Central African Republic just pioneered the first crypto hub on the continent

Two months after becoming the second nation to make Bitcoin legal tender, CAR introduced a govt-backed crypto hub dubbed Sango, which is seen by many as an attempt to free the country from France’s colonial influence.

A stock photo of a CAR flag and Bitcoin logo.

The Sango project, named after the country’s official language alongside French, includes building “a legal crypto hub” to attract businesses and crypto enthusiasts from all over the world. The backbone of the project is the Sango coin, which is hinted to be somehow backed by CAR’s vast resources.

"The Central African Republic is sitting on a mountain of untapped wealth," including gold, diamonds, rare metals, and "Sango Coin will be direct access to our resources for the world," said President Faustin Archange Touadéra during the online presentation of the initiative.

Another part of the project is a special economic zone in metaverse dubbed “crypto island” that will seemingly have an equivalent in the physical world. However, no specific details were given about the implementation of the Sango initiative except that the developers would focus on the mobile solutions.

"The smartphone is the alternative to traditional banking, cash, and financial bureaucracy," President Touadéra enthused. According to the head of the state, the vastly unbanked population of CAR will benefit from the mobile crypto solutions that bring low-cost transactions, fast execution, and a lack of supervising authority.

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The new digital system would "jump-start the engines of the economy," President optimistically declared. His vision may be colorful, yet the reality is rather dull.

Being torn by the violent civil war since 2013, the Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world despite its abundant mineral resources. According to the World Bank estimates, 71% of the more than 5 million CAR inhabitants live below the international poverty line of 1.90 US dollars per day, and more than half need humanitarian assistance. Only 14.3% have access to electricity in 2022, and even less to the internet, a necessary prerequisite for enjoying the benefits of mobile crypto transactions.

Refugees camp in Bria, Central African Republic. Image: VOA/Freeman Sipila
Refugees camp in Bria, Central African Republic. Image: VOA/Freeman Sipila

Under such conditions, the mass adoption of digital currencies seems a very distant prospect. However, there may be another utility of a crypto hub in a country where the overwhelming majority lacks access to the Internet: it may help the CAR free itself from the choking ties that bind it to the former metropole, France.

Before Bitcoin became the legal tender in CAR, the country’s only official currency was the CFA franc used by twelve nations formerly ruled by France, plus Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony, and Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony. The currency is pegged to the euro and controlled by the French Treasury, leaving countries with no sovereignty over their monetary policies.

Although the CFA franc had its role in stabilizing the economies of the said countries, many blame it for keeping African currencies artificially high. It suits well foreign corporations selling their products in the franc zone states but makes local production uncompetitive and dependent on imports.

Interestingly, a similar motivation was behind El Salvador’s decision to legalize Bitcoin. With the adoption of the US dollar, the country lost control over its monetary policy, which it tried to reclaim by becoming the first nation to make Bitcoin legal tender. When two US Reps expressed their concerns over El Salvador’s Bitcoin adoption, President Bukele slammed them on Twitter, saying, “You have 0 jurisdiction on a sovereign and independent nation. We are not your colony, your back yard or your front yard.”

The International Monetary Fund was critical of CAR’s and El Salvador’s Bitcoin laws, saying they pose "major legal, transparency and economic policy challenges." President Touadéra, however, has a different opinion. A 65-years old politician who holds a doctorate in mathematics seems to be mesmerized by Bitcoin’s elegant design. “Mathematics is the language of the Universe. Bitcoin is universal money,” one of his tweets reads, reflecting Touadéra’s deep fascination with the first cryptocurrency.

As cryptocurrency adoption grows, perhaps we’ll see more developing nations following suit of CAR and El Salvador. Understanding that true sovereignty is impossible without control over money, more governments will flock into crypto, possibly creating an independent financial system alongside fiat economies.