When Fodé Diop was a high school senior growing up in Senegal, he was accepted to Emporia State University in Kansas to study engineering and play basketball. But before enrolling, the value of the tuition money his father had set aside was cut in half overnight because of a backroom deal spearheaded by the International Monetary Fund and the French government, which still controls the currency of more than a dozen African countries due to a treaty ratified at the end of World War II.
His experience is what led to Diop's current career as a software developer working to make bitcoin easy to use as a medium of exchange for anyone in Senegal with a smartphone. Reason talked with Diop about bitcoin's potential to end monetary colonialism at the annual Bitcoin conference held in Miami earlier this year (Bitcoin 2022 will take place April 6–9 of next year).
When France ratified the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1945, it gained control over the currencies of 14 African nations, including Senegal. On the morning of January 11, 1994, the CFA franc was pegged to the French franc at a valuation of 1 to 50. The following day, it was cut to 1 to 100, after the French government gave in to pressure from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to devalue the currency. Not only did this temporarily crush Diop's college dreams, it also led to widespread political unrest, as West Africa's subsistence farmers could no longer afford to import essential goods, including drugs to treat malaria. "The cruel irony was that the economic fate of millions of Senegalese was completely out of their own hands. No amount of protest could overthrow their economic masters," notes the Human Rights Foundation's Alex Gladstein in a recent article in Bitcoin Magazine, which also recounts Diop's story.
Diop's father was eventually able to pull together the money and Diop got to attend college after all. After graduating, he came across a video featuring the Senegalese scientist and historian Cheikh Anta Diop (no relation), criticizing the French-African monetary system.
Fodé Diop says that was the first of three awakenings that set him on his current career path. The second was watching Steve Job's famous 2007 announcement of the iPhone, which ultimately led him to consider how poorly traditional banks serve the citizens of Senegal. Job's hand-held computer created an opportunity to circumvent these institutions altogether. But Job's revolutionary new communication device needed a decentralized monetary system to match, which is where Diop's third awakening comes in.
In 2008, the pseudonymous hacker Satoshi Nakamoto published the groundbreaking paper, "Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System," helping to launch an alternative monetary and banking system independent of conventional institutions and central banks.
But the bitcoin network alone isn't well-suited to becoming a medium of exchange for everyday purchases in Senegal or anywhere else. That's because it currently has the capacity to process only a handful of transactions per second, far less than payment systems like Visa or Mastercard. The Lightning Network, a payment protocol layered on top of bitcoin, is a way to facilitate fast transactions while maintaining the decentralized structure of bitcoin. Through bitcoin and ubiquitous smartphones, Diop thinks it's possible to build a new free market monetary system that will finally liberate Senegal and other African countries from the last vestiges of colonialism.
Produced by Regan Taylor and Isaac Reese. Interview by Nick Gillespie. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Noor Greene.
Music Credits: Run All Night by Stanley Gurvich on Artlist and The Blue Jay by Mintz on Artlist
Photo Credits: Photo by Shahadat Rahman on Unsplash; Fodé Diop LinkedIn; Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash; Photo by Teemu Paananen on Unsplash; Photo by André François McKenzie on Unsplash; Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash; Archives New Zealand from New Zealand, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Touki Bouki (1973), by Djibril Diop Mambéty, Internet Archive; Nicholas Gemini, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Nicholas Gemini, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; GODONG / BSIP/Newscom; Philippe Lissac / GODONG/picture-alliance / Godong/Newscom; Maksym Yemelyanov/agefotostock/Newscom; IBM Corporation / IBM Direct / IBM K-12 Assist Group / IBM Publications, Internet Archive; Bashir Darwish/UPI/Newscom; Jimmy Villalta / VWPics/Newscom; Stefan Kleinowitz/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Photo by Armand Khoury on Unsplash; Michele Spatari/ZUMA Press/Newscom; New York Times via archive.org; Ji-Elle, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Michele Spatari/ZUMA Press/Newscom; World Economic Forum, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Ji-Elle, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Ji-Elle, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Ji-Elle, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Krzysztof Hepner on Unsplash; Photo by Benjamin Dada on Unsplash; Photo by Executium on Unsplash; Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash; Photo by Brightness on Unsplash; H. Grobe, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons; Alex Gorzen, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons; James R. Garvey/Emporia State University; Apple, cultofmac.com; Victorgrigas, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Hugh Han on Unsplash; Matthew Yohe at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Rasheed Kemy on Unsplash; Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash; Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash; Photo by Etienne Martin on Unsplash; Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash; Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash