Africa’s cryptocurrency adoption varies by region. While countries with currently unstable currencies like the naira experience immense use, other regions using the CFA franc have sparse adoption..
A region of more than 200 million inhabitants using the CFA franc, French-speaking Africa is one of the most crypto-friendly markets in Africa. But only a few players are taking advantage of the market, which may be the next frontier for mobile money and investment apps in Africa..
To this end, Ejara, a one-year-old company founded by nelly Chatue-Diop, raised $ 2 million to pioneer the use of crypto and investment services in the region.
CoinShares Ventures and Anthemis Group led the round. They are joined by Mercy Corps Ventures, Lateral Capital, LoftyInc Capital and NetX Fund. Two angel investors – Pascal Gauthier from Ledger and Jason Yanowitz from Blockworks – and a union social fund also participated.
While the founder and CEO Chatue-Diop studied and then held several management positions in Europe in the space of 10 years, she had a helping hand to return to French-speaking Africa to set up a business. This boost was the culmination of past events mixed with present opportunities.
Growing up in Douala, Cameroon, Chatue-Diop’s family had a life-changing experience when France devalued the CFA franc. In 1994. According to her, this has plunged her family (and millions of others) into the financial crisis.
“I was really young and we were part of the middle class. Overnight all our savings decreases and the consequence was that the government couldn’t even pay the salaries, ”she told TechCrunch on a call.. “So even at that tender age, I wondered how we managed to do everything right and end up in this area. So it stuck in my mind. “
In 2015, she learned about blockchain and thought it was the perfect technology to solve the problems she faced growing up. “It helped me understand that people can take back full control of their savings, their income and that they can protect and grow their wealth,” she said..
Thus, she joined forces with a long-time friend and serial entrepreneur, Baptiste Andrieux, to start Ejara in Cameroon and in the greater French-speaking region..
Typically, crypto-currencies in French-speaking Africa are reserved for a few elites who wish to diversify their assets. Ejara wants to level the playing field for the average French-speaking African so that he can invest as little as 5,000 CFA (~ $ 9).
“The built-in transparency and security of blockchain combined with the popularity of mobile banking in Africa has clearly shown me that a blockchain-based mobile investment platform is the key to expanding financial inclusion,” said the CEO.. “But as all of these crypto companies appeared left and right, I felt like very few spoke to French-speaking Africans like me.”
She says crypto was ideal to launch because of what it represents in terms of full control over its assets. A recurring theme that arises during general discussions around cryptocurrencies are made are the wallets to use regarding the custody of private keys.
With custodial wallets, third-party companies hold private keys but not custodians wallets allow users to own and store their keys. And Although the talk around crypto investing and retailing is one of control, custodial wallets, which most crypto platforms in Africa provide, do not offer users as much control.
Ejara said it is important for security, privacy and property, which is why it is taking action to give non-custodial wallets to its users so that they can buy, sell, trade and store securely. their crypto investments.
Yet the company also plans to diversify by providing other assets, including fractional shares, stocks and commodities..
Ejara has more than 8,000 users from Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea and Senegal, as well as French-speaking Africans in the diaspora (Europe, Asia and the United States), and responds to them. via a network partnering with crypto payment infrastructure company MoonPay so they can send money to friends and family in Africa. AIt was all done with zero marketing budget, CEO said.
Speaking of users, Chatue-Diop categorizes them into two groups: the majority who buy crypto to save for future projects and business owners who trade frequently.
“In Africa, most people don’t have the safety net called retirement funds and some clients use Ejara for that. There are users, especially moms, who use the platform to invest in their children’s college education. Then we have a little portion customers who are wholesalers and do a lot of volume; they use crypto to finance and purchase their goods from overseas vendors through this method. ”
Seed investment will see Ejara focus widely on growth, the deployment of features in the company’s roadmap and the expansion of the product and technical team.
Meltem Demirors of CoinShares spoke about the opportunity in Francophone Africa and the lack of funding in the region. Although Francophone Africa represents around 25% of the continent’s population, she says startups in the region have attracted less than 1% of venture capital – but believes that Ejara’s funding cycle offers a silver lining, especially in a largely untapped space like fintech.
“We are excited work with nelly and the Ejara team to provide financial services through non-depository portfolios and offer a new level of trust and transparency to French-speaking savers and investors, ”said Demirors.
For Anthemis and why they invested, Ruth Foxe Blader, partner at Anthemis, said the firm was particularly attentive to how Ejara educates people in Francophone Africa about digital assets and democratizes opportunities for wealth creation..