Expert Eye

How Web3 is transforming FinTech in Africa  

Marieke Flament, CEO of the NEAR Foundation, unpacks the new chapter of Africa’s economic growth and a flourishing generation of tech talent 

Marieke Flament, CEO - NEAR Foundation


It could have been an absence of funding, a lack of technical knowledge, or crucial building blocks like robust internet infrastructure. There were a complex variety of reasons, but in any case, the factors that caused Africa to miss out on the economic opportunities of Web1 and Web2 are certainly not stopping it from becoming an international leader in Web3.  

The past decade has seen the continent embrace FinTech. Internet connectivity has improved, and the urban population has grown rapidly. Mix this with an ambitious tech talent pool and the move to create the world’s largest single market through the African Continental Free Trade Area, and Africa has seen a rapid digital revolution creating unprecedented economic opportunity for its people.  

The numbers reflect this reality. In 2020, Google and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) projected Africa’s Internet economy to hit US$180 billion by 2025, which would be 5.2 percent of the continent’s GDP. This is set to rise to US$712 billion by 2050, or 8.5 percent of the continent’s GDP. The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated digital transformation throughout the continent and these technical leaps cemented the foundation that had already been laid in recent decades.   
 
THE PATTERNS ATTRACTING INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION    
African countries have been leading the way in mobile money since M-Pesa came onto the scene in 2007, which went on to take over 99 percent of the market share. This astounding success only further spread mobile money adoption throughout Africa, and these days, Africa accounts for 70 percent of the world’s $1 trillion mobile money market.  

This willingness to adopt new payment methods boded well for the continent as crypto emerged, and now, Africa boasts the fastest crypto adoption rate in the world (increasing by a staggering 1,200 percent from July 2020 to June 2021). As a continent with a large unbanked population, a big credit gap, and inefficient cross-border payment systems, it has always held massive potential opportunity for Web3. 

After all, sub-Saharan users have achieved more than $80 million in cryptocurrency holdings, which represents more than the total held by US users. Africa also hosts the second-largest bitcoin market (Nigeria), which has also seen a government-introduced central bank digital currency, one of only a handful of countries worldwide.  

On top of this – not one, not two, but six of its countries (Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Togo and Tanzania) appeared on the 2021 Global Crypto Adoption Index Top 20 list by Chainalysis. It is evident that Web3 represents an entirely new chapter of unleashing economic growth and prosperity not just for specific individual countries but for the continent as a whole.  
 
A NEW GENERATION OF TECH TALENT IS HERE   
This shift is reflected on the grassroots and institutional levels, with a growing interest among African youth in technical training and education opportunities. New educational programmes for developers and educational content for the wider public are emerging, with a young generation of African developers keen to learn and find their role in creating this exciting new chapter for the continent.  

Our partnership with the local blockchain community Sankore and its incubated projects has shown us the innovation unfolding on the ground.  

Kilimo Shwari is a blockchain-based insurance programme that helps farmers deal with natural disasters. This on-chain solution aims to hedge farmers against agricultural uncertainties such as bad weather and calamities like the recent locust invasion in Kenya. The insurance is based on smart contracts, gathering data on uncertainties and automatically compensating farmers. 
 
Another example of a Sankore-supported initiative is Ledja, designed to combat fraud throughout Africa and tackle forged documentation. Through cooperating with higher learning institutions and initiating document digitisation using NEAR Protocol, Ledja enables much faster, safer, and more secure document verification.  
 
NEW BLOCKCHAIN INNOVATIONS ABOUND   
Not only are these projects growing organically from local communities of blockchain developers, but Africa is attracting more international funds, investors, incubators and corporate interest than ever before. The Web3 startup ecosystem is backed by global venture capital leaders such as Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), Paradigm, and Coinbase Ventures, which have all made notable investments in the continent.  

It was CoinShares Ventures and Anthemis Group that led the round for Ejara, a Cameroon app started by Nelly Chatue-Diop, which raised $2 million to offer crypto and investment services in Francophone Africa. The app enables access to various investment offers, including fractional shares, commodities, cryptocurrency, and more. With a mission to democratise the cryptocurrency playing field for the average French-speaking African, it helps the local population invest as little as 5,000 CFA (~$9). 

Alongside these developments, new corporate initiatives are transforming the Web3 scene in Africa. Diamond leader De Beers announced the world’s first blockchain-backed diamond source platform at scale through Tracr. This is the world’s only distributed diamond blockchain that starts at the source and provides tamper-proof source assurance at scale and helps to track jewellery activities from the continent. 

The combination of all these developments makes it impossible not to get excited about the enormous opportunities ahead. While Web3 tends to be more complex than the previous versions of the web, with higher barriers to entry and an understanding of the blockchain, smart contracts, protocols, and so on, these barriers can be addressed efficiently and effectively over the coming years.  

Through a combination of exciting educational opportunities, technical training schemes, and an active start-up ecosystem, a new generation of tech talent will only continue to proliferate. What matters most is a deep interest in the opportunities presented by this new iteration of the web, and this clearly exists in abundance throughout Africa.