The Opportunity That Nearly Slipped Off; A Potential Lesson for the Future

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September 1, 2020 by
The Opportunity That Nearly Slipped Off; A Potential Lesson for the Future

Oh my! how on earth does one blow a lifetime opportunity to be on Techpoint flagship event ,Build Africa 2020 – a two days conference that brought together entrepreneurs and seasoned professionals in Africa technology space which also gave the opportunity to feature on a panel session dubbed “ Secure digital currencies for the future of Africa” with the likes of Yele Bademosi of Bundle Africa, Fejiro Agbodje of Patricia Technologies and Marius Reitz of Luno; all moderated by Damilola Odufuwa of Binance.

I’ve been paying keen attention to Techpoint, they mean business and have execution excellence with the aid of their very youthful team who enjoy what they do. So when I got an email from Ifeanyi Ndiomewese on 30th June, 2020, that read –

We are overwhelmed by your works in the African digital currency space through KuBitX and would like to invite you as a speaker at the oncoming Techpoint Build 2020. Techpoint Build will be hosted virtually on August 27th and 28th 2020 and, being a Pan African conference that it is, we would love to have your good company on a panel session themed ‘secured digital currencies for the future Africa.”’Through Techpoint Build, we have created an environment where African startups and technologists get access to funding, learn, network, bridge the gap between trades and technologies, expose potential opportunities and see actual results.As a stakeholder of the Africa digital ecosystem, we believe your voice would be a critical addition to the Techpoint Build 2020 stage while shaping future African technology and startup narrative. Thank you for reading, and we very much look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

I acknowledged receipt and confirmed acceptance after 24 hours after which I began checking their past events and the caliber of speakers, panel sessions, and various topics. I realized this was the first time anything related to crypto /digital currency had been considered as a major talking point on such a glamorous event in Africa.

I felt that with Techpoint spotlight currently on us, it was a pleasant opportunity to tell the world, especially Africa about our approach and views on blockchain technology and some of its products (like digital currency or cryptocurrencies) through relatable storytelling, as well as  our opinion on how we can leverage it to leapfrog legacy financial technologies in the interest of the continent..

How do you get to a platform that brings personalities such as Ernest Obi – Flutterwave, Titi Akinsami – Google, Oluwatobi Otokiti – Flutterwave, Babatunde Fashola – Twitter, Kayode Nubi – Stripe, Joel Benson – VR360 Stories and more and not give value, deep insights and a good understanding of the subject under discussion? 

On Wednesday 26th August, to better understand the webinar tool Techpoint deployed for the virtual conference, a demo was organised for the panelists. It was my first direct engagement with any of the co-panelists. It was extremely fascinating. The humor, especially the energy of Dami and Yinka gave me so much appetite to give off my best especially knowing that, I had more than 30 invitees from Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa, Cameroon, Gambia, Barbados, and several others on my WhatsApp status (which typically has 170+ daily readers) in addition to my KuBitX family; who were all eager to listen to their own Eric.

The dexterity of the techpoint team and how beautiful the first day went, especially the  keynote presentation from Tayo Oviosu-CEO Paga: (who had dropped one of my favourite  quotes “The path to scale is not a straight line, it takes focus of a dedicated team to get it through”) were additional motivation to give nothing but one’s best.

My Thursday was so packed, I had a group meeting with my Founder Institute team at 7pm and immediately after had Y Combinator Startup School session with the likes of Brenin,India, IdyaFlow,Canada and Education United LLC,USA at 8pm. After all that, I quickly called my family to talk to my lovely twins before they went to bed, but missed their bedtime. I then retired to bed in a meditation mood until 11:30 pm after which I drifted off in sleep.. 

I have some special gifts, I don’t know how it happens, but I usually like to be free with no slides or notes in such engagements. What I do normally is that I read profusely on all kinds of topics, sometimes not directly to the subject matter to help me relate the issues to things around us and with practical examples. That has been a template I used in all my schooling days I must admit academically I excelled, I just didn’t feel like academia was my thing, hence I participated in many non academic activities to have grip on real life experiences in various leadership roles, all through my active schooling years.

I woke up by 7am, did my morning rituals and took my bath, got to my living room,set up my laptop, checked everything and I was good to go. Knowing how electricity can be funny sometimes in Nigeria and the fact that it rains unannounced these days, I ensured I filled my generator tank to the brim at least to last me for 4 hours, I was determined not to miss one single session, the second day sessions were all vital to where we are at the moment in the KuBitX journey. “Building Product with African Design and Working on Global Products’’ the two were handled by very experienced executors and it was insightful learning for me and luckily the KuBitX family were hooked on it deeply, the VP Product and Director of Enterprise respectively.

Sadly there was a NEPA visitation (a local phrase to indicate power interruption), I quickly turned on my gen, finished these two sessions, and then it was just 45 minutes to go live with my panel session. The generator ran without hitches  for 15 minutes and went off, tuned it on again and in less than 5 minutes I had done that more than 5 times, it was then I realized the worst had happened for the day. I quickly packed my stuff, – my phone internet was also down; maybe the rain was the reason for abrupt network downtime –  and began a frantic search for the nearest possible spot I could use to join the session.

I was able to settle down at least 10 minutes before the session at the plush Jabi Lake Club,in hopes of enjoying decent WiFi and maybe some Pina Colada. Surprisingly and unfortunately they didn’t have such a facility, and so I resorted to trying my phone hotspot again but it did little to save my troubles. I set up my devices and prepared to go live with the team on the panel unaware that my internet was dealing handsomely with me. By the time I was able to go live, intros had been done by the moderator and I had missed a golden opportunity to build up momentum for what I was prepared to deliver on the day, being the very first time any blockchain enthusiast has delivered such narrative about this technology riding on our wealth of experience in building the very first indigenous crypto exchange (digitalkudi.com) in Nigeria 2017, (a the time when there was only Luno  playing in the Nigerian space) which then metamorphosed into what is now known as KuBitX; which I co-founded on the principles of Fruitful Collaboration and which has seen collection of selfless Africans who are inspired by delayed gratification, and the pursuit of meaning over expediency

Bottom line, I missed a golden opportunity to share my thoughts and tell the KuBitX story; our pitfalls from running the fastest exchange built in 2018 which became a white elephant due to several factors such as lack of finance, bad timing, a corporate mentality instead of a startup mentality and more importantly our resilience to pivot KuBitX into an engineering startup focusing on building Africentric solutions leveraging on exponential technologies (AI,Blockchain,IoT, Machine Learning). I missed the opportunity to share about how we built   KBX wallet, the very first Alternative Remittance Solution built for African migrants, traders, travelers, students and businesses to send or receive intra Africa cross border value transfer using local tokenized currencies without FX intermediaries in cheaper and faster fashion than the tradition options. We are currently piloting Ghana and Nigeria and have processed  over $200k in transaction volumes.

My contribution was going to center on what blockchain truly means based on my personal research, understanding of world history and how it should be looked at by all players in the industry.

Blockchain is more than just a technology, it can’t be compared to every other innovation we have known such as Automobiles, Electricity, Light Bulb,Television, and even the Internet being the layer on which the blockchain operates. It is Political, Philosophical, Psychological, Economical, it is mass induced Freedom and Fundamental Liberty.

The way we look at it shouldn’t just be about ‘mooning’, ‘bull’ and ‘bear’ chants all over the place by few predators whose interest is to just swayed the public into hyped and short-lived terminologies and fads (ICO, IEO, DeFi hype etc), but rather from a point of view of  how to get the best out of it. The tool is so powerful and needs deep system thinking to apply it for advancement of humanity in all spheres of life which remain the true reason behind the technology.. My point is not to say ICOs and IEOs  (Initial Coin or Exchange Offerings) or today DeFi hype are not great, ICOs birthed likes of Binance, Huobi,Kucoin, LockTrip, EthLEnd and even KuBitX but again most used the the premise to dupe millions, I felt it heavily personally with a combined loss of over $220k by 2018 Q1.

DeFi is not new, matter of fact, we can say 99% a huge chunk of all blockchain based products are DeFi(Decentralized Finance) , the only new additions to the space are merely tweaks and introduction of new features and products some of which are rebrands of  the same projects who raised millions of dollars in 2017/18.  

