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Mara has raised $23 million in funding to build a pan-African cryptocurrency exchange. The aim is to create a portal to the crypto economy for Africans.

The Lagos, Nigeria, and Nairobi, Kenya-based company raised the money from Coinbase Ventures, Alameda Research (FTX), Distributed Global, TQ Ventures, DIGITAL, Nexo, Huobi Ventures, Day One Ventures, Infinite Capital, DAO Jones (investment decentralized autonomous organization backed by Mike Shinoda, Steve Aoki and Disclosure), and nearly 100 other crypto investors, and angels including Amit Bhatia and Hamad Alhoimaizi.

In addition, Mara has also announced a partnership with the Central African Republic, which just passed a bill legalizing Bitcoin as legal tender. As part of this partnership, Mara will become the official crypto partner of the Central African Republic and an adviser to the president on crypto strategy and planning.

Mara’s launch comes at a critical inflection point in Sub-Saharan Africa. Political and economic instability has led to devaluation of currencies across the region, while the current centralized financial system continues to present ongoing obstacles to the development of both local economies and individuals. As a result, food prices have doubled to tripled in some areas and created record-breaking interest rates. These systems have prompted a dire need for a decentralized alternative, Mara said.

While cutting-edge technologies such as cryptocurrency have shown incredible promise among Sub-Saharan Africa’s predominantly young and technologically-native population, there are considerable hurdles to using them. Many existing global exchanges cannot operate in the region due to regulatory challenges as well as difficulty 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.

“The inefficiencies inherent to the old 20th [century] centralized Sub-Saharan African financial systems has presented an obstacle to the proper development of Sub-Saharan individuals and economies for decades,” said Chi Nnandi, CEO of Mara, in an email to VentureBeat. “A decentralized alternative (which will include but not be limited to finance, art, ownership, infrastructure, and business as a whole) will give Sub-Saharan Africans an alternative to these tired systems. Through this digital financial system — through this freedom — the region will find itself in a much stronger competitive position before other parts of the world.”

Mara’s suite

The Mara team

The Mara suite of products addresses a variety of crypto-finance needs while complying with local regulations and being built authentically for the African audience. The features include:

  • Mara Wallet – a brokerage app offering the crypto-curious user a friendly, distilled experience through which they can buy, send, sell and withdraw both fiat and crypto assets instantly and without any prior crypto knowledge.
  • Pro-Exchange – a cryptocurrency platform focused on experienced users that offers a comprehensive suite of trading options and technical analysis tools.
  • Mara Chain – a Layer-1 blockchain, powered by the native Mara token, that gives savvy developers a place to build decentralized applications that will help shape the future of the African crypto economy.

The Mara executive team is led by Nnadi, Lucas Llinás Múnera, Dearg OBartuin, and Kate Kallot. It is joined by board advisers Kojo Annan and Tatiana Koffman. Mara has already built up to 80 employees, with two-thirds of them working in-house and the rest outsourced developers.

“Mara’s mission is to facilitate a more equitable distribution of capital by providing a decentralized alternative that spans across tribes, class, cultures, and countries,” said Nnadi. “Our goal is to close the gap in opportunities for Sub-Saharan individuals and establish a financial infrastructure that they can build their lives upon.”

Globally compliant and locally aware

Unlike its competitors from North America and Europe, Mara’s onboarding, support, and ecosystem reflects the needs of Africans. The company’s KYC/AML (short for know-your-customer and anti-money laundering procedures) is compliant to global standards, and is compatible with international financial regulations, the company said. Customer support is easily accessed and will be available in both local and international languages.

“We are pleased to partner with Mara as it embarks on building a digital financial system for Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Schuster Tanger, cofounder of TQ Ventures, in a statement. “With the right resources, this region has potential for mass adoption of cryptocurrency. To that end, the local knowledge and specialized skills of the Mara team is quite promising.”

Mara will initially launch in Kenya, Nigeria, and surrounding regions. The Mara Wallet app will be available in the App Store and Google Play stores. Pre-registered users will join a queue to enable early access on a first-come, first-served basis.

“While there are other crypto exchanges in Africa, there is yet to be an indigenous African crypto exchange,” Nnandi said. “That’s where Mara comes in — we are a Pan-African crypto exchange built by Africans, for Africans. Support can be accessed easily through means people in Africa are familiar with.”

Once onboarded, the Mara Wallet will enable users to invest in crypto and send money to their family members in real time, without processing times or delays.

“In order to have real success in Africa, you have to have alignment with the regulatory regime, especially when it comes to crypto,” Nnandi said. “The Mara founding team, myself included, sits at an interesting intersection between the older and younger populations. This means we have the incredibly unique ability to understand the needs of the younger generation while understanding the pain points of the elders and educating them on the importance of blockchain technology. We’re able to close the gap between these two generations and build a bridge to regulators.”

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