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Some time ago, I was asked by a friend if I had heard of the black market economy.
I instantly assumed he meant the notorious dark net sites, like Silk Road and Atlantis, which deals in narcotics supplies and counterfeiting products, but I was wrong. His explanation led me to a term known as ‘Systeme D’ in French.
The origins of System D go back to Africa, when French speaking citizens coined the term to describe people who were resourceful in finding income without going through the hassle of government registration processes for a permit or declarations of their income for taxation purposes. Those that fell within this category were called ‘débrouillards’ , entrepreneurs that sought out success through less conventional means.
A street vendor hawking wares is a débrouillard, and so is the kid from the neighborhood who does home repairs for you during the summer holidays. This form of free economy is estimated to be worth more than 13 trillion dollars today. With the world’s economies seeing ever increasing setbacks, and recessions, in the recent years, many no longer believe in the old traditions of working for the same employer for decades, as did the people of earlier eras. Many more are turning to more innovative ways to supplement their incomes in the digital age. Self employment schemes, or commission based work under anonymity, are becoming the norm, with payments paid out in cash, or without the use of tax forms. People are increasingly frustrated by the failures of their governments and banks in their promises to bolster the economy. As such, many more are turning to digital currencies, Bitcoin specifically, to facilitate the making and receiving payments in their System D ventures.
Bitcoin Is Helping Move Remittance Away from Conventional Processes
In 2012, while on an errand in Jarkarta City, Indonesia, I met a Nigerian man named Chukwuma. Chukwuma approached me on a sidewalk and attempted to interest me in a ‘business deal’ which involved him in possession of a huge cache of US currency coated in black dye. He claimed to have the method to ‘wash’ the black dollars if I would fund the purchase of certain hard to obtain chemicals. Not knowing that I was all too familiar with this famous Nigerian scam known as ‘Black dollars 419′(419 is the penal code of Nigeria’s law on fraud), he persisted in trying to get me interested. It was only after I told him I knew what was happening and that I’m no ‘mugu’- the Nigerian slang for 419 victims, that he ceased his efforts. Shortly after, I befriended Chukwuma, as I do with most foreigners I encounter in Indonesia, being one myself. That friendship opened many doors to the murky underworld, and thriving African entrepreneurship, that is seen all over the world today.
Earlier this week I learned that Chukwuma was still in the country, and decided to catch up with him.
We began to update each other on our individual on goings over the past year. I had brought up the topic of cryptocurrency by asking him if he had ever heard of it. Chukwuma had not only heard of it, but had been actively using it himself. When I asked for more details, he had this to say: ‘ Brother, Bitcoin is changing the way hustlers like me operate. We use bitcoins to send our earnings home far more easily and quicker than ever’.
In the past, Chukwuma had to rely on fellow Africans, who are traders in the city, to transfer any funds he wished to remit home, by using their own personal bank accounts. This was needed because Nigeria’s anti fraud police units station their plain clothes officers at all major banks, and payment processors like Western Union or Money Gram, to apprehend anyone suspected of retrieving funds that may be proceeds from the various scams that originate from there.
In Chukwuma’s case, he sends the bitcoins to his wife in the Philippines, where she cashes it out to fiat and remits provisions and goods to Chukwuma’s siblings in the town of Abuja where they sell it on the streets for a big profit. Chukwuma reasons that using cryptocurrency is much safer for him, and he enjoys not needing to fill out forms and pay a hefty transaction fee, use his friend’s bank accounts, or rely on a remittance agency to send his earnings to his family.
A New Trend is Forming, and Bitcoin is at the Center
Chukwuma isn’t alone in the way he channels his income to his family in a country halfway around the world, nor was he responsible for the concept. In a recent report, an African telecommunications company, known as Kipochi, is planning to capitalize on this growing trend of remittance by use of bitcoins, and will introduce a new service that will allow hundreds of thousands of young Africans working away from home to remit their earnings through the use of a mobile service. Kipochi is still working on the necessary collaborations with exchanges, and banks, to provide a seamless transition for its users to convert bitcoins to fiat. The service will no doubt bring attention to crypto currency as an alternative to fiat, and affect the profits of established fiat remittance companies such as Western Union.
With the ever increasing acceptance of cryptocurrency, many more are seeking to earn a living and be paid in cryptocurrency as remuneration. The first ever Bitcoin job fair will be held soon, a nod of recognition to the growing presence of cryptos. A growing amount of employers are also coming on board, as seen on Reddit in their ‘Jobs for Bitcoins’ sub forum, where employers and employers alike can advertise their hiring requirements, which range anywhere from sales positions, to programming and coding assignments.
There Will Always Be a Negative Presence, with Bitcoin, or Any Currency.
Cryptocurrencies have been in the press a lot recently, but mostly for the wrong reasons. Bitcoin, and Bitcoin’s price, in particular has taken most of the brunt from devestating blows dealt from the Mt.Gox debacle, China’s non-favorable stance and impending complete ban, and from other governments seeking to impose restrictions on the use of cryptocurrencies.
Adding to the negative image is the recent announcement of a new crypto black market, that touts itself as being so secure that even the FBI wont be able to seize it. While the new ‘Dark Market‘ is still in a prototype stage of development, this is evidence that wherever there is money to be made, innovation will follow.
Regardless of what any regulating body or agency does, in an attempt to stymie the popularity and use of cryptos, there will be a slew of solutions to meet the obstacles faced by those who advocate the use of unregulated and decentralized money. The rise of shadowy revenue vehicles, such as ‘Dark Market’ , is no different than the bad elements we see in the real world today, such as an ever increasing number of drug users despite the 5 decade long war on drugs.
Cryptocurrency is set to face a long line of setbacks in its journey to become integrated into mainstream society. However, as with many ambitious concepts and ideas that were thought impossible from the start, the recent trends and developments for cryptos, on a global scale, seem to suggest it will be ultimately successful.