When we see the same individuals who raised millions and did nothing  suddenly surface to join the hype bandwagon with announcements of partnerships all to just to make their tokens “pump”or “moon”,  then you begin to question the real motives, especially when you consider the are countless pain and losses caused to people in the past by ICOs and IEOs. The idea of blockchain is not for the few and powerful to cannibalize the system, else the very problem the initiators intended to solve will become even more grave, if we don’t checkmate these bad actors who have so much influence and money to twist the arms of many unsuspecting public for sheer greed that has ruined the current system DeFi is supposed be the redeemer for.

Blockchain is Political- We know policy-making, regulations and power to enforce or take is overwhelmingly vested in the State Authority. Blockchain and its offerings can easily be seen as usurping the state powers especially when it comes to what money. It’s the very first innovation that has challenged the status quo and push everyone to begin to question the very foundations of money as a means of exchange and value transfer. Some of us have different opinions and wish to make these proposals, that instead of fighting it or planning to make life difficult for the technology, we should see it as a development partner. 

The reason is that many, especially Africans have been given a raw deal for their taxes, public finances, procurement processes, infrastructure and how our collective wealth is sold under lock and key secrecy to the West. Blockchain can do the following; P2P uncensored transactions, borderless, permissionless system of value transfer that relies on no central authority for validation. It is tamper-proof, secured, and decentralized.. 

If a government’s duty is to improve the lives of citizens by creating an enabling environment for everyone to thrive, then it is in the interests of the governments in Africa to see it as a partner. Tokenize our gold, bauxite, diamond, oil, magazine, tin, coltan, cassava, yam, cocoa, coffee, cattle, sheep, goats, real states, stock exchanges etc to run on blockchain protocols. This will bring back confidence of citizens in their governments who can now see how certain affairs are conducted more transparently and so may be more willing to also pay their due taxes, levies and social contributions.

What this means is that the combined wealth of Africa’s tokenized assets will not need any loans from China or IMF to dictate for the continent but we will mobilize whatever capital is needed through crowdsourcing backed by real assets to do any infrastructure development in the continent. We are in a different world today and we need to have a very consented and intentional approach to scale up our continent and have our own table created. 

Blockchain is Philosophy- yes, blockchain has rebirthed ancient barter, value exchanges as it were with no third party, The only difference is the fact that there is advance tooling to make it digital and interoperable unlike in the past. It’s reshaping our belief systems, dislocating what was normal, untouchable and left for central banks and governments single monetary policy for centuries. 

Such sporadic shifts, can’t be anything more than a smart modern day philosophical movement and authorities are helpless to stop it or avoid playing ball with the monster (blockchain and its children). Anything that changes people’s belief system is philosophy, because money and everything around is more of a philosophy than science or fiction. 

Blockchain is Psychological- yes, people must feel energized, euphoric, fascinated, swayed mentally to try something new. Blockchain came with its own keys, drivers, passengers, activators, enablers and everything that must make it work. So for example, the promogators knowing that their life will be endangered, chose to remain anonymous till date, all we know is one Satoshi Nakamoto (a male, female, entity or animal) nobody can tell it really, except the  White Paper that has become the industry standards- the very fine lines which I love is “ A peer to peer electronic transfer of value, decentralized manner, uncensored, permissionless, trusted process by a network of thousands of computers and cables for greater levels of security” This is the shift on the human history in relation to the way our mindset was programmed in this world about money several years after abolition of the barter system.

Blockchain is Economical- This is the most important factor. For over 100 years central and private banks have operated and created a class society. It is almost impossible for fish market women in Free Town, Sierra Leone, tomato sellers in Agbogbloshie market in Ghana, Gari seller in Ariaria market Aba, Nigeria or the primary one teacher in Harare, Zimbabwe to ever have a bank account due to low income or nothing at all. This has built up to the extent that, today over 60% of Sub Saharan Africans are unbanked and more underserved, but thanks to the Telcos who led a massive financial revolution; M-Pesa and others, today we have every common man or woman on the street some level of financial inclusion or a means to receive and send money in a formal way. Those that manage to use the current financial system suffer delays; shops that use POS,Card payments or payment gateways have to wait for days to get value for their sales. Digital currency fully embraced will take off all these needless delays and provide near instant value for any sales to help restocking and doing other things with the proceeds of business.

