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

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East Africa will welcome a new cryptocurrency exchange backed by an impressive list of industry heavyweights looking to tap 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. Initially operating in Kenya and Nigeria, the exchange offers new users a basic exchange platform to acquire, trade and withdraw cryptocurrencies.

The platform offers experienced traders a professional exchange with extensive trading options and technical analysis tools. There are plans to develop the MARA chain, a layer 1 blockchain that will allow developers to build decentralized applications within the future 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 the pro-bitcoin (BTC) state of El Salvador by legalizing Bitcoin as legal tender in April 2022. MARA will serve as the country’s official crypto partner, advising the government on best practices, strategy and planning as it seeks to adopt cryptocurrencies on a larger scale.

Cointelegraph spoke to MARA CEO and co-founder Chi Nnadi to present the early days of the exchange and the prospects Africa has to offer the newly formed platform. After living in Nigeria for most of the past decade, Chi recently relocated to Kenya before the idea for MARA was formed.

The position of Nigeria and Kenya as hotspots for cryptocurrency adoption 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) trading volume, while 35% of Nigerian adults own or trade Bitcoin.

Related: Crypto Users in Africa Up 2,500% in 2021: Report

As African countries continue to attract new cryptocurrency adopters, Nnadi acknowledged that there are still significant hurdles for sub-Saharan Africa’s young and tech-savvy population to make 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 entry severely limit both the number of people who can participate in the crypto economy and the potential uses for digital currencies in the region.”

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

“This brings Africa to a critical tipping point: the younger generation begins their ascent to adulthood and influence. It is a shift that represents a unique opportunity to fully and rapidly transition the region into the new paradigms of digital ownership.”

Regarding MARA’s role as CAR’s crypto partner, Nnadi said the firm would take on an advisory role as the country seeks to take over the crypto economy. This includes guidance on building 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 countries five million citizens.