Wesley Diphoko is founder of Kaya Labs and chairperson of the IEEE Open Data Industry Connections in South Africa.
CAPE TOWN - This week, Africa's leaders met in the Rwandan capital of Kigali and as a result they have launched a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA ) which some maintain will be the largest in the world.

The 55 member states of the AU have a cumulative gross domestic product of $2.5trillion (R29.5 trillion).

The free trade area, which will include an easing of travel across the continent, is part of the AU’s Agenda 2063 development plan for its members. This was a great move by the leaders of the continent and it's a step that should be welcomed.

The challenge, however, is that the infrastructure to make this possible does not yet exist. One such infrastructure is the single currency as highlighted by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Speaking with the media, President Ramaphosa indicated that he fully supported calls for a single African currency and he also indicated that such currency maybe would have to be digital.

This is a perfect moment for the African continent to embrace a cryptocurrency.

Instrumental

The SA Reserve Bank is already considering cryptocurrency and as a result its work will be instrumental for the continent if a digital currency were to be established.

The SA Reserve Bank (Sarb) has established a financial technology (fintech) programme to assess the emergence of technological innovations in the financial sector and consider their regulatory implications.

The review process by the Reserve Bank will address regulatory issues such as clearing and settlement, exchange control, monetary policy and financial stability and other issues such as cybersecurity.

Collaboration with other regulators is intended to address tax implications, consumer and investor protection and money laundering. Sarb aims to complete the review in the second half of 2018.

Sarb’s equivalents in jurisdictions such as the UK and Singapore have established innovation hubs, accelerators and regulatory sandboxes through which fintech companies work with the regulators to test their ideas. Sarb has been interacting on an informal basis with fintech companies and is considering whether to launch similar initiatives.

The Reserve Bank is also planning to launch a distributed ledger technology (DLT, or blockchain) experiment known as Project Khokha.

Project Khokha is similar to the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s Project Ubin and will investigate interbank clearing and settlement on a distributed ledger.

Sarb has appointed ConsenSys (a technology provider with experience on the Quorum, Ethereum-based, ledger) to develop a proof of concept in collaboration with the banking industry.

This experiment is aimed at understanding the implications of using distributed ledger technology to transfer value and Sarb will release a public report on its findings during the second quarter of this year. No decision has yet been made to move the national payments infrastructure on to a distributed ledger.

This step will be important for the country and will be in line with the thinking of creating a digital currency for the continent. An experiment by South Africa in this regard will also serve as a model for the continent when it establishes its own digital currency.

Player

This move will also create a strong position for the continent to be a player in the digital economy. When the world decides to create a global currency, Africa will be ready if it acts now with its own digital currency.

Recently, Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter and co-founder of crypto-friendly mobile payments company Square, has indicated that the world may be ready to adopt Bitcoin as the global currency in the next 10 years.

If the world were to establish a cryptocurrency in the next 10 years, each continent would need to have its own infrastructure. At this point in time Africa is not ready, but there are positive steps towards creating the digital economy.

In the next few months South Africa is planning to host the Brics countries. This gathering will serve as a great platform for the country to share its thinking on the digital currency for the continent and potentially with Brics nations.

Of all digital initiatives undertaken in the continent there's none that is close to creating a digital currency for the continent. This is the time for technologists to work closely with leaders in government to create the future of African digital economy starting with the currency.

South African fintech community should begin a process of engaging the Reserve Bank to ensure that the outcomes of the Reserve Bank process can truly create an innovative solution that will have a positive impact for the economy.

Other African countries that are signatories to the Continental Free Trade Area agreement should also develop a working relationship between technologists, financial experts and government leaders. These efforts will allow Africans to say, in 2063: “Afro (suggested name for an African digital currency) is the single digital currency for the African continent” - and that will be a game-changer for the continent in the digital economy.

Wesley Diphoko is founder of Kaya Labs and chairperson of the IEEE Open Data Industry Connections in South Africa.

- BUSINESS REPORT