Un billet de synthèse pour rassembler en 1 seul point tous mes écrits, analyses, commentaires et critiques, sur le monde Crypto et Web3.
Même si je n’ai commencé à écrire sur le sujet qu’en 2017, je suis l’écosystème blockchain/cryptomonnaies/actifs numériques, et maintenant Web3, depuis fin 2013.
Après avoir fait le tour de la question, et obtenu une certification blockchain & technologies décentralisées en 2019, je me range clairement dans le camp des crypto-sceptiques et des opposants farouches dans le contexte de sa propagation néfaste en Afrique.
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Pour mémoire, je ne détiens ni cryptomonnaies, ni NFTs, ni aucune action dans aucune société impliquée dans le Web3 ou toute autre technologie ou service. Ces billets et le site Web3Now sont en accès libre et gratuit et leur création n’est le fruit d’aucune transaction commerciale de quelqu’ordre que ce soit – j’écris pour mon plaisir et pendant mon temps libre. Pour tous mes sites et blogs, j’utilise une monétisation via Coil, une solution de micropaiement ou Patreon ci-dessous.
The madness or mania of crypto-assets seems to me to be more and more a symptom of the death of dreams for a large part of the world population. A more than bleak future (pandemic, climate crisis, etc.), endemic unemployment in many countries or jobs with miserable pay, inflation everywhere, increasingly glaring inequalities… What is left to find some hope? And then during the last half of 2021 and as prices soared to their highest, all the journalists relayed the good news: Bitcoin will save Africa!
Or again: monetary stability finally found, inflation defeated for all, thanks to stablecoins!
Yes, we clearly saw the number of small savers on all continents who lost everything in the Terra/Luna crash…
And everyone got involved! Unicef, the United Nations, the World Economic Forum or the IFC here, with a misleading catchphrase in its tweet (the interview is much less focused on this topic and is not as affirmative) :
Others have reacted less well: central banks, the IMF… Because, even if these organizations deserve quite a bit of criticism, they are not totally blind or (not yet) bought by the many lobbies that seek to validate the place of digital assets in the economic environment, while ardently wishing to limit the regulations concerning them.
Beyond the « Bitcoin will save Africa » hype, what is the concrete socio-economic reality? The video below provides the beginning of an answer:
Bitcoin, Cryptos & Poverty
As mentioned in the introduction, many people on the planet are facing the increasingly obvious emptiness of the contemporary world and are looking for ways out of poverty.
Inequality (as it exists in Africa, for example) is not just a perception, but a reality when one realizes the level of potential embezzlement at all levels.
The collapse of the social ladder no longer allows for any real hope of saving oneself through « traditional » means, such as education or employment… And for many, shortcuts must be found to make ends meet. Digital assets like Bitcoin are an emblematic example of this phenomenon.
The « crypto culture » promises « instant » and effortless wealth, too seductive to resist, even if in the end it is obviously too good to be true.
If poverty is not having a lot of money, it is above all not having savings in front of you in case of need. The poorer you are, the more money you use for necessary daily transactions.
So what is the point for someone who has no savings to put his money into a virtual economic system that is neither a currency nor a « store of value »?
If you have a little bit of savings, normally you will try to make them grow without risk, hence the success of tontines for example, or you will use them to meet important needs, school, health etc.
Why instead go speculate on international markets, facing millionaires or billionaires (many only on paper) whose goal is to manipulate prices to their advantage?
But there is the pressure of social networks and the environment to « succeed » at all costs (or pretend to), not to mention the need to be popular or visible for the younger ones.
Digital assets attract and make the naives’ eyes shine, especially those who are naturally hypnotized by ways to make money fast and think that chain letters or Ponzi schemes, or any other clearly fraudulent financial system are good investment ideas.
But behind every greedy-eyed naive person, there are crooks ready to pounce on him/her (think Yahoo Boys or 419ers which are already commonplace in West Africa for example).
The very heart of the crypto system is a « perfect » tool for price manipulation and wealth transfer from greedy fools to a small elite (yes, they’re here again!) who amass fortunes. But ordinary people know nothing about it (or don’t want to know about it), because the lure is too strong and the promises so beautiful.
For many people, it comes down to playing games of chance without knowing it, in the hope of amassing income to change their daily lives forever…
But how many of these ordinary people, often young men, but not the only target in Africa, will really succeed in getting this famous financial autonomy they dream of so much and that the crypto-currencies promise to bring them through the voice of the omnipresent influencers?
However, we should not condemn these « Bitcoin investors », who enter this great unregulated casino, where stablecoins are used as tokens. They are in fact victims, both of socio-economic forces and of fraudsters.
These naive people or greater fools are convinced that they will be able to leave with their money. But as they are not part of the crypto elite, the whole system will gang up against them, and turn them into liquidities against their will (rug pull, blocking of withdrawals and transfers, fake « technical failure » limiting the platform’s functionality…) to allow fraudsters, big investors and other « whales » to increase their war chest.
Let’s take a look at those who are working hard to find the next victims on the African continent.
Promoting a scam to the poor and illiterate is one of the oldest fraud tactics. When you mix technology (code is law), micro and macro-economic finance, politics (« we must get rid of colonial currencies and the American dollar imperialism« ), and even mathematics (candle graphs), it can look like a very coherent discourse for an astonished public.
I can imagine the preparatory work:
« What if we presented them with this nonsense that nobody has tested? Yes, it’s absolutely perfect for them!«
« What if we experiment with this theory, explaining to them that we are here to save them? Absolutely, that’s great! »
When the explosion of the digital assets market, which can be dated to the arrival of memecoins thanks to Ethereum, and then to the DeFi craze supported by smart contracts, the majority of visible players were young men (the « crypto bros »). But it’s interesting to note that there are many women in the African influencers. I’ll come back to this later.
Even if there are probably the same influencers everywhere on the continent, I was mostly interested in West and Central African ones, both English and French speaking, because they seem to be very active and more visible. But this may be a personal bias.
Let’s try to classify them:
the « crypto-scammer »: probably a former Internet swindler who found a less tiring way to generate financial income. If necessary, he will launch a memecoin on a far-fetched theme, possibly with religious connotations.
the « crypto-technologist »: for him/her, blockchain and crypto-currencies are the future of the world. (S)he knows everything, understands everything and lives in his/her bubble where Bitcoin will solve world hunger and the climate crisis thanks to « Play2Earn » and NFTs. « Decentralized finance (DeFi) and Bitcoin are the future of Africa, the future of financial inclusion » are themes that come up regularly in his/her publications. (S)he needs visibility and loves to be admired for his/her skills and vision, but knows how to remain modest, as his/her message must be able to spread far and wide.
the « crypto student »: his/her few years studying finance or computer science, possibly not completely finished, were the basis of the revelation. Blockchain is the future of humanity and tokens are the ultimate solution to solve everything in the real world. On these bases, (s)he reinvents everything in the name of the « Web3 » revolution: land registry, online games, finance and banking, supply chains, identity management… Everything goes through it! His/her solution becomes a Swiss Army knife that answers any existing problem, or not. Does he know or understand how it works on a daily basis today? No, but (s)he is convinced that it will be better with HIS/HER solution. When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail…
the « professional »: (s)he’s already succeeded in his/her field, finance or technology, and has a good visibility on social networks. Did (s)he do any specific research (« DYOR »), to understand blockchain and digital assets? Probably not. Doesn’t have the time with an already busy schedule. Still, (s)he considers it’s a good idea and talks about it regularly, without giving any investment advice, of course. (S)he’s financially comfortable, so probably invested a little, or perhaps has been helped via some form of sponsoring. Small extra income is not negligible, especially when you are already used to doing promotion from time to time (or full time). Others will set up their own wallet or Exchange solution to take maximum advantage of all the patsies they see within their reach, without worrying too much about the regulatory and legal environment (nothing better than a small company established in the USA or in a tax haven, but targeting the African market and its diaspora with precision!) The last ones (e.g. ex-bankers) finally, will become, formal or informal investment advisors: helping others to take risks, taking their commission in the process (in « fiat » money of course, fool me once…).
the armchair revolutionary/activist: « The use of cryptocurrencies is the best solution to overthrow dictators and destroy imperialism and neo-colonialism. » This category is certain that Bitcoin means freedom (Bitcoin will save Africa!), for « a new economic order finally beyond the reach of elites and other statists who will no longer be able to have any control over it. » In their rhetoric, stablecoins will save emerging markets (yes, if they don’t disappear first like Terra/Luna and others). In Francophone Africa for example, where the CFA Franc (XOF or XAF) is seen as a persistent symbol of France’s (neo-)colonialism, obviously the use of Bitcoin will change everything and allow people to flourish. And all of them are ecstatic about the Central African Republic, which is showing the way to the future (a subject I will deal with later)! Some of these activists are financed by external entities (if necessary, in rubles transmitted through untraceable crypto-currencies) to push these speeches, which they’ve added to the various « revolutionary » theses they were previously spreading. It is necessary to « break the system » by all possible means, they claim, far away from the countries their discourse targets, comfortably living in Europe or America.
