Expanding Bitcoin adoption across the African continent won’t be only through Bitcoin declaration as legal tender but through easy and low-cost access. People’s opinions are coloured with different perspectives, but mine is all about painting the big picture of what Africans are in need of, “Africans want, and will adopt any solution that can solve her problems in real time”. Making payment rails less complex to be as low tech as possible is actually one of the prerequisites of enabling financial inclusion and lowering the users entry barrier in Africa.

Machankura is a Bitcoin focused payment solution integrating Africa’s existing telecommunication infrastructure with the Bitcoin second layer chain known as lightning network for the purpose of enabling financial inclusion and getting Instant payment service to the nooks and crannies of Africa in a custodial way. On the other hand, BitText is a Bitcoin open source project in pipeline aimed at achieving the Machankura solution in a non custodial way. 

Taking a deep dive into what it entails and understanding why this works exceptionally for Africans. Feature phone is a type or class of mobile phone that retains the form factor of earlier generations of mobile telephones, typically with press-button based inputs and a small non-touch display while smartphone is a portable computer device that combines mobile telephone and computing functions into one unit which are distinguished from feature phones by their stronger hardware capabilities and extensive mobile operating systems, which facilitate wider software functionalities.

Image source: Author

In contrast to many other regions around the world where smartphones make up almost the entire market.  In Africa, feature phones make up a significant share of the mobile phone market. Not surprisingly, of all the 40 to 50 million mobile phones shipped into Africa per quarter, more than half are feature phones. In fact, in the first quarter of 2022, smartphone shipments amounted to 19.7 million units, while almost 22 million feature phones were shipped. Reasons behind this are not far fetched, smartphones are on the high end in comparison with feature phones judging from the price point of view, hence a high percent of the population use feature phones which is considered to be more affordable but lacks the smartphones juicy features.

Image source: Statista.com

Since a huge chunk of the population uses these devices, fostering financial inclusion for these set of users in a decentralized way necessitates building product consumable on feature phones to avoid keeping feature phone users out of this digital financial revolution trend. Interestingly Africa Bitcoin Developers realized that  Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) technology works interoperably on both feature phones and smartphones and have taken it upon themselves to develop Machankura & BitText.

Users can think of Machankura as a Wallet of Satoshi, but in its skeletal form without having a cumbersome User Interface; instead of having a smartphone app, you’re interacting with the wallet via the USSD menu. Machankura manages the requests through its custom based Application Package Interface(API) infrastructure with the Lightning network which is entirely private. Users are broadcasting requests via mobile networks and not an internet connection; the request is then accepted and relayed through the internet and the Lightning network via Machankura database and existing Bitcoin and Lightning nodes

As at the time of writing this content, Machankura works and presently has coverage in at least six Africa countries where the USSD codes and step by step illustration are as follows.

  • Nigeria – Dial: *347*8333#
  • South Africa – Dial: *134*382*382#
  • Ghana – Dial: *920*8333#
  • Kenya – Dial: *483*8333#
  • Malawi – Dial: *384*8333#
  • Uganda – Dial: *284*8333#

Dialing any of these codes in the above jurisdictions would directly lead you to the options below.

  • Send bitcoin
  • Receive bitcoin
  • Account details (balances and transaction history)
  • Buy goods/services 
  • Exit
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Looking at the smartphone custodial wallets mode of operation, they are fond of tying your email address with your account for identification and retrieval purposes, so you can install them on multiple devices or retrieve the account on a new device, In Machankura’s case it’s tied to your phone number. Assuming your phone or sim card is stolen, that implies your funds have been stolen as well, or if someone sim swaps your number, they could gain access to your funds. You are expected to leverage Machankura as an amazing payment infrastructure rather than a long term self Custody product with the hope of anticipating different improvements and updates as it keeps unfolding.

Nevertheless, just as any foundational solution sprinkled with development anecdotes and embellished with open-source contributions and improvements would tickle collaboration and send software developers reeling with pull requests and brainstorming sessions to get a perfect implementation. BitText is more of Machankura open source version throwing it two hands into the air with anticipation for global contributions into fixing and improving the Bitcoin on USSD solution targeting Self-Custody, Security, Privacy as well as transactions interoperability with Bitcoin layer two network (Lightning). Find the link to the GitHub Repository here.
Banking the unbanked by building products focused on addressing Africans specific settlement and payment system problems, leveraging decentralized innovation such as Bitcoin, is a journey the Bitcoin developers in Africa have embarked on the past couple of months. Thanks to different initiatives and collective support by plebs and the Africa Bitcoin Ecosystem.

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