connected investors with microbanks for shariah-compliant financing but also innovated in ways that transcend traditional financial models. For instance, it uses murabaha contracts for transactions, where goods are purchased and sold at a markup instead of charging interest, aligning with Islamic principles.

Collaborations and Partnerships

Blossom Finance’s growth is further bolstered by strategic partnerships. Collaborations with local financial institutions and fintech players have been instrumental in expanding its reach and enhancing its service offerings.

The Future of Islamic Fintech

As the Islamic fintech sector continues to grow, we are likely to see more innovative products and services. Blossom Finance’s journey from a U.S.-focused startup to a key player in Indonesia’s Islamic fintech scene exemplifies the sector’s potential. The future might see expansions into other markets with significant Muslim populations, like Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

Role of Technology in Islamic Fintech

Technology plays a crucial role in the evolution of Islamic fintech. Digital platforms, mobile apps, and AI are being leveraged to enhance user experience, improve financial accessibility, and ensure compliance with Islamic financial principles.

Women in Islamic Fintech

An interesting aspect of the Islamic fintech boom is its inclusivity, particularly concerning gender diversity. Women are increasingly taking up leadership roles, as seen in companies like Hijra and PayHalal. This trend is not just about representation; it’s about bringing diverse perspectives to the table, which is crucial for the industry’s growth and innovation.

Global Perspective

Globally, Islamic fintech is gaining recognition as a viable alternative to conventional financial systems. Investors from non-Muslim countries are showing increased interest in Islamic fintech, recognizing its potential to offer ethical and inclusive financial solutions.

Blossom Finance’s strategic shift to Indonesia represents a significant milestone in the Islamic fintech sector. Its innovative approach to finance, grounded in Islamic principles, is not just a business model but a movement towards more ethical, inclusive, and sustainable financial practices. As the world becomes more interconnected, and the demand for ethical financial solutions rises, Blossom Finance and similar platforms are well-positioned

Spread the love
Continue Reading


Copyright © 2023 Focus on Halal Economy | Powered by Africa Islamic Economic Foundation