The expansion of Bitcoin adoption across the African continent will not only come through its declaration of fiat currency, but also through easy and low-cost access.
People’s opinions are colorful with different perspectives, but mine is all about painting the big picture of what Africans need: Africans want and will adopt any solution that can solve their problems in real time. Making payment platforms less complex and being as low-tech as possible is actually one of the prerequisites for enabling financial inclusion and lowering user barriers to entry in Africa.
Machankura, for example, is a Bitcoin-centric payment solution that integrates the existing telecommunication infrastructure in Africa with the second-tier Bitcoin protocol known as the Lightning Network in order to enable financial inclusion and achieve instant payment service in the hidden corners of Africa in one way housing. BitText, on the other hand, is an open-source Bitcoin project in the pipeline aimed at implementing the Machankura solution in a non-custodial way.
Let’s take a deeper look at what this entails and understand why these solutions could work exceptionally well for Africans.
A feature phone is a class of mobile phones that retain the shape of previous generations of mobile phones, typically with button-based inputs and small non-touch displays. Hence, smartphones are portable computing devices that combine mobile phone functions and computing functions into one unit, distinguished from feature phones by their more powerful hardware capabilities and extended mobile operating systems, which facilitate broader software capabilities. .
Unlike many other regions of the world where smartphones make up almost the entire market, in Africa, feature phones make up a significant share of the mobile phone market. Unsurprisingly, “of the 40-50 million cell phones shipped to Africa each quarter, more than half are feature phones,” according to Statista. In fact, in the first quarter of 2022, smartphone shipments were 19.7 million units, while nearly 22 million feature phones were shipped. The reasons behind this are not far-fetched: Smartphones are more expensive than feature phones, and a high percentage of the African population probably use feature phones because they are more affordable, even if they lack the juicy features of smartphones.
Since a huge chunk of the African population uses these devices, promoting the financial inclusion of this user group in a decentralized way requires the creation of consumable products on feature phones. African Bitcoin developers have realized that Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) technology works interoperably on both feature phones and smartphones and have committed to developing Machankura and BitText via that communication protocol.
Users may think of Machankura as similar to Wallet of Satoshi, but in its skeletal form, without a cluttered user interface. Instead of having a smartphone app, you are interacting with the wallet via the USSD menu. Machankura handles requests through its custom Application Package Interface (API) infrastructure with Lightning Network. Users transmit requests via mobile networks and not an internet connection, the request is then accepted and forwarded via the internet and the Lightning Network via the Machankura database and existing Bitcoin and Lightning nodes.
At the time of writing, Machankura appears to be working well and his website indicates that he has coverage in at least six African countries – Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda – with USSD codes and detailed instructions for l use included.
Composing any of these codes in those jurisdictions should directly prompt users to send bitcoins, receive bitcoins, review account details (balances and transaction history), or purchase goods / services.
Looking at the operation mode of smartphone case wallets, they love to link your email address with your account for identification and recovery purposes, so you can install them on multiple devices or recover the account on a new device, in the case of Machankura is tied to your phone number. Assuming your phone or SIM card has been stolen, this implies that your funds have also been stolen, or if someone sim swaps your number, they could access your funds. You are expected to leverage Machankura as an incredible payment infrastructure rather than a long-term personal custody product with the hope of anticipating several improvements and updates as it continues to develop.
BitText appears to be an open source version of Machankura, throwing its two hands in the air with anticipation of global contributions that could repair and improve this Bitcoin-on-USSD solution by better targeting self-custody, security and privacy, as well as to interoperable transactions with Bitcoin’s Lightning Layer 2 network.
Banking the unbanked by building products focused on addressing the specific problems of the payment and settlement system of Africans, while leveraging decentralized innovation such as Bitcoin, is a journey that Bitcoin developers in Africa have taken intensively over the past couple of months. These efforts, led by several initiatives and the collective support of the plebs and the Africa Bitcoin ecosystem, deserve thanks.
This is a guest post by Heritage Falodun. The views expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.