The rise and fall of crypto in Africa and everywhere

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Hi Quartz Africa readers,

In March 2017, I was driven by curiosity to open a bitcoin wallet. My main motivation was to understand how the entire bitcoin blockchain works. At the time, the price of bitcoin was $1,200, but by the end of the year, it rose to $20,000. The price would hit an all time high of $69,000 last November before dropping to $25,900 this week.

For many Africans in crypto, it has been a journey oscillating between both unbridled optimism and rampant skepticism. The influx of scammers has seen widespread government directives against crypto trade. Even in the past few weeks, the Central African Republic (CAR) announced that bitcoin would be its official currency at a time when Uganda is starting a crackdown on crypto trading platforms, driven by the proliferation of crypto scams in the country.

I am a crypto enthusiast, and I not only see many missteps in CAR’s adoption of bitcoin as legal tender but also in Uganda’s large-scale condemnation of crypto.

Following in the footsteps of El Savador in making bitcoin the official national currency, the CAR government said the move is intended to “open up our country for new opportunities” even as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warn central banks against the danger of replacing their national currencies with a highly volatile digital coin.

If CAR wanted to exhibit the feasibility of bitcoin over its fiat currency, it should have started by lowering the cost of mobile internet while making smartphone imports duty free, so its 4.8 million citizens can open e-wallets on affordable phones. Ensuring deeper penetration of electricity in the country and fast internet connections would accelerate mobile money adoption, which would then be a good launching pad for crypto.

If not, it will be no surprise if it ends up like El Salvador, which achieved only 14% of bitcoin transactions after onboarding 66% of its population to the national bitcoin payments system after six months.

Crypto is neither a villain nor a savior, but a tool that should be well understood if Africans are to derive maximum value from it, while outwitting scammers. —Faustine Ngila, East Africa correspondent

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Sanitation startups to 👀

In 2016, Orion Lee Herman founded Johannesburg-based LiquidGold Africa to help solve the twin challenges of sanitation and food security on the continent. Our latest Quartz Africa Member Brief is on LiquidGold, but also dives into a few other startups to keep an eye on.

Loo Afrique. This South Africa-based company makes toilet technology that saves water, improves hygiene, and incorporates greywater usage into everyday living. In 2019, Loo Afrique won R300,000 ($20,500) from the Gauteng Accelerator Programme Innovation Competition. It also receives funding from South Africa’s Water Research Commission.

Water Will. A Cairo-based startup that creates filters to eliminate impurities, odors, bacteria, and heavy minerals often found in the water in rural Egypt. Their pots are treated with silver nano particles, which they then sell to rural communities.

Sanergy. Last year, the Japan International Cooperation Agency invested $2.5 million in this Nairobi-based startup that collects urine and other biowaste before converting it into biofuel and other useful products.

HydroIQ. In March of this year, the Kenyan virtual network that helps homes, utilities, businesses, and industries use, manage, and pay for water efficiently was one of three startups selected by Google as part of its Startups Accelerator: Africa program. The tech giant invested $5 million in these startups through a combination of equity-free funding and product credits for Google services.

Water Access Rwanda. This startup funded by the Jack Ma Foundation has since 2014 provided clean water access to more than 312,000 individuals, businesses, schools, and farms in Rwanda, DRC, Burundi, and Uganda.

👆 This is a preview of our latest Quartz Africa Member Brief. To keep receiving it, sign up for a free trial of Quartz Africa membership.

Stories this week

Meta will defend itself in a Nairobi court. Meta and a firm it subcontracted for online content moderation have been sued in Kenya over poor working conditions and union busting. Faustine Ngila takes you through how it all started.

Kenyans are irate about the taxman’s online snooping plans. Kenyans are expressing their anger over plans by the country’s tax authority to deploy special software that snoops into their private messages in a bid to clamp down on fraud, Faustine Ngila reports.

The next Doctor Who is African. Rwandan born Ncuti Gatwa has become the first Black African to play the iconic role in the BBC TV series. Priya Sippy explains the significance of this selection.

Africa has a long history of internet censorship. In the past five years, citizens in close to half of African countries have experienced an internet blackout. Faustine Ngila reports on the worst offenders and the reasons for these internet and social media shutdowns.

A map showing African countries that have had internet/social media shutdowns from 2017 to 2022

Nigerian airlines may eventually shut down. After a series of threats to shut down operations citing high costs of doing business, Alexander Onukwue explains why this time the airlines might not back down.

No crypto business in Uganda. The Ugandan government is clamping down on online platforms allowing the conversion of cryptocurrencies to mobile money. Faustine Ngila explores explores why.

Charting west Africa’s chocolate dominance

A chart showing the top exporters and producers of cocoa globally.

Shiploads of cocoa move from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to Europe every year, giving life to a global $130 billion chocolate industry. But the west African farmers at the heart of this value chain have remained extremely poor over time.

In what is a potentially sweet deal for those farmers, the EU is pushing for higher prices for cocoa beans imported from the region. If implemented, the new move could lift families out of poverty, as reported by Alexander Onukwue.

Spotlight on a Quartz Africa 2021 Innovator

Stylized picture of Neema Iyer

Neema Iyer started Pollicy to create evidence-based engagement between citizens and governments on issues like efficient public service delivery. To do this, Pollicy brings data scientists, creatives, academics, and private companies together to advance conversations on data governance and digital security.

Iyer said Pollicy has trained over 5,000 people on vital data skills, working with communities to understand needs and challenges involved in using data for decision making. “Ultimately we want to push the conversation and action on Africa’s digital and data future,” she says.

Check out Quartz Africa’s Innovators 2021 list, which showcases the pioneering work being done by Iyer and other female African innovators


Interswitch received $110 million in investment from LeapFrog and Tana Africa Capital. The raise comes two and half years after the company received investment from Visa that valued it at $1 billion. Interswitch provides payments solutions in Nigeria and is a pioneer driver of the country’s digital payments revolution.

Paymob, an Egyptian online payments startup, raised $50 million in a round led by PayPal Ventures, Kora Capital, and Clay Point. Helios Digital Ventures, British International Investment, and Nclude also participated. Before this, Paymob’s last raise was an $18.5 million round a year ago.

Egypt-based ecommerce company Mylerz raised $9.6 million from private equity firm Lorax Capital Partners, and Fawry, Egypt’s most known online payment company. Founded in 2019, Mylerz says it wants to expand across Egypt and other countries in the MENA region.

Quartz Gems

Google is so nervous about what its newest bot will say

Google I/O developer conference in Mountain View, California
Scaling new conversational AI heights.
Image: Google/Handout via Reuters

Google’s latest experimental language chatbot is getting a heavily guarded release. The hesitance to open the product up to public is understandable. After all, big tech’s experiments with AI tools have drawn flak on several occasions. In 2015, Google’s image tagging algorithm was discovered to be categorizing Black people as “gorillas.” In 2016, Twitter taught Microsoft’s chatbot Tay to be a sex-crazed, neo-Nazi. A second chatbot from Microsoft launched months after Tay’s disastrous debut, Zo, leaned too far into censorship. In 2018, Amazon scrapped an internal AI recruitment tool because it was biased against women. Read the full article here.

What’s the UN’s best guess for when the global population stops growing?

a child's face repeated 2.1 times
Image: Eric Helgas, styling by Alex Citrin-Safadi
  1. 2050
  2. 2100
  3. 3000
  4. It’s already stopped growing

Answer: 2100, though a whole lot of things could happen between now and then to affect the health and movements of our species.

Elon Musk ruffled feathers last weekend by tweeting about Japan’s falling birth rate, saying the country will soon “cease to exist.” That’s not exactly true. The replacement rate—the theoretical number of births a population would need to maintain its numbers—is more complicated than just one child per one adult.

🎧 In the latest episode of the Quartz Obsession podcast, Hong Kong bureau chief Tripti Lahiri explains the math and implications of a population that’s not being perpetuated.

🚼  Listen on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google | Stitcher

Other things we liked

The US is entangled with a shady billionaire. For Bloomberg, Neil Munshi and William Clowes look under the hood to reveal the corrupt past of the Lebanese billionaire behind Eko Atlantic, the Nigerian real estate project where the US is building its largest consulate.

Somalia has elections, but citizens don’t vote. Today (May 15) is presidential election day in Somalia. Thirty-nine presidential candidates have declared interest in the top seat, but citizens are not allowed to vote. Aggrey Mutambo of The East African explains why this is the case.

Lost in Guinea, found in London. Guinea’s effort to recover three tons of Gold led to the arrest of a former central bank boss, but the treasure turned up in London. Bloomberg’s Eddie Spence, Jonathan Browning, and Katarina Hoije dive deeper.


Learn about internet governance in Kenya. KICTANet welcomes applications for fellows for the 7th Edition of the Kenya School of Internet Governance. KeSIG takes place prior to the #KeIGF2022, with the aim of introducing beginners in internet governance to basic concepts in internet policymaking. (May 23)

Celebrating Africa’s women business leaders. Nominations are now open for the 2022 edition of the prestigious AWIEF Awards, which honors women entrepreneurs and business owners in Africa and across various industry sectors for their achievements. (June 3)

🎵 This brief was produced while listening to “Open your heart” by Onesimus (Malawi)

Our best wishes for a productive and ideas-filled week ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, ideas, Nigerian flights, and bitcoin to You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.

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