Cryptocurrency adoption in Africa varies regionally. While countries with currently unstable currencies like the naira are seeing immense use, other regions that use the CFA franc have little adoption.
A region of over 200 million people using the CFA franc, Francophone 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 applications in Africa.
To that end, Ejara, a year-old company founded by Nelly Chatue-Diop, has raised $ 2 million to pioneer the use of investment and crypto 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 social union fund also participated.
While founder and CEO Chatue-Diop studied and later held a couple of senior executive positions in Europe in the space of 10 years, she was pushed back to Francophone Africa to start a company. That push was the culmination of past events mixed with present opportunities.
Growing up in Douala, Cameroon, Chatue-Diop’s family experienced a life-changing experience when France devalued the CFA franc in 1994. According to her, this plunged her family (and millions more) into a crisis. financial crisis.
“I was very young and we were part of the middle class. Overnight, all of our savings went down and the consequence was that the government couldn’t even pay wages,” she told TechCrunch about a call. “So even at that tender age, I wondered how we managed to do everything right and still end up in that zone. So it stuck in my mind.”
In 2015, she became familiar with blockchain and thought it was the perfect technology to solve the problems she faced while growing up. “It helped me understand that people could regain full control over their savings, income and could protect and grow their wealth,” she said.
So, she teamed up with an old friend and serial entrepreneur, Baptiste Andrieux, to start Ejara in Cameroon and the larger Francophone region.
Cryptocurrencies in Francophone Africa are generally reserved for a few elites who want to diversify their assets. Ejara wants to level this playing field for the average French-speaking African so that they can invest as little as 5,000 CFA (~ $ 9).
“The built-in transparency and security of the blockchain combined with the popularity of mobile banking in Africa made it clear to me that a blockchain-based mobile investment platform was the key to expanding financial inclusion,” said the CEO. “But as all these crypto companies came up and down, I felt that very few were talking to French-speaking Africans like me.”
She says that crypto was ideal to launch because of what it represents in terms of having full control of one’s assets. A recurring theme that comes up when doing general discussions around cryptocurrencies is the wallets to use in regards to private key custody.
With custodial wallets, third-party companies have private keys, but non-custodial wallets allow users to own and store their keys. And while the discourse around crypto investing and retail is one of control, custodial wallets, which most crypto platforms in Africa provide, do not provide as much control to users.
Ejara said that it is big on security, privacy and ownership, which is why it is taking steps to give non-custodial wallets to its users so that they can safely buy, sell, exchange and store their cryptocurrency investments.
However, the company also plans to diversify to provide other assets, including fractional stocks, stocks, and commodities.
Ejara has more than 8,000 users from Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea and Senegal, as well as French-speaking Africans in the diaspora (Europe, Asia and the United States), and serves them through a partnership with crypto payments infrastructure company MoonPay so they can send money to friends and family in Africa. All of these were done with zero marketing budget, the CEO said.
Speaking of users, Chatue-Diop classifies them into two groups: the majority who buy cryptocurrencies to save for future plans, and the business owners who conduct frequent transactions.
“In Africa, most people don’t have the safety net called a retirement fund and some clients use Ejara for that.
There are users, particularly mothers, who use the platform to invest in their children’s college education. Then we have a small portion of the customer base who are wholesalers and do high volumes; they use crypto to finance and buy their products from foreign suppliers through this method. ”
The seed investment will make Ejara focus broadly on growth, rolling out features in the company’s roadmap, and expanding the product and technology team.
Meltem Demirors of CoinShares spoke of the opportunity in Francophone Africa and the shortage of funds in the region. Despite Francophone Africa making up about 25% of the continent’s population, he says startups in the region have attracted less than 1% of venture capital, and argues that Ejara’s funding round offers a glimmer of hope, especially in a largely untapped space like fintech.
“We are excited to work with Nelly and the Ejara team to provide financial services through non-custodial wallets and offer a new level of trust and transparency to francophone savers and investors,” said Demirors.
For Anthemis and why they invested, Ruth Foxe Blader, a partner at Anthemis, said the firm was particular about how Ejara educates people in Francophone Africa about digital assets and democratizes wealth creation opportunities.