A Conversation with ‘San’ Alex, Uganda, Africa, & the World

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The following is a conversation and interview with a at the time, pseudonymous twitter user and soon after turned friend. After scrolling through his page filled with knowledge, passion, and grit, I settled on messaging him to find out more who was behind the account out of curiosity.

Who I ended up speaking with was Akandwanaho Alex, nicknamed ‘San,’ from Mbarara Uganda. He shared his story, wisdom, and vision that far exceeded what I would foresaw coming from a random Twitter message, much less someone my own age. The conversation that followed reminded me why I care about the success of blockchain and its impact, and shed light on one of the brightest minds who is advocating for a stronger global future.

After all, death will wash us all away. Do only what you enjoy. Be led by your intuition, your inner voice, your passion, that’s God speaking through you telling you to do what you are meant for. — Akandwanaho Alex

The conversation can be split into three titled sections:

  • Background Story & Experiences
  • State of Uganda
  • Africa & the World, Grand Vision

Background Story & Experiences

My name is Akandwanaho Alex, I’m 20 years old, from Uganda. I was born in Mbarara, a town in the South Western part of the country. I have 3 sisters, two of whom are older than me & they are both married, then one little sister who is in primary school. My dad is a businessman, my mum a former nursery school teacher by profession, has since later gotten herself in business as well, after realizing that there isn’t much one can get in life by teaching. Teaching isn’t taken as a noble job this side as is elsewhere in other parts of the world, it’s also certainly less rewarding as well in these ends.

I went to Calvary Junior school, a neighborhood primary school for my nursery and primary education. At 13 years, after topping my primary school in the final national primary examinations, I joined Ntare school for my O’level education (O’level is the first four years of secondary school), then finally St Mary’s boarding secondary school for my A’level (last two years of secondary school/ highschool). Both Ntare and St Mary’s are some of the best schools in the country. My parents, even in a not so capable financial situation, toiled to afford me the best for my education because my natural abilities had shown clearly earlier in my life.

I love cycling. I have a bicycle which I find joy riding through my town. I love reading too, it’s my biggest pastime. I’m a very curious person and my introversion has afforded me the time to read. I rarely go out, I spend most hours all by myself contemplating about life, and reading. I believe that explains why I love trading, it’s the best job for an introvert like me, to work. I also listen to lots of music, music is the most revealing manifestation of what happens when people do what they love. Like sports, music is filled only with talented people, there’s barely a place for those that are non passionate about it. My mantra in life is to do only what you enjoy or are passionate about. Money should never be the primary factor of why you do something, it should be the love for what you do first and the money last. Like Charles Bukowski’s famous quote goes, “find what you love and let it kill you”. After all, death will wash us all away. Do only what you enjoy. Be led by your intuition, your inner voice, your passion, that’s God speaking through you telling you to do what you are meant for.

Discovering bitcoin

Late 2016, in one of my routine school holiday visits to my elder sisters, who were at university in the capital, Kampala, my sister talked to me about digital money which both her and her boyfriend had heard about from a friend, who also had heard about it from a friend. In their desperate search for what to do to get money as their university final years approached, as they thought of what a hard life it was going to be for them after university because there are hardly any jobs in this country. They took more time to study how Bitcoin could give them an opportunity. They together with more friends started to teach and help people buy Bitcoin as an investment in Kampala for commissions in return. It paid them handsomely at the backdrop of the wild 2017 crypto bull market, as their participation was rewarded. Fast forward to 2020 as Covid-19 forced the country to lockdown, I got full time into crypto trading thanks to the thousands of hours I spent scrolling the internet, and trading forums. I took a bold step, in the same year as schools reopened, I decided to drop out. I was studying economics, mathematics, and entrepreneurship prior to my decision. I moved on from the old traditional school system, worsened by lack of internet access or modern mobile devices as is the case in almost all Ugandan schools, to a brand new world of bigger possibilities thanks to the internet from home.

Uganda

What is the current economic state of Uganda?

Uganda’s economy is largely informal. Gold and coffee make up for most of our exports, even the most basic of things like clothing are still imported. Cattle keeping, banana growing and a bustling activity of informal business in food, clothing and other basic necessities of life are some of the activities people engage in for survival. There is no industrial sophistication yet. Commercial banks charge up to 20% interest on loans here. You can start to imagine how difficult or predatory the economic environment is for the common person who, even assuming could afford the interest, remains unbanked.

What is your view or relationship with the Ugandan Shilling?

The economic structure which is largely dependent on other countries has created several issues, the most obvious being currency devaluation over years. Just in 2008, 1 USD traded for 1,600 Uganda shillings, today, 1 USD trades for about 3,500 Uganda shillings. A depreciation of over 100% in just over a decade.

How can Bitcoin empower Uganda?

The common person is financially illiterate, has zero knowledge of what money and banking are, and the closest thing they have to a bank account is mobile money. Mobile money is basically money linked to your sim card line, almost like a bank account. But it remains centralized, in the hands of telecom companies which, like banks, have close proximity to governments. I will explain why centralization is dangerous, later in this interview. Now, mobile money has penetration deep into the population, deeper than banks because it is more convenient, you just need a mobile phone and a sim card. Statistics show that over 20 million Ugandans use mobile money, Uganda has a population of 45 million people. Even with this success of mobile money as an alternative to banks, mobile money is prone to many disadvantages like high costs, the Ugandan government introduced a 1% mobile money tax on withdrawals in 2018.

It’s morally wrong to burden poor people by taxing a simple transaction on their own money. Other mobile money disadvantages are mandatory KYC in the process of acquiring a sim card. A national ID is required for a Ugandan to be able to buy a sim card, that wouldn’t raise alarms elsewhere but we have the most dysfunctional data collection system, you can think of acquiring a national ID if lucky can take you about five years just to process a simple plastic card with your details on it. Unthinkable how inefficiency is the order of the day here, I personally don’t have a national ID, that would make me unable to acquire a sim card and have a mobile money account. I can’t have a bank account because again banks too require an ID, how am I supposed to be banked? The idea of mandatory KYC alone, makes me feel uneasy at the lack of privacy in a country where data and privacy can be breached any time. It is giving so much information to the state that can inherently be used against you.

Corruption and abuse of power over here are sickening, the political class continues to enjoy luxuries amidst a sea of poverty. According to the 2021 IGG report (IGG is a government institution that fights corruption), Uganda lost 44% of its national budget to corruption. 44% of money meant for service delivery was stolen. They drive expensive cars, and get fat salaries, all serviced by the poor lower class citizenry. It’s a shame that our leaders travel to Europe or the US for treatment, while leaving hospitals back here in rot. Bribery in public offices is a way of life here, nothing ever seems to function. Think of this as the worst absolute dystopian world you can think of in terms of governance. I have become numb to all this, it no longer makes sense for me to anger my life away at the continued abuse of power over here. In 2019, Bank of Uganda staff were pinned in a currency printing saga. Unimaginable that the people in charge of our economy conspired to print more currency just to massage their selfish needs. Here is a news article to better give an understanding of this currency saga that shocked the nation.

Learn more about this event here.

All this corruption, misuse of power, and political inefficiencies can be corrected only by stripping these thieves (the political class) of the ability to enhance their greed. I wasn’t so much a libertarian in the past but my disgust today towards everything political has reached limits. I believe this corruption that is entrenched and enabled by centralized systems is the cause of all humanity’s problems. It is only right, in the interest of humanity, that politicians, and governments at large be stripped of their economic power, that they should never have a say or decision for us economically. Humans are greedy, it’s very dangerous to allow greedy species to be in control of anything, and so as a must, all economic systems should be robotic going forward, free of greed, decentralized to serve everyone in equal capacity instead of allowing a small minority to benefit. Bitcoin is decentralization.

