Bitcoin continued to garner attention globally as a national legal tender with Central African Republic becoming the latest suitor. President Faustin-Archange Touadéra signed the bill into law on Wednesday and his chief of staff Obed Namsio hailed the move as one that could forever change the economic fabric of a country that has been embroiled in rebel violence for many years now.
Namsio said the bill was supported by the president because it would improve the citizens’ status. He added it would open up new economic opportunities for the landlocked country. The new bill provides a framework for use of cryptocurrencies in smart contracts, payments systems, online trade, and all electronic transactions alongside the CFA franc currency.
“This move places the Central African Republic on the map of the world’s boldest and most visionary countries,” he said.
Traders will also be capable of paying taxes with crypto and the finance minister Gourna Zacko who introduced the bill, believes it will ease cross-border transfers that have become increasingly difficult to do. These transfers will now become very cheap. Citizens will also be capable of undertaking legal financial transactions in the mainstream financial realms using crypto, and without necessarily going through middlemen banks. Cryptocurrency exchanges will not be taxed.
The bill has clauses that prescribe up to 20 years of imprisonment and a fine of between 100 million to 1 billion CFA francs for anyone who breaks the crypto law.
With a per capita income of only 750 USD per year, the country is one of the poorest in the region and world as a result of years of conflicts and war. This is despite having a vast amount of gold and diamond reserves.
The country would, however, have to pursue an aggressive Internet coverage agenda to make this plan effective. It currently has an Internet penetration rate of just 7.1 percent and 355,000 Internet users out of a total population of 4.97 million people.
It is not clear if and how the new move would help alleviate the country’s ailing inflation or GDP. Inflation has increased from 2.7 percent in 2019 to 3.3 in 2021. The country’s GDP also flipped to the negative last year at -0.6 from a 3.1 in 2019. Despite relying heavily on agriculture and mining, illegal gold and diamond exports undermine government revenue. The country is also embroiled in bad political and economic decisions, conflicts, and insecurity.
The bill that governs use of cryptocurrency as legal tender in the country was unanimously adopted by the parliament last week. However, the move was not approved by the Bank of Central African States (BEAC) which governs the Central African CFA franc regional currency used by the country and about 14 others. The franc is tied to the Euro and largely controlled by the West. Two ministers said the move to adopt Bitcoin as a national currency was a serious offense.
The move was also criticized by former Prime Minister Martin Ziguele who said it was not a priority for the country, and that it was undermining the CFA franc. The decision could also be challenged in court by some legislators.