Uganda Takes its First Steps Toward Bitcoin Regulation

A UN organization focused on criminal justice issues organized a meeting on bitcoin and digital currencies this past summer in Uganda.

AccessTimeIconNov 23, 2016 at 12:35 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 12:37 p.m. UTC
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A UN organization focused on criminal justice issues has released details about a meeting on bitcoin and digital currencies this past summer in Uganda.

Held in Kampala on 7th July, the meeting drew support from the United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFRI); the Bank of Uganda; and the University of Birmingham Law School.

Dr Maureen Mapp, a teaching fellow for the University of Birmingham Law School who spearheaded the event, told CoinDesk that the aim of the event was to establish a basis from which bitcoin regulation could be crafted in Uganda.

Should the effort move forward, Uganda would be one of the first African countries to regulate bitcoin. (Data from CoinDesk Research shows that interest on the continent is growing, but that its startup sector lags behind other startup sectors internationally).

Indeed, Mapp said the effort grew out of a digital currency research project conducted with the Commonwealth Secretariat that showcased to her how Ugandan public officials were largely in the dark about the technology's benefits and risks.

Mapp told CoinDesk:

"I was inspired to engage with policy makers and regulators in order to investigate whether states could develop policies and regulation that encourage innovation while protecting the private rights and interests of users of virtual currencies."

The overarching goal, she explained, was building awareness, as well as setting the stage for future discussions.

Working with the Ugandan central bank and later UNAFRI – which helped fund the July gathering – Mapp began contacting stakeholders within the country to put together what became the meeting at UNAFRI’s campus in Kampala, Uganda’s capitol.

Among the outcomes of the meeting is a think tank dedicated to the "technological, policy, pluralist, ethical and legal issues" surrounding digital currencies, composed of the organizations and representatives that attended the July meeting. Those involved also developed a draft framework for future discussions between private and public stakeholders, which was published earlier this month by UNAFRI.

Next steps include the preparation for a second meeting, set to take place on the same date in 2017. But ahead of that, the gears are already in motion for future regulatory or legislative moves in Uganda.

"The legal and regulatory environment is moving towards embracing the technology so as to harness its benefits and to promote innovation," she said.

Before that, stakeholders need to agree on the right approach to regulation. Self-regulatory and public-private partnerships are currently on the table, according to Mapp.

"Another concern is how to mitigate any risks in order to protect the public interests, but without stifling innovation," Mapp explained.


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