Fodé Diop saw firsthand what economic oppression means for people living in developing countries, particularly in those which are former European colonies.
Born and raised in the West African nation of Senegal, Diop had a talent both for sports and learning about technology. He planned to attend college in the United States — then his hopes were nearly dashed by a currency crisis.
Senegal is one of more than a dozen African countries that use the CFA franc as their legal tender. It’s a currency that’s still minted and controlled by France, thanks partly to the post-World War II Bretton Woods treaty.
In January 1994, under pressure from the IMF and the World Bank, the French government devalued the CFA franc relative to France’s pre-euro currency, the franc, from its initial pegged exchange rate of 1 to 50 down to just 1 to 100. Literally overnight, the value of the tuition money Diop’s family had painstakingly saved up was cut in half—and they were powerless to stop it.
Diop’s father eventually managed to borrow enough money to send him to Kansas’s Emporia State University, where Diop studied engineering and was set on a path toward a software development career. Determined to stop other people from suffering ill effects of neo-colonial domination, he came to focus on Bitcoin — and now advocates for its use to help poor countries throw off economic shackles.
Although some nations like El Salvador, making similar arguments, have moved to adopt Bitcoin as a form of official tender, Diop’s plans don’t involve using crypto as currency per se.
To spread the word and teach people cryptocurrency programming skills, Diop is launching the Bitcoin Developers Academy. We caught up with Diop to learn more about his thoughts on Bitcoin and why he thinks it can change the world.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Business of Business: To begin, could you give some basic background about yourself and your occupation?
Fodé Diop: I was born in Senegal in West Africa, and I migrated to the U.S. right after high school to go to college. I was a computer science major early on, but I actually went to Hollywood for a while, and then I went back into tech when the iPhone came out in 2007. I forayed into building iPhone apps for event discovery, like a social network for events. I didn't do too well in the end, so I went back to software engineering full-time. I did a coding bootcamp, and through that, I started a meetup for Ethereum smart contract developers.
I got a job right after the bootcamp, and I worked for an online casino and designed and implemented some of their smart contracts. But after the Ethereum work, I had some thoughts about the promise of blockchain. So I went back to Bitcoin, which I felt was much more about pure technology.
Today, I'm running the Bitcoin Developers Academy, which is an online school to help people learn about building applications on top of Bitcoin. It’s going to launch next month, after the Bitcoin Conference in Miami.
How has your Senegalese background influenced your interest in Bitcoin?
Around 2011, when I read the Bitcoin White Paper, I had an insight that it could be really useful for places like Africa and especially Senegal. In that part of the world, we have around 15 countries that cannot control their own currency. France pretty much controls their financial destiny.
So I saw it as a way, not necessarily to reinvent money, but to have a monetary system that was a little bit fairer—that wasn't under the control of an ex-colonial power, and which could also allow African nations to do much easier cross-border payments and trade.
“So I saw it as a way, not necessarily to reinvent money, but to have a monