In this audio interview, CoinDesk’s Leigh Cuen and Fodé Diop, founder of the Dakar Bitcoin Developers meetup in Senegal, talk about bitcoin in Africa.
From how mobile devices offer the primary point of access and social media groups offer local liquidity, Cuen and Diop explore what cryptocurrency adoption actually looks like in emerging markets like Senegal.
Like many bitcoiners, Diop got his start in the crypto industry working for token projects in 2017. From there, he got involved with the Oakland Blockchain Developers Meetup, and eventually took that experience back to Senegal when he moved back to his hometown to be with family during the COVID-19 crisis.
“I started with Ethereum because it was easier to have access to…Philosophically, I no longer align with the Ethereum ethos,” Diop said. “The first thing I did when I started here [Dakar] with the meetups was I gave away about $1,000 in bitcoin.”
As a dual citizen of the U.S. and Senegal, with an American bank account, Diop can use mainstream bitcoin wallets like Cash App to use bitcoin as a currency anywhere in the world. This came in handy when Diop unexpectedly needed to stay in Senegal throughout 2020. For people with only Senegalese accounts, he recommends the Lightning-friendly Wallet of Satoshi.
Now, with the support of organizations like Chaincode Labs, he freelances from Senegal teaches aspiring bitcoiners like Bineta Ngom, who have a high level of technical understanding yet aren’t fluent in English. As such, she struggled to find the right materials to learn about bitcoin.
“I’m super happy to find out there was a bitcoin community here in Senegal. I never heard of it spoken of before here. I didn’t have anyone to talk to, exchange (ideas) on the subject. This was a chance for me to meet enthusiasts,” Ngom said.
Ngom, who studied computer science and now works at a local university, said she hopes to use bitcoin to buy something someday. In the meantime, Diop is focused on translating information from English into local languages like French and Wolof. Plus, he said most people in Senegal only access the internet through their Android mobile devices. So they need information about how to use mobile apps and understand whether something is a scam.
“We also have peer-to-peer trading through WhatsApp and Telegram,” Diop said.
Until Diop started the local bitcoin meetup, Ngom said the only other sources she knew for cryptocurrency projects were a few “scams” her friends invested in during the 2017 token boom.
“Places that are English-speaking are moving way faster than their French counterparts,” Diop said, comparing English-speaking Ghana and Nigeria to French-speaking countries in West Africa. “I don’t understand how the bitcoin community doesn’t target more (African) universities and do more hackathons.”
He added the small yet highly curious community in Senegal now uses bitcoin for speculative trading and remittances.
“I have people who are highly, highly technical when it comes to cryptography, per say, but they don’t understand how bitcoin works,” Diop said. “I believe this technology is groundbreaking. It could help a lot of people.”