Remittances from the diaspora to Africa add up to over $40 billion (Sh4 trillion) per year and finance up to five per cent of her collective gross domestic product. However, the process of sending money is anything but simple and stories abound of lengthy processes and even lengthier waiting times. Nhial Majok, the CEO and founder of PesaBase, a blockchain-based solution has found a way to put some speed into the process.
“I’m a child of war because all I knew growing up was instability and that was normal for me. That is of course until you experience other societies. My family moved from South Sudan in the late 80s to Ethiopia. Instability flared up there too, so we moved back to South Sudan and then to Uganda. From Uganda we finally settled in Kenya,” he says.
He spent a decade in Kenya and Uganda before moving to Australia where he discovered the huge disparity between the two continents.
“I wondered why African countries were not at the same level as Australia and other Western countries. This has been the definitive question as far back as my teenage years. It naturally gave rise to the desire to be part of the solution, to do things that would help our communities,” he says.
In Australia he worked in the government and the private sector with his last role being at technology firm, IBM. “As an African in the diaspora, you naturally want to help your relatives back home. When you do that and look at the cost of sending money and multiply it by the number of people living overseas you wonder why it is not improving,” he says.
It is shocking that Majok could fly from Australia to Kenya faster than he could send money. The driving force behind PesaBase was to address this issue. He was introduced to Bitcoin in 2013 and joined the Bitcoin community in Melbourne. After a few months of reading about it and finally buying a few, he found that this technology had the potential to bring into reality his vision of sending money as simple as sending an e-mail. It currently costs about six per cent of the amount being sent, but with PesaBase it could be one per cent or even lower.
The idea of establishing PesaBase has been developing as far back as 2013 but the business itself is about six months old. A few issues like getting the right personnel is tricky as recruitment institutions are being formed now around block-chain technology. The main challenges, however, are the legal and jurisdictional hurdles he has faced, forcing him to separate the remittance business and the crypto-currency one. “Kenyan authorities are cautious and I can respect that because when you look at things like the Bitconnect scam, you cannot fault them,” he says. That said, since Kenya is a regional innovation hub he expects that they will realise that if they don’t embrace it, the technology will move elsewhere. “There are a lot of highly educated Kenyans involved in crypto-currency and if the government continues to be negative, then they’ll do it on the black market or in other countries. Our plan to have the most users dictates that we should have the lowest price,” he says.