Could Bitcoin Be The Future Of Money Transfer In Africa?

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Written by Kevin Mwanza

From AllAfrica

For African migrants, sending money back home comes at a high cost: they spend an average of 12.4 percent on transfer fees. Bitcoin entrepreneurs are now coming up with clever ways of bringing the cost of remittance down, all the way to zero. A risky endeavor or a smart fix?

Shaun Matsheza has gone through the process every month for over five years, ever since he came to the Netherlands. Armed with cash and a customer card, he shows up at Western Union’s bright yellow desk to send money back home to Zimbabwe. The cost to do so is high: on average, about 15 percent of the total money transaction. “And if something suddenly arises, and my family needs 40 euros or so, I have to pay the minimum fee of 17 euros,” says Matsheza, who is a journalist for Radio Netherlands Worldwide. “It can be ridiculous.”

At the other end of the transaction, the process is not very convenient either. After Matsheza sends his mother a secret code, she or a sibling travels about half an hour into town to collect the money at the nearest Western Union agency.

Matsheza and his family are far from alone in acting out this monthly ritual. In fact, millions of people across the world do the same. Their mundane motions fuel the global economy; according to the World Bank, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa will receive 44 billion euros in remittance this year alone, which makes it one of the largest sources of income, far exceeding foreign aid.

Popular money transfer agents like Western Union or MoneyGram, whose services are cheaper than banks, handle a large part of these transactions to African countries. Yet their fees for sending money are outrageously high: an average of 12.4 percent. Like Shaun Matsheza, many migrants are reluctantly loyal customers. “I am always interested in alternatives,” Matsheza says, “but it’s not an easy problem to solve.”

High-tech fix for low-tech communities

Techies believe that Bitcoin might be just what these migrants are looking for. Sending Bitcoin across borders and exchanging to and from the cryptocurrency is practically free of charge, and it doesn’t require the interference of any bank or government.

Read more at AllAfrica