African countries want to regulate cryptocurrency, but hardly any one wants to take the lead in responding to the meteoric rise of this technology and asset class. That’s according to a new report from the Togo-based Ecobank, the leading independent regional banking group that serves nearly 40 countries in West and Central Africa.
The report, which examined the regulatory response to cryptocurrencies in the 39 sub-Saharan countries, found that regulators in most jurisdictions are taking a “wait-and-see” approach, hoping that they can learn from the mistakes of their neighbors before they take action themselves.
“African countries appear to be looking to their neighbours to regulate and innovate first, and learn from their mistakes, rather than being the first mover,” the bank said. “African governments worry that if its citizens become overexposed to cryptocurrency investments, the repercussions of a future crash could be felt in the broader economy, hence their scepticism of licensing their use.”
Of the 39 regulatory regimes surveyed, more than half — 21 countries — had yet to make a public stance on cryptocurrency.
Only three countries had taken a strong position on cryptocurrency, with Namibia issuing an outright ban and — on the the opposite extreme — South Africa and Swaziland adopting “generally favourable and permissive” stances on the asset class but stopping short of providing them with “full legality.”
The other 15 countries lay somewhere in the middle, largely declining to regulate them directly, stating that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies fall under a legal gray area and warning investors against investing in them.
For its part, the bank lamented the emphasis that cryptocurrency price movements have engendered in the public discourse surrounding this technology and asset class.
“Unfortunately, the spectacular rise and fall in the traded value of cryptocurrencies has drowned out broader discussion on the potential benefits this new technology could bring,” the bank said, concluding:
“The transformational impact that could be delivered by tokenising products and services on the blockchain has been compared to that of the Internet. Crypto tokens and currencies could enable consumers to transact instantly, cross-border and for free, provide them with KYC-compliant digital IDs, and incentivise their behaviour and change the way they engage with governments & service providers.”