Bitcoin and the Decolonization of Africa
The independence struggle in Africa isn’t only a struggle for political independence. It is also a struggle for economic independence. This was something which Sylvanus Olympio recognized. When Togo became independent in 1960, Olympio inherited a system which was centered around France. He explained:
The effect of the policy of the colonial powers has been the economic isolation of peoples who live side by side, in some instances within a few miles of each other, while directing the flow of resources to the metropolitan countries. For example, although I can call Paris from my office telephone here in Lomé, I cannot place a call to Lagos in Nigeria only 250 miles away. Again, while it takes a short time to send an air-mail letter to Paris, it takes several days for the same letter to reach Accra, a mere 132 miles away.
Not only was Togo isolated from other West African states in terms of communication, but also in terms of currency as well. Togo, like other former French colonies in Africa, Togo uses the CFA franc currency. This is a currency which was designed to give French control over the currency of its former African colonies. The CFA franc currency even isolates some of the former French colonies from each other, as there is a West African CFA franc and a Central African CFA franc.
Olympio planned to create an independent currency for Togo. For daring to pursue financial independence for Togo, Olympio was assassinated in a French backed coup two days before he was to meet in Paris to officially withdraw Togo from the CFA franc currency.
Since 1967, Togo has been run by the father-son Gnassingbé dictatorship which has been supported by the same French government that Olympio sought to liberate Togo from. One of the ways that this dictatorship has kept itself in power is through its control of finances in Togo. Those who speak out against the regime are often targeted by having their assets frozen and seized by the Togolese government. During the anti-government protests in Togo in 2017 and 2018, the Togolese government used this method to make financing the struggle in Togo very difficult for those outside of the country. Activists had to resort to smuggling cash into Togo to support the movement there.
Farida Nabourema of the Togolese Civil League has been promoting Bitcoin as a currency of decolonization in Togo because it provides a means for activists in Togo to protect their funds from being seized by the government of Togo.
In December, Ghana is set to host the African Bitcoin Conference. The conference will be the first of its type. The conference will bring together developers, investors, startups, and activists from across Africa and other parts of the world for the purpose of building a movement that will accelerate Bitcoin adoption in Africa. The significance of Bitcoin for Africa is twofold. Not only can Bitcoin be utilized by activists who are battling dictatorships, but it can also allow millions of unbanked Africans to participate in an independent monetary system. Olympio’s vision was for Togo to be truly independent from France, which meant having an independent currency. The aim of the African Bitcoin Conference is to advance Olympio’s vision of developing a currency that can free Togo from colonial control.
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.