Poor people breed corruption, a poor nation has high corruption levels because of the high financial desperacy, and in return the corruption breeds authoritarianism and dictatorial tendencies since those with power cannot relinquish it, for fear of loss of opportunity to steal. I believe Africa today has most of the longest serving leaders, a perfect example would be the Ugandan president who is now 36 years into power, something that’s totally matured into authoritarianism at this point. For context how big of a number this is, the average age of Ugandans stands at about 16 years. We have the second youngest population in the world, only second to Niger. A young population only means one thing for the incumbent, it’s a threat. Young people all over yearn to have younger people in charge of their country, and so opposition has been pushed through social media and other ways of activism. The government, in fear of overthrow, feels threatened by NGOs(non-governmental organizations) and other parties with the assumption that they get funding from international organizations. Below is an NGO leader, an opposition leader claiming closure of his organization’s bank accounts by the central bank. Why? Because the government feels threatened.

Bitcoin solves this, it’s the only way to push forward activism in undemocratic societies that silence opposition. In a world free from centralized monetary systems that I talked about before, we could achieve absolute freedoms central to humanity’s being, democratic freedoms like political opposition to be precise.

Uganda has one of the highest remittance inflows in Africa due to a large number of Ugandans who are slaving away their lives mostly in the middle east to support their families back home. High remittances in such a poor country are a sign that people have escaped their homeland due to intolerable economic conditions back home; a lack of jobs and an ugly business scene that doesn’t support innovation. Sub-saharan Africa is the most expensive place to send money to, making it harder for these Ugandans to send their wages back home. Stablecoins have a role to serve in remittances and payments because they are able to offset Bitcoin volatility which many cannot stomach. I would love to specify, decentralized stablecoins in this case, because my idea is to eliminate centralization in every aspect, and I’m happy decentralized stablecoins are starting to exist. So, a very fast transfer of money over borders, remittances, with elimination of intermediaries would be revolutionary for payments and money transfer.

Crypto can also be revolutionary in the world of investing for those looking to park their money elsewhere, saving money in a country with crazy levels of inflation is not a good idea. For starters our capital markets are close to dead. It’s laughable that our Ugandan stock market averages usually less than a hundred US dollar trading volume daily. For people that are hungry for more, they could consider investing in global equities but access to those markets is very hard, leaving crypto as the only best liquid and accessible market to pour in money. I believe instruments like yield generating protocols or DeFi lending protocols can outperform on a relative basis our financial markets here, and yet again outperform a savings account.

There’s more ways crypto can be helpful here; NFTs for the arts especially as we lack proper legislation to protect innovation in arts, there are hardly any working copyright laws in Uganda and in most African countries. Blockchain as a technology to guarantee ownership in music and art can be progressive, but also DeFi lending protocols to substitute traditional banking and DAOs to foster funding for entrepreneurs.

All this is promising and the potential of crypto as a life changing machine for humanity is undoubtable but a lot stands in the way of adoption today especially here in Africa; the largest being governments that are opposed to crypto. Last week there was a directive from our central bank stopping local applications that were engaged in the business of easing crypto purchases and sales via mobile money(the simplest onramp and offramp process). Besides the government stance and blockades, crypto in its current form is complex for the average person. Technically, it’s very difficult to have people adopt crypto in its current state today for reasons like unfriendly and complex UI/UX on crypto applications, often requiring a good understanding of tech. Furthermore the internet reach only goes as far as urbanites living rural dwellers in the dark, lacking internet and smartphones.

Africa & the World, Grand Vision

What does Bitcoin mean for Africa as a whole?

Africa has for so long lagged behind all places, especially economically. Africa is a continent that’s so rich naturally, endowed with all mineral wealth, fertile lands, great climate, and a sea of people, currently holding the youngest populace in the world. But even with all this, it remains poor. Why is it so?

I’m currently reading a book titled Confessions of an economic hitman by John Perkins, it’s a tale of how developed nations from the West like the United States together with international organizations like the world bank, USAID etc, work hand in hand to continuously cripple developing nations using economic tools like predatory loans. It’s the biggest revelation to the dirty underwork of the big boys and the dirt that is entrenched in old traditional finance systems.

Bitcoin, which has the potential to overthrow the world order today, can in my opinion be the only way for African countries to escape financial serfdom. By rendering the world bank, its sister agencies, and the west completely financially unable to look down and step upon our poor nations through blackmail and loaning. A El Salvador style resistance toward the world order by rejecting conventionalism and knee bending through legislation, and the welcoming of Bitcoin is what Africa should do to escape economic slavery. Why should we have a global reserve currency that’s backed by nothing, while letting gold rich nations (the so-called poor African nations) have their currencies go to waste? The loaning keeps poor nations under the radar, economically, and politically through blackmail like threats and UN rigged voting systems. Understanding all this is complex and would take a day to unfold all the dirt that I’m talking about. Imperialism still stands tall today as it did in the past.

What is the sentiment in Uganda regarding Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, DeFi protocols, or blockchain projects?

Adoption is still very low, and it’s currently only among the urbanites. Innovation is much lower as you would expect, there isn’t much innovation in the crypto space or blockchain industry overall yet, partly due to unsupportive government policy and a lack of funding to kickstart some of these projects. The furthest we have gone with innovation is a few onramp and offramp crypto apps that depend on mobile money to exchange fiat for crypto and vice versa, but this again has been kept under the radar by unsupportive directives from the central bank prohibiting this kind of business, making it much harder for the average person to buy crypto or sell it. For the case of low adoption, it can also be blamed on crypto scams that ripped people’s money earlier between 2016 and 2018. Many gullible people, because of financial desperacy fell victim to ICOs that were promising them unrealistic gains and this has since tarnished the image of crypto especially in the eyes of those who fell victim.

What is sentiment in Africa regarding Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, DeFi protocols, or blockchain projects?

Adoption is growing, growing fast here in Uganda and Africa at large, and I predict it grows faster in Africa than any other parts of the world for reasons like economic difficulty that’s over here. Today, Nigeria has by far the wildest adoption of crypto in Africa and one of the highest in the world. This can be owed to the rough terrain of their economy, and a very large population of over 200 million people in an economically distressed country means lack of employment opportunities. They have a better understanding of crypto, NFTs, and the whole ecosystem better than any other African country. Their day to day challenges range from a painful level of corruption and bad governance just like the Ugandan scene I explained above.

What opportunities do you see for Bitcoin on the world financial stage? What is your vision?

Bitcoin will disrupt things on the global stage, overturning the whole world order and making countries like the US less relevant. The US is probably the largest victim if countries shift from the dollar standard, it’s a ripple effect that starts with major US enemies. For Example, news that Russia would start to accept Bitcoin for its oil and gas in March this year was a shocker and a sign of how the shift starts to occur gradually, gradually because I would give this decades before it takes full shape. And the position of the United States as the gatekeeper of the world, most countries especially the middle east, Russia and China don’t love it this way. They hate that someone keeps them in check all the time, and what do you expect they can do to prepare for scenarios like financial sanctioning, obviously a seamless decentralized system, something away from the current SWIFT would be ideal and this is how Bitcoin gets bigger on the political and global scene.

What role do the young people(yourself) have in building a more financially free future?

Young people world over stand a chance to change how we perceive things today. Young people have grown in a world that is less divided as it was many years back. Unlike old people, young people don’t know the language of division, the language of war, the language of systematic collapse that was engineered by old people in a world before ours. And so this, coupled with a better understanding and acceptance of technology, young people can usher the next world into a completely financially decentralized future, a utopian world where crypto better stands its chance at complete use and adoption in a tenfold internet age that awaits us. What stands in the way of mass crypto adoption today is the politicians, the legislators who are old and senile, they will be no more in the world of tomorrow.

San & myself meeting for the first time

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