We have seen over 300% adult financial inclusion in Ghana since the launch of Mobile Money in 2009, from 13% in 2014 to 39% in 2017 now over 500%. In Kenya almost every citizen has an M-Pesa account on their phones.

There are still some gaps, ability to connect a trader in Mozambique or a student in Uganda or a traveller in South Sudan to load his or her MoMo wallet with their native currencies without the headache of changing to a foreign exchange currency (any money outside African currency is FX) for intra Africa value exchange . 

This is where blockchain comes so clean to solve that headache in Africa. There is opportunity to use the technology and provide a bridge through tokenized fiat currency and with a wallet such as KBX wallet one can do all the above seamlessly and intuitively. What is left is the regulation nuances, which again is not an issue, innovation will always be ahead of regulation. The question should centre on how best can we use innovative means to better our economic narrative, then use the feedback from the field to formulate policies that will foster growth and progress, not those that kill local innovation in favour of foreign firms who use their financial war chest to cannibalize the continent and go away with everything. Paraphrasing the most popular Chinese E-Commerce billionaire Ali Baba-”In China we don’t care about regulations,we solve the problem first before we come back to regulation’’. I agree with him. Imagine a homogeneous society thinking this way. We in Africa a heterogeneous and deplorable economic condition should begin to hasten our pace with our own reality, not the systems inherited from colonizers.

We must be ready to create our own narrative, our script and be ahead of our weak economic system. These should be seen with the lenses of collaboration which create endless possibilities not competition which only gives just enough for everyone. A well thought through planning will position Africa to own the future we crave for, provide an ample system for our agile 77% youthful population and win the new oil (Data) future with certainty and confidence.

It is fundamental freedom and liberty at last. For the first time, people feel so safe as being in control of their own destiny, managing their financial data and value. There is a massive dislocation of the digital financial economy. The massive penetration of foreign blockchain firms in Africa is just a overwhelming with the banks, businesses, Central banks and the government, that in 3–5 years, there will be no tangible economy in Africa because 77% of the young population will have no sympathy for the local setup and will have their wealth in cyberspace, independent of the traditional systems and nobody can do nothing about that. The earlier we all smell the coffee the better for the future of AfCFTA and our continent.

One thing Africa should know is, blockchain is not owned by anyone to determine its application, what works in a homogeneous society like China won’t work in a heterogeneous continent of ours. 54 different monetary and fiscal policies, trade rules and travel regimes. The continent has enough resources in terms of technical know how A-Z about blockchain, this time, there will be no need to import foreign infrastructure built in their context for their use only to bring it in Africa and get wasted because they have no clue how our DNA is made up. The only way is to believe in ourselves, give our technology minds to build any solutions we desire for elections, procurement, educational sector, health, ministries, financial sector, agriculture, housing, and more. Yes there will be some mistakes but it’s the beauty of those mistakes that lifted China from abject poverty to abundance today. 

What Blockchain can do is provide a bridge to tokenize our local currencies without depending on any FX for our trades, travels, remittances. We must be open to collaboration because it opens endless possibilities whiles competition just give just enough for everyone

The Techpoint Build Africa Virtual conference 2020 was insanely impressive,the style, organization, the topics or subjects and resources picked clearly shows how Adewale Yusuf and his team in short while have placed Africa on the map using the power of technology to build a fierce tech media organization. It is needless to say, Africa has talents and skills that outperform any talent anywhere on the planet, what is lacking is the support mechanism from those who have or control policy. However the resilience of the African can’t be overemphasized. I wonder COVID-19 has pushed mankind to once again raise the bar for creativity. I am very sure, COVID-19 is not all gloom and lamentation, but it came and brought some of the finest creativity to get us even better than we were before it reared its  ugly face in our lives.

I want to end by paying tribute to Chadwick Boseman with his quote, “In times of crisis, the wise build bridges,while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were a single tribe.”

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