Cameroonian separatists fighting for the independence of the self-declared state of Ambazonia have put their own cryptocurrency on sale to the general public. The AmbaCoin aims to provide humanitarian relief to those affected by the conflict in the Anglophone regions with the hope of raising up to 250 million US dollars.
"The initiative is geared towards helping with humanitarian side of things," says Frank, one of the members of the AmbaCoin project who responded to press enquiries about the cryptocurrency, but wanted to remain anonymous. "That's the idea behind it - to raise funds to support humanitarian efforts."
It is hoped that the creation of a currency for so-called Ambazonia will also support efforts to have the breakaway state officially recognised as a country. Creating their own Ambazonian currency enables the separatists to move away from using the CFA franc.
"The idea of AmbaCoin was to get away from the CFA - we don't see the CFA franc as a legitimate currency for Ambazonia," says Frank. "If we want to be independent, we can't pursue a French colonial currency."
Cameroon's currency is issued by the Bank of the Central African States which is in turn backed by the French government's treasury. The CFA franc is pegged to the euro, however, and it has drawn the ire of activists in West and Central African countries in recent years, who have protested France's continuing influence long after the end of colonialism.
How does it work?
AmbaCoin officially went on sale on 28 December with one AmbaCoin token equivalent to 25 US cents. Before the main "crowdsale" the token was offered through a "presale" with 10 percent of the AmbaCoins available. More than 30,000 AmbaCoins had been issued as of 1 January, according to the website.
There are 13 holders of AmbaCoin, according to an analysis available on the Bloxy website, which provides information on public blockchains. One digital wallet address holds almost 42 per cent of the existing AmbaCoins issued.
Supporters of Ambazonia can purchase AmbaCoins through a dashboard on the website. Users can use other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin or Dash to make transactions as well as traditional currencies, including euros, dollars, CFA francs, rand or rubles. The AmbaCoins then reside in an Ethereum digital wallet. The project describes the token being compatible with several existing cryptocurrency digital wallets.
The token itself is built upon existing Ethereum blockchain technology providing a decentralised public ledger. AmbaCoin's whitepaper describes how transactions are completed using Ethereum's system of "smart contracts" - a protocol aiming to enforce transactions without a third party.
AmbaCoin is based on the "proof-of-stake" architecture defining how block transactions are dealt with. This approach avoids the need for mining where computing power is used to run different cryptographic calculations.
How can AmbaCoin be used?
The project envisages a number of uses for AmbaCoin. The whitepaper describes how supporters can hold onto the token and watch its value appreciate over time, a strategy popularised by BitCoin enthusiasts where to "hodl" is to hold onto cryptocurrency rather than sell it. Furthermore, AmbaCoin can be traded to provide a return for investors, according to the project.
It also acts as a digitised form of a treasury bill - "eventually, the Ambazonian nation will purchase it" - and it can be used "to get access to national services", according to the whitepaper. The AmbaCoin will not be pegged to any particular traditional currency and it aims to become particularly important for remittances from Africans in the diaspora.
Spending on potential humanitarian relief for the Anglophone regions will be decided by AmbaCoin's board of directors, according to Frank. "They will make that decision," he says, drawing particular attention to the plight of refugees and internally displaced people who have been hit by the worsening violence in Cameroon's Anglophone regions.
The crisis that hit the North West and South West regions has already seen humanitarian fundraising efforts. The Cameroonian government in mid-2018 raised almost 20 million euros to help people hit by the fallout of what it says are "acts of terrorism" carried out by separatist groups.
Support from Ambazonian 'government'
A number of different groups purporting to be the government of Ambazonia have emerged since the self-declaration of independence for Ambazonia in October 2017. The situation on the ground has also evolved, with rival separatist armed groups involved in fighting between themselves as well as with the Cameroonian security forces.
"It's an initiative of a few individuals," Chris Anu, a spokesperson for the Federal Republic of Ambazonia, told RFI in response to questions about AmbaCoin. "Our government has not endorsed it."
