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A cryptocurrency success story within a developing nation

  • Betty’s place is an example of how businesses in some countries aren’t waiting for the West to catch up.
  • “I attract different customers from different parts of the world, whichever coin they have. As long as it’s a viable coin, we accept it.”
  • Wambugu started trading in Bitcoin two years ago, and within a year she made enough money to buy the two-storey Nyeri hotel, which she converted to Betty’s Place.

KENYA’S Betty’s Place is one example of a business embracing crypto. Betty’s place is an example of how businesses in some countries aren’t waiting for the West to catch up.

Beatrice Wambugu, a Bitcoin investor and the owner of the Kenyan restaurant, which specialises in “nyama choma”, a lip-smacking goat meat barbeque, has embraced cryptocurrencies as a form of payment at her establishment.

Located in the rural town of Nyeri, about 150km (90 miles) outside the capital, Nairobi, and in the shadow of Mount Kenya,  the tech-savvy Betty’s Place is one of the growing number of businesses in Kenya that allows customers to pay with either Bitcoin and Dash.

“Since the world is becoming more global, my place is also becoming a global restaurant,” Beatrice Wambugu explains.

“I attract different customers from different parts of the world, whichever coin they have. As long as it’s a viable coin, we accept it.”

Buying a Hotel From Her Bitcoin

Wambugu started trading in Bitcoin two years ago, and within a year she made enough money to buy the two-storey Nyeri hotel, which she converted to Betty’s Place.

Located on Nyeri’s busy main road and eye-catching thanks to its bright mustard-coloured walls and big glass windows, Betty’s Place has become a local attraction for people wanting to know more about Bitcoin.

Wambugu, who describes herself as “a cryptocurrency pioneer”, holds classes on how to trade in Bitcoin every Sunday at her restaurant.

“I’ve set aside one day where I can teach my customers. Whoever asks about cryptocurrencies: ‘How does it work? What is Bitcoin?’ I train them,” she says.

Mobile Payments

Mobile phones make paying with cryptocurrency at Betty’s Place and other retailers easy.

In Africa, the mobile phone has been instrumental in transforming the way people conduct business, and the growth of Bitcoin could one-day rival mobile banking platforms like M-Pesa as a viable form of payment.

Bitcoin presents an “opportunity to do what people are calling ‘banking the unbanked'”, says James Preston, head of the publication SA Crypto, referring to more than 350 million Africans who do not have access to traditional forms of banking.

“There’s been such a history of poverty in Africa that so many rural communities are yet to be developed with normal banking infrastructure,” he told the BBC.

“Now all of a sudden they can get a Bitcoin wallet on their phone and in essence they can have a bank in their phone, and that’s what cryptocurrencies and crypto assets do, they allow you to be your own bank.”

The surge in popularity of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has led many experts to believe that Africa will once again leapfrog the digital divide, bypassing traditional banking much like it did with the fixed-line telephone.

According to the African Development Bank, smartphone penetration is set to hit 50 per cent by 2020.

Bitcoins, and the blockchain technology that underpins cryptocurrencies are touted as presenting an opportunity to transform business and the way governments run in Africa.

Truth Engine

Transparency and accountability are vital aspects of the blockchain system – two qualities citizens seek in African countries that have been mired in corruption and maladministration.

Pan-African telecommunications company Liquid Telecom said in its blockchain report this year that the technology was a “truth engine that represents a new opportunity to improve processes and drive efficiency”.

If all government contracts, tenders and budgets were available on a blockchain there would be a sharp decline in corrupt practices.

But it is important to note that blockchain technology is not the panacea to the governance problems seen in parts of Africa.

“Blockchain is no magic wand,” said Carlos Santiso, who heads the Innovation in Citizen Services Division of the Inter-American Development Bank.

“It will not replace the need for stronger institutions, and it can be most effective when strengthening them.”

South Africa’s Central Bank trialled a system earlier this year called Project Khokha, which used blockchain technology, to process interbank payments and settlements.

It found that “the typical daily volume of the South African payments system could be processed in less than two hours” with full confidentiality of transactions assured.

In Nigeria, the country’s Senate ordered an investigation into Bitcoin trading.

Nigeria is home to the continent’s largest Bitcoin market with more than $4m-worth traded daily.

Central bank governor Godwin Emefiele warned: “Cryptocurrency or Bitcoin is like a gamble, and there is a need for everybody to be careful.”

Wambugu says she does not need regulators to tell her how to use the technology best.

“At my place, it’s ‘nyama choma’ and ‘nyama Bitcoin’,” she said.

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