After few months of preparatory work, the company enters a beta testing phase. As soon as the legal requirements are met, Bitmari will launch its services in Zimbabwe, and possibly expand to other African countries.
On Thursday 28 January BitMari invites all Zimbabweans who wish to learn more about cryptocurrency to the public event at the Rainbow Towers, in the very center of Harare, the national capital. Sinclair Skinner, American engineer and civil rights activist, the co-founder of the company, promises to answer their questions about bitcoin and tell about Bitmari and its plans to transform financial services in the African country. The event is held to celebrate the launch of the beta phase of BitMari.
The word “BitMari” is a combination of two words, bitcoin and mari, meaning “money” in Shona language, widespread in Zimbabwe. On its website, the company presents an infographic showing four different stages of money development: cattle that Shona's ancestors used to measure value, cash, credit cards and bitcoin.
The goal of BitMari is to facilitate remittances towards Zimbabwe. It is going to have a flat 5% fee which, according to the commentators, is less than fees perceived by most other money transfer services. In the future, the company plans to expand to other African countries. According to Skinner,
“Zimbabwe was selected because of its high literacy rate, high cellphone penetration, high mobile banking usage and most importantly willingness to adopt new economic systems… A 10-year-old child in Zimbabwe knows more about FOREX than most adults in Europe and U.S.”
The startup works on meeting all the necessary legal requirements in Zimbabwe. Skinner says it already has the support of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, “interested in what will help the country as a whole.” Apart from remittances, BitMari envisages “financing land reform for farmers”.
A number of articles about BitMari published by the local news outlet TechZim met a mixed reception among Zimbabwean readers. Many were skeptical saying that the company “will have to wait a very very very long time before being able to break-even” because Zimbabweans would prefer to “stick to classical remittance channels”. In words of one user, “I do not trust any Zimbo with money transfer from my previous experiences. Western Union is still working fine.” However, others were more receptive to the idea. Some users also made remarks on what could be improved in order to succeed:
“The problem with bitcoin is the wallet. Without an easy to use wallet they’ll just fade away. Maybe they should think about a SIM card-based wallet which mimicks the same mobile experience that people are used to then maybe that would work. You don't even have to tell people its bitcoin based, just use it as your underlying technology to facilitate remittance.”
In the last ten years, Zimbabwe has seen more financial experiments than any other country in the world. In 2004-2009, it experienced a hyperinflation unprecedented in the world, with the Reserve Bank printing famous “One hundred trillion dollar” banknotes. Since 2009, the country does not have a currency of its own. Eight currencies are recognized legal tender in Zimbabwe, including US Dollar, British Pound, Japanese Yen, Chinese Yuan, Indian Rupee, Australian Dollar, Botswana Pula and South African Rand.