Machankura, a tool developed by South African software developer Kgothatso Ngako that allows Africans to access bitcoin through USSD even with limited internet connectivity.
Bitcoin is revolutionizing the way people transfer money and conduct transactions across the globe. However, a significant challenge in many African countries is the lack of reliable internet access. This challenge has also presented a unique opportunity for African technologists to create innovative solutions that haven’t been explored elsewhere.
What is Machankura ?
Machankura is a fully custodial bitcoin and lightning wallet that requires zero configuration and works on any mobile phone in the world and does not require an internet connection to send or receive bitcoin. Machankura takes advantage of USSD present on all mobile phones which is currently the best communication technology available for Africa and the base for several mobile financial services on the continent.
How does it work?
USSD, a communications layer for mobile telecommunication networks that is often compared to SMS, gives software developers a lot of flexibility. Machankura allows users to interact with the Lightning Network through USSD, which enables them to use the app even without internet connectivity.
For example, users in Tanzania can dial a code like 149*46*26# to interact with the Machankura app. The app even allows for more complex actions like “bartering BTC,” which involves selling bitcoin for goods and services on Bitrefill. (Bitrefill is a leading crypto e-commerce store that allows users to ‘Live on Crypto’ by purchasing digital gift cards and phone refills with Bitcoin or crypto)
Machankura offers a Lightning-friendly Bitcoin wallet, allowing users to send to a wallet associated with a user name or phone number, or choose to send to any other Lightning wallet using a Lightning address.
The machankura system charges a 1% transaction fee on all spends. Currently, Machankura works in the following countries as per their offerings:
- Ghana: *920*8333#
- Kenya: *483*8333#
- Malawi: *384*8333#
- Namibia: *142*8333#
- Nigeria: *347*8333#
- South Africa: *134*382*382#
- Tanzania: *149*46*26#
- Uganda: *284*8333#
- Uganda: *384*8333#
Machankura offers a way to access the Lightning Network via an Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) interface, which leverages the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) telecommunication network on mobile phones. USSD is similar to Interactive Voice Response (IVR), which is typically used when calling a mobile network operator’s customer service. However, USSD is in textual form.
While the project is still early, its growing popularity demonstrates that the bitcoin economy can incorporate low-income populations without reliable internet access across the world. However, to make Lightning payments over USSD reliable, secure and censorship-resistant, Machankura must overcome several challenges.
What makes Machankura different and unique ?
While there are other offline bitcoin solutions such as Locha Mesh in Venezuela, that relies on mesh networks, the unique context in Africa offers an advantage to tech entrepreneurs who want to reach out to the 2.9 billion people estimated by the International Telecommunications Union to still lack reliable internet access.
The key difference between Machankura and other offline bitcoin solutions is that it doesn’t require the sender to be within a few miles of the receiver, which makes it more scalable in a continent with a dispersed population. With roughly 2,900 African users across more than seven countries already using Machankura, the tool has potential to be an important player in the peer-to-peer bitcoin transaction market in Africa.
In addition to being a potential game-changer for bitcoin transactions in Africa, Machankura also opens up opportunities for other fintech solutions to reach a wider audience. With its ability to work in areas with limited internet connectivity, it can help provide access to financial services to underserved communities, potentially leading to financial inclusion for millions of people.
Below is a small video on How does it work ?
Challenges with Machankura :
USSD does not use encrypted messages, so communication can be intercepted by a third party, making it unsuitable for situations that require privacy. Machankura is already working on ways to introduce encryption to mitigate this challenge.
Additionally, the Machankura USSD service is currently custodial, meaning users don’t own their keys, potentially putting their funds at risk. To address this, the team behind Machankura is experimenting with programming SIM overlays as Lightning signers to allow users to back up their wallets.
Another challenge is that every USSD request to the Machankura application is forwarded to Machankura’s servers by a third party, such as a mobile network operator or a USSD gateway service. These are all centralized platforms that could potentially be forced by the government to take down Machankura or cancel the service. Therefore, the Machankura team is exploring solutions to make the service more decentralized and less vulnerable to government censorship.
As the African tech industry continues to grow, entrepreneurs and investors alike are recognizing the potential of innovative solutions that cater to the continent’s unique challenges. By building tools that work in the absence of reliable internet access, technologists have a chance to disrupt traditional models and create new, scalable solutions that can benefit millions of people around the world.
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