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Backed by Coinbase and Alameda, African exchange MARA eyes continental prospects

East Africa is set to welcome a new cryptocurrency exchange backed by a formidable list of industry heavyweights looking to tap into a continent full of potential users.

Coinbase Ventures, Alameda Research, Huobi Ventures and other prominent venture capital firms and angel investors have contributed $23 million to launch MARA. The exchange will initially operate in Kenya and Nigeria, offering new users a basic exchange platform to acquire, trade and withdraw cryptocurrencies.

The platform will offer a professional exchange featuring extensive trading options and technical analysis tools for more experienced traders. Plans are in place to develop the MARA chain, a layer-1 blockchain allowing developers to build decentralized applications within the prospective MARA ecosystem.

The MARA team also confirmed the establishment of a partnership with the Central African Republic. The African country followed in the footsteps of pro-Bitcoin (BTC) state El Salvador by legalizing Bitcoin as legal tender in April 2022. MARA will serve as the official crypto partner of the country and will advise the government on best practices, strategy and planning as it looks to adopt cryptocurrencies on a wider scale.

Cointelegraph spoke to MARA CEO and co-founder Chi Nnadi to unpack the exchange’s inception and the prospects that Africa has to offer to the newly founded platform. After spending most of the past decade living in Nigeria, Chi recently moved to Kenya before the idea underlying MARA crystallized.

Nigeria and Kenya’s position as cryptocurrency adoption hotspots on the continent was a driving factor in MARA’s decision to launch its offering in the two countries. According to Chainalysis, Kenya leads the rest of the world in peer-to-peer (P2P) trade volume, while 35% of Nigerian adults hold or trade in Bitcoin.

Related: Crypto users in Africa grew by 2,500% in 2021: Report

While African countries continue to account for new cryptocurrency users, Nnadi conceded that there are still considerable hurdles in the way of Sub-Saharan Africa’s young and technologically-native population making crypto a part of their everyday lives:

“Many existing global exchanges cannot operate in the region due to regulatory challenges as well as difficulties in reaching the African consumer in an authentic way. These barriers to access significantly restrict both the number of people who can participate in the crypto economy and the potential uses for digital currency in the region.”

Despite regulatory challenges and the nascent state of the cryptocurrency space, Nnadi believes that the next generation of Africans will drive a digital transformation on the continent. Noting that Africa boasts the youngest population in the world, Nnadi said a growing number of youths are building transformative structures and solutions to adapt new technologies for their society:

“This places Africa at a critical inflection point: the younger generation is beginning its ascent into adulthood and influence. It is a shift that represents the unique opportunity to fully and quickly transition the region into the new paradigms of digital ownership.”

As for MARA’s role as a crypto partner to the Central African Republic, Nnadi said that the firm would serve in an advisory role as the country looks to embrace the crypto economy. This will include guidance on how to build the necessary Know Your Customer (KYC) Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) infrastructure, which includes standardizing personal identification documents to ensure a solid foundation for the country and its five million citizens.

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