I will explain later on why this category of influencers has not really understood (or doesn’t want to) what is really happening, both from an economic point of view (deflationary assets) and a political point of view (libertarianism – fascism – neo-feudalism). And yet the messages are clear, for those who want to see them. But the objective is to make noise, even if it means lying by omission, and eventually to incite those on the ground to revolt…
Many of these influencers have quickly become useful idiots, and participate in numerous communication operations, managed by agencies with deep roots that are quite different from those stated publicly (but you have to dig and especially want to know what it’s all about to understand it). For example, a number of these activists, who call themselves « human rights activists » (ah?!) recently sent a letter to the U.S. Congress, to prevent overly burdensome regulation of crypto-currencies and Bitcoin in particular, because, in their words, « most people on earth live in an unstable economy or under an authoritarian or dictatorial regime. We are informing Congress of the role that Bitcoin and stablecoins play in addressing the failures of traditional finance. »
Note: I do not dispute the idea that in some very specific cases (EndSARS in Nigeria, Palestine or war in Ukraine), alternative financial solutions are needed to channel funds to people or organizations in difficulty. Similarly, I admit that in some countries, in South America for example or in Zimbabwe, inflation has become so gigantic and the currency so volatile, that it is necessary to find ways to try to preserve the little money people have, at the risk of seeing it melt like snow in the sun. But when one understands how Bitcoin and other digital assets really work, their current economic and political positioning, not to mention the fact that they are crossroads between pyramids and Ponzi schemes, claiming that these are the only reliable and perennial means and that they should be preserved as they are, is a profound disillusionment, unless one has a hidden agenda.
Since the June crash, the discourse has changed significantly: « Bitcoin is the present and the future of the global monetary and financial system. Don’t stay stuck on its speculative value, but on the equality it brings« . Oh really?! Down almost 70% from its highest, it’s hard to keep selling Bitcoin on its price growth alone (« number go up ») and the crypto market as a whole on its huge « market cap. » Furthermore, it would be nice to define what is implied here by the use of the term equality in the context of deflationary assets…
Why so many female crypto-influencers?
In the world of financial scammers, one of the vital principles for selling magic money (or magic beans) is to repeat the same thing over and over again, and to induce action at the risk of « missing a good deal » (FOMO).
And so this repetition induces in the minds of potential victims the following connection: « if he/she insists so much, it must be true, or will become true very soon!«
We’ll call this a classic « brute force » form of attack, generating auto-suggestion and « Tinkerbell effect. » But there are other parallel approaches:
MLM (multi-level marketing): a model, illegal in many countries, but very popular in some sectors (cosmetics, health care…) targeting in particular women. Digital assets, NFTs for example, have entered the dance, since the objective is to find greater fools, to resell at a higher price what one has bought for a too expensive price, in order to hope to make a profit. The main vector of communication is word of mouth and social networks today. Exists for multiple products in Africa, often in a totally informal way.
Predatory communities: manipulators, hidden under false digital identities, create investment operations oriented towards community or identity-based targets, such as black Americans in the context of Black Lives Matter (BLM), women of certain origins (Latino…), LGBTQ+ etc. To further motivate the target audience, it is made to look like part of the money raised will be used to fund social or public interest organizations. Of course, as soon as a certain financial threshold is reached, sometimes as early as the launch phase, everything ends in a shattering rug pull to the detriment of the deceived investors. The swindlers disappear, ready to start again the next day under another name. Read an excellent post by Molly White on this subject.
Affinity Fraud: a type of investment fraud in which a scammer targets members of an identifiable group based on such things as race, age, religion, etc. The fraudster is (or pretends to be as above) a member of the group to promote a Ponzi or pyramid scheme.
Throughout Africa, women’s networks are very important in daily life. The system of tontine, whether local or community-based, plays an important role, allowing women to take turns to have a small amount of capital at their disposal to buy products for their businesses or to meet their needs (school, health, etc.).
By abusing their trust, a vital element in this type of often informal organizations, certain women can more easily target their colleagues and push them in this crypto context, not to invest, but to gamble their money without any guarantee of winning or recovering their initial stake. But as they have been sold the concept well, they do not know the real ins and outs. Social networks play a huge role here with dedicated Facebook or Whatsapp groups.
Promoters and influencers insist a lot on the community aspect in this context: « The importance of community building cannot be overemphasized in the Blockchain & crypto space. » They have well understood that many pressures and psychological actions are easier to exert on groups than on individuals taken in isolation. Everything will then be good to manipulate crowds. Some female influencers even go as far as positioning themselves under the term dada, which means « big sister » in many local languages on the continent.
Let’s not forget the fundamental element behind the stripping of small, naive and uninformed investors: Bitcoin and digital assets are sorely lacking in liquidity (in fiat currency, since the whole « value » scale is still evaluated mainly in relation to the US dollar). It is therefore appropriate, in order to allow those at the very top of the « food » chain to increase their non-virtual wealth (not in cryptos, therefore), to « let » them sell their tokens by bringing in (recruiting?) fresh blood fresh money into the casino.
That’s why we see « academies » or « master classes » springing up like mushrooms to « train » the next patsies. It’s all about recruiting the next generation of cash cows, who can be « milked » regularly of their hard earned money. All this in the name of « Bitcoin will save Africa », a slogan supposedly based on freedom, sovereignty and independence regained through this digital token…
What could be better than women to explain to populations where illiteracy, including financial illiteracy, is strong, that this is the future, that one should not sell (HODL), even in the event of a crash, that one should Buy the dip!, because the future will be radiant, if one believes in it very strongly…
Yes, it is a form of cult too, with all the disillusionment that comes with it!
Cryptos, politics & Africa
I’m going to end this already very (too?) long post by talking about the current political positioning of digital assets and Bitcoin in particular.
As we saw above, influencers are connecting Bitcoin with the needs for freedom, equality, sovereignty, both personal and national, but also the fight against dictatorships and colonialism, etc.
All these aspirations are quite noble and logical, if we hope to do more than survive in our contemporary world and fight against all inequalities.
On the other hand, we know that poverty around the world is mostly an effect of capitalism, now turned into neo-liberalism, supported by the many destructive policies of right-wing and far-right governments, in order to be able to better control the populations of the world and increase the wealth of the famous « 1%. »
Let’s analyze the main arguments pushed by our African influencers, which I call AfroCryptoShills.
Let’s start with « Bitcoin makes inequalities disappear.« Nothing could be further from the truth, and in fact the opposite is true: Bitcoin increases them (knowing that it is also a deflationary asset).
Another argument: « Decentralization is democracy.« If you’ve observed a bit how the majority of DAOs work, not to mention how POW mining is organized, you’ll very quickly realize that the whales, the fat cats, rule. Oh yes, people vote, but it’s like in any liberal democrature: whoever has the most money, decides. Just like with Bitcoin.
It should also be noted that many entities present in the digital asset environment (exchanges, « layer 2 » solutions etc.) are absolutely not based on a blockchain, nor on a decentralized system. It’s good old-fashioned database, where you can write, modify and delete, to meet 2 needs: the ability to process many transactions and the need to be able to interrupt or cancel operations at any time, especially when the « financial » environment is not ideal as it is now.
Another argument: « Bitcoin takes the politics out of money.« I can tell you that for Peter Thiel, billionaire, former PayPal founder with Elon Musk, heavily invested at multiple levels in crypto-currencies, US politics and digital surveillance, it’s the opposite: Bitcoin is political. While there are many voices in the digital assets ecosystem who say that money should be depoliticized, that one should be able to freely transact money around the world, that Bitcoin belongs to everyone on the planet (for the record, 8 billion versus at best 21 million), and that no government should have anything to say about it, what you really need to hear is: we don’t want any regulation, or any taxes at all.
Doesn’t that remind you of anything or anyone? Oh, did you forget about Ayn Rand?
The biggest Bitcoin investors today all have one thing in common: they are all positioned on the far right of the political spectrum, where you find fascist-leaning libertarians and white supremacists.
Peter Thiel, for example, has suggested that all Bitcoin investors make an « enemies list, » targeting primarily those who are opposed to this cryptocurrency. He is also one of the people who funds the agencies that help our « human rights » and African pro-Bitcoin activists.
For these extremists, individual freedom is natural (for whites only!) and therefore takes precedence over everything. Taxes are theft and hinder their development. The state must limit its governance to the strict minimum, but as it has no resources anyway, the possibilities of action are quite limited. Who has the power in this context? Those who have wealth (here bitcoins). The others are at best vassals, but mostly subhumans in a neo-feudal system.
One of the latest hot topics among libertarians? « Is voluntary slavery legal and ethical?«
Do you have a personal opinion on this question?
Imagine what these people plan to do to developing countries and their inhabitants, like those on the African continent…
Freedom, equality, sovereignty… you can forget it all. You’ll have to put up with the neo-colonialism in the Bitcoin world, crypto-colonialism, with its new billionaire dictators.
If this is the future the AfroCryptoShills and other crypto influencers from Africa are offering you, maybe think twice… They are already selling you to the highest bidder by enticing you to « invest » in their digital assets.
Oh, you think this is all a dirty lie…
But ask yourself why you are so desperate to solve the problems of the past, by entering a super Ponzi scheme, where the top of the pyramid has only one goal: to enslave you (again)…
I thought these white whales were your arch-enemies, existing only in a supposedly past time…
« Bitcoin will save Africa » is purely marketing, but as we saw earlier, those pushing it know very well why they are doing it, and their hearts are far from selfless and pure.
In the next part, I will explain why the argument, regularly used for Bitcoin and other digital assets, that this « financial revolution » will allow to bank the poor & unbanked is boundless nonsense.