Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|September 7, 2022|13 Minutes|In Billionaire, Billionaire Today

Billionaire Today

"A big year for crypto in Africa"

He is the 27-year-old running the biggest crypto market in Africa for one of the largest operations on the planet that could create a whole new generation ofentrepreneurs. Emmanuel Babalola is young, clean-cut and hungry for the progress of crypto currency on a continent that is still fairly sceptical.

Emmanuel Babalola exudes the enthusiasm of youth, with a ready smile and laugh, on this day in the heart of the Nigerian country side. Like a good grandson, he is visiting his parents at their quiet, rural, home and he steals an hour in the front seat of his car to talk to Billionaire Tomorrow about fraud regulation and cryptocurrency.

In Nigeria’s patriarchal busines world Babalola is something of an upstart. At the tender age of 27, his is in charge of the largest cryptocurrency exchange in Africa; part of the largest crypto operation in the world Binance. It has  90 million users and does billions in business around the world.

Babalola  believes crypto is  coming in Africa whether people like it or not and claims the business has increased fivefold over the last year.

“It’s just like the internet, it’s like saying don’t use internet,” he says.

Institutions are also seeing the value of buying these assets, similar to how they did with art. Flipping NFTs, where a person or company buys an NFT in a drop and then sells it almost immediately after for a profit, can be incredibly lucrative for a minority of investors, and some companies are seeing this as a viable strategy.

Babalola studied computer science at the University of Uyoin Nigeria and is undergoing  a master’s degree in digital currency at the University of Nicosia – the largest university in Cyprus- where he honed a passion for tech.

“I think I’ve always really been an entrepreneur. I studied computer science that has a critical backgroundand you know, that has really helped, you know, shape how, how I see crypto. I always say the masters in like  technology presented itself ,so this is something that I’ve always been passionate about  -tech,” he says.

“I started reading more about cryptocurrency and then, you know, it caught my attention.I thinkin 2017, I quit and then came fully into crypto. I was basically freelancing, you know, for a couple of projects meeting the audience.”

Babalola threw himself into attending every meet up he could find around crypto with his ears and eyes wide open. He reckons he attended more than 200 events on this learning curve.

At about the same time, in 2017, entrepreneur Changpeng Zhao founded Binance in China, without offices, headquarters or even a licence. He grew it rapidly from  almost nothing.  It means, at the age of 44, CZ -as he is known – has earned a fortune estimated at $1.2 billion and surely must be seen as the grand old man of crypto after living through what the Chinse would call interesting times.

CZ’s parents were both teachers in China; his father was a university instructor until he was accused of being “pro bourgeois” by the authorities and exiled to the rural areas. The young CZ had to support the family by doing a number of jobs including working at McDonalds.

When his turn came to go out into the world, CZ steered well clear of teaching and became a software developer in the world of finance on his way to launching Binance.

“He is a very capable leader that, you know, prioritizes the user,” says Babalola..

Babalola– the head of Binance Africa – took a similar U-turn in his career.He was born to march in step as a soldier of Nigeria.

Both Babalola’s parents served in the Nigerian army. They  met on an army base in Lagos and married in uniform. They were from different parts of the country and separate tribal groupings and Babalola says say they would never have met – let alone married -if they hadn’t enlisted.

“I grew up in the barracks and, you know, giving me the core values that I have today were, you know,  from both of them,” he says.

“So I went to military school, so all my school schooling up to university was military schools. So, it was just as soon as I could choose, I was like, man, this is not for me.”

Babalola’s family wanted him to follow them into uniform and join the colours, but the big U-turn loomed large. .

“The reason why I personally respect officers so much is because of the sacrifice, the pay, they lay their lives down for their country. Their entire lives are regimented. I’m being an advocate for the freedom of money today…I’ve always wanted to be free to. When you’re in the military, you don’t have it, your time is managed for you. So, you have the time to be at work. You know, you have shifts, you have to wear a uniform.”

The big decision came at a family meeting. Despite impassioned entreaties from Mr and Mrs Babalola the young man had his way and went off to study tech and digital currencies.

This existential moment has seen Babalola climb to head Binance Africa – the biggest exchange on the continent – with a desk full of problems to tackle.

The first is the lingering perception in Africa that crypto is merely a cloak for fraud and money laundering.

“We are working with regulators to actually ensure that crypto is safe, you know, and if there are several reports as well, of course, you know, helping, you know, take down crime rings actually,” he says.

“I see a lot of conversation around crypto-regulation and what it should be

taking form and shape this year…how regulators address crypto is a key concern. However, I think for players in industry, it’s important that we continue to engage right with these regulators because that’s kind of like the key way that we can actually ensure that these regulations as they will come, would not stifle innovation.”

What about tax? A lot of governments are getting twitchy about missing out on revenue where people use crypto instead of an African currency.

“Do you know that like one of the biggest revenue streams I see happen like in the next 10 years would be like, it is going to be really big on Binance. Do we have tax tools right to help regulators actually see tax and help use us pay tax as well in a transparent way? Now, one of the key things we knew that would happen is that cryptocurrency will represent a key revenue driver for any government that accepts crypto.For instance, the typical example in Nigeria, you know, millions of dollars are processed in crypto transactions.Right? And one of the key things about crypto is that it’s trackable, right? So you can trust it, “ says Babalola who has gone on record this month saying using crypto is the worst way to commit fraud.

What about a guy who is running a successful garage in Nairobi, I venture. As long as he is making money why should he care about crypto?

“The guy in Kenya was basically limited to the business within Kenya. You couldn’t receive money or you couldn’t ship, you know, easily because obviously you haven’t received the money first. And that those payments to take maybe two or three days to get to you; when it comes to international payments within Africa, so difficult today, Right then, what crypto does  for that entrepreneur is it opens him up to the entire world, right. Anybody, anywhere, can compete for his services,” says Babalola.

What is Babalola’s advice to African entrepreneurs who want to launch their own cryptocurrency or tokens ?

“You have to ensure that it has valid use cases. That’s prioritize your community. Because as I said before, if enough people think it’s valuable, if enough people use it, then it becomes valuable,” he says.

“You know we have several projects: $1 billion market cap, $10 billion market cap because people believe I use it. Right. So personally I think that this the  year when African crypto ecosystem matures a little more and we’ll have a little more projects from Africa, you know, that gain global appeal.”

For now, this year Binance Africa is pressing ahead with its plans to train more than a million Africans on how to use crypto.The company claims it has trained  400,000 so far.

“And one of the key things that program was to do was to help those people who understand crypto already, you knowto teach the next person, you know, teach their family members, their friends, organize a small meetup and just talk about crypto. And then we basically cover those back costs,” he says.

“We are pleased on like user education because the more people understand how to protect their crypto accounts, the more people understand the risk; the more people understand, okay, this is how to actually make money from this. Then the more adoption we would have.”

Be sure Babalola will be writing many more headlines with Binance Africa this year, he has plenty of years ahead of him. Remember he is only 28 in October!

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