Since July 15th I have been living and working remotely in Nairobi, Kenya and I intend to stay here for several months more. During the time I have spent here so far, I have managed to meet several local bitcoin pioneers and have attended a small bitcoin conference in the center of Nairobi. In this brief post, I would like to share with you five things I have learned about bitcoin in Kenya.
1. Bitcoin merchant adoption is effectively zero
According to CoinMap, there are less than five merchants accepting bitcoin in Nairobi and zero in other parts of Kenya. The merchants that say they accept bitcoin are online travel booking companies and small tech companies. Not a single bricks and mortar shop accepts bitcoin in Kenya (yet).
2. Mobile money rules but that hinders bitcoin adoption by consumers
In Kenya there are two forms of mobile money, which have been launched by the two large telecom companies. Airtel and MPesa, with the latter seeing the higher usage rates. The way MPESA works is that you load Kenyan Schillings (KES) onto your MPESA mobile wallet at a local agent (of which there are plenty) and spend using your mobile phone through a simple text message-like service. While it is great to see mobile payment systems flourishing and promoting financial inclusion in rural parts of the country, it also makes using bitcoin mobile wallets for payments effectively redundant as a fully functioning mobile payment system is already in place in Kenya.
3. The largest telecoms company and mobile money provider, Safaricom, does not like bitcoin
Last year, Safaricom shut down BitPesa's access to their MPESA mobile wallets that allowed users to send international money transfers from bitcoin into local currency directly into MPESA mobile money wallets in Kenya. BitPesa went to court to appeal this decision. Unsurprisingly, given Safaricoms dominance in Kenya, BitPesa lost. This is likely the primary reason why bitcoin trading on LocalBitcoins.com has increased since December 2015.
4. Bitcoin trading volumes on LocalBitcoins.com in Kenya are on the rise in 2016
While bitcoin trading volumes have been very slow to grow from 2013 to the end of 2015, 2016 has seen a substantial increase in peer-to-peer bitcoin trading in Kenya. (https://coin.dance/volume/localbitcoins/KES)
5. There are currently only three bitcoin businesses in Kenya
The three business are the well-funded remittance start-up BitPesa, the Bitcoin & Blockchain accelerator hub BitHub Africa and the Bitcoin advisory firm UmatiBit.