Central African Republic’s Sango Coin provokes scepticism

With the launch of Sango Coin, the CAR has taken a further step in implementing a crypto-based financial system, but there is little chance the president’s drive to introduce virtual currencies will benefit the population.


Image : Barbara DEBOUT/AFP

Initial sales of the Central African Republic’s (CAR) Sango Coin, a crypto token, have fallen flat, with just over 5% of the target bought in the hours after its launch on Monday 25 July, according to a report from Reuters. Of the initial $21m on offer, only about $1.09m had been sold by 11.15 GMT on Tuesday 26 July, after it went on sale at 17.00 GMT the previous day, said the news agency.

The government of CAR announced its plan to launch Sango Coin in early July, two months after announcing it would adopt bitcoin as an official currency. The plan also involved the launch of Africa’s first zero-tax crypto-hub.

The CAR’s plans to adopt bitcoin have been frozen after pressure from the country’s regional partners in the Central African CFA monetary zone.

‘New generation currency’

“Sango will be the new generation currency of the Central African Republic,” said President Faustin-Archange Touadéra during a virtual government event held on 3 July.

It is not clear how Sango Coin would work alongside the country’s official adoption of bitcoin, a move that was announced in May but shelved in July pending regulation by the Bank of Central African States (BEAC) for all countries in the Central African CFA monetary zone.

The initial announcement attracted widespread scepticism from experts given that internet adoption in the country – one of the poorest in the world – is only around 10%. 

But according to Touadéra, Sango Coin will allow the country to exploit its untapped natural resources by facilitating investment through decentralised platforms and avoid the restrictions of the international financial system. He also claimed that the cryptocurrency will help to overcome structural problems which prevent access to basic financial services. The president said that 52% of its population do not have access to a bank account.

“The smartphone is the alternative to traditional banking, cash and financial bureaucracy,” he said.

‘Crypto Island’ 

Touadéra says that the new tax-free crypto hub will be “the catalyst for the tokenisation of vast natural resources”, attracting crypto-rich investors around the world to invest in the CAR’s untapped minerals. 

The project will also involve the launch of “Crypto Island”. This is intended to be a metaverse platform where virtual palaces, casinos, a large stadium, and a water park will be built, backed up by real physical property in Bangui, capital of the CAR.

Earlier this year, the CAR became the first African country to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, and second in the world after El Salvador, raising concerns among international institutions.

The IMF said that CAR’s adoption of bitcoin as an official currency “raises major legal, transparency, and economic policy challenges”.

The BEAC, whose role is to enforce monetary policies in the six-member Central African Economic and Monetary Community, said that the CAR’s move on cryptocurrency is a threat to the stability of its common currency and prohibited its use within the bloc.

But Touadaré believes Sango – named after the official language of the CAR –  is an opportunity to free the country from binding rules of financial institutions, and tap the potential of the informal economy.

“The cash alternative is cryptocurrency. For us, a formal economy is no longer an option,” he said.

People of CAR ‘will not see many improvements’

However, experts fear that the CAR’s enthusiasm for bitcoin could be a smokescreen for dubious economic activities. The BEAC has expressed concern that cryptocurrencies could make it easier for criminals to launder money.

The construction of a “crypto island”, says David Gerard, an independent technology journalist, is likely to resemble “special economic zones, where whoever the richest people are make the laws.”

“If this scheme is going forward, outside people will take control of the resources, make all the money, and the people of CAR will not see many improvements, except for the ones at the top,” says Gerard.

“Technology is not involved. It’s all about the financial instrument and business deals. It is about people and flows of cash. Technology does not do magic, and certainly does not make the money flow differently,” he says. 

Some have speculated that Russia’s close interests in the CAR – which include the government-approved deployment of the Wagner Group of military contractors  – could be served by the adoption of cryptocurrencies. 

“Russia has been trying to extend its influence in Africa a lot and wants African countries to back its position on Ukraine and it would pay people to do that,” says Gerard.

Article updated on July 26 2022. Additional reporting by Charles Dietz.

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