The rival Ambazonia Governing Council says it fully endorses AmbaCoin and encourages its supporters to buy the cryptocurrency, describing it as an "ingenious and revolutionary initiative".
"A group of creative geniuses developed a cryptocurrency designed to foster the Ambazonian revolution, to establish a separate homeland and foster a unique sense of national ownership of our medium of exchange," says Cho Ayaba, head of the AGC, in emailed comments.
Who is behind it?
Those behind AmbaCoin are not immediately known. The project's whitepaper says the board of directors and development team is "state classified info". Frank, who describes it as a "freedom currency", says AmbaCoin takes the legal form of a company registered in South Africa with a bank account under the same name.
Frank says the directors include "Ambazonians across the board" including "some foreign citizens of different nationalities with experience of cryptocurrency".
AmbaCoin is listed as a company with five directors incorporated in South Africa on 31 October 2018 to an address in Cape Town, according to company documents reviewed by RFI.
A listed director of AmbaCoin is Tshisikhawe Mabel Khangale, a 36-year-old chartered accountant and registered auditor who runs a company called Andisa SA that carries out business registrations.
Another South African connection is Fuler Ayuk Ayamba, who is listed as a director and lives in the Western Cape, according to a 2013 South Africa government gazette.
AmbaCoin extends beyond the African continent. Frank Enoanyi Abange is a director and resides in the US state of Ohio. Abange is listed as the owner of Curantis Healthcare Services Ltd, according to searches with the Ohio Secretary of State. Curantis is described as an "agency provider of services to people with developmental disabilities" and the company is registered as a healthcare provider.
Abange also appears in searches as registering a company called "Ambazonia Mission AGC", incorporated in Ohio. This non-profit company says it was formed to "promote and to support human, social and self-defence rights of the people of Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia)". The company's articles of association include a document called the "Charter of the Ambazonia Mission" which is signed by Cho Ayaba, head of the AGC.
There are two directors who appear to be based in Europe. Julious Nyih Nyiawung features on the website for Ireland's University College of Dublin Smurfit School as an expert in human resources. He is also listed as an academic on a 2017 list of staff for Kaplan educational institute in Singapore. Nyiawung is frequently described as the vice president of the AGC and on their website is said to be responsible for "human resource mobilisation".
The fifth director of AmbaCoin is Moses Esim Enoh. He appears in searches linked to Griffith College in Dublin, Ireland. His dissertation on environmental practices in Irish agriculture was published in 2015.
The other name revealed as the author of AmbaCoin's whitepaper is Bruno Mpako. Mpako appears to reside in Cape Town and describes himself as a "web developer and network expert". His LinkedIn profile lists him as chief executive officer for Bank Crypto Coin. Frank says Mpako is "one of the technical brains" behind the AmbaCoin project and is acting as one of the chief technologists.
Path to statehood
The breakaway state of Ambazonia is not the only self-declared territory to issue its own currency. Somaliland, which declared independence after the fall of military leader Siad Barre in 1991, issues the Somaliland shilling and operates its own central bank.
South Sudan took a different route to issuing its own currency, waiting until it achieved independence before introducing the South Sudanese pound. The country split from Sudan in 2011 and remains the African continent's youngest country.
Other countries outside of the African continent have been involved in cryptocurrency initiatives. Venezuela's government launched the petro in early 2018 with President Nicolas Maduro describing it as the cornerstone of efforts to rebuild the country. The petro is said to be backed by oil reserves, but investigations have revealed scant details on the cryptocurrency.
The Marshall Islands is also reportedly launching a cryptocurrency in partnership with an Israeli firm. However, the International Monetary Fund in a September 2018 report says that there are "many risks involved" in issuing a cryptocurrency as legal tender.
Supporters of Ambazonia, such as Frank, see little downside in issuing AmbaCoins for the breakaway state. "We believe the closer Ambazonia gets to being an independent nation - it will affect the value of the coin," he says.
"People are getting to know cryptocurrency - the more it gets known, the more stable it becomes," says Frank. "The future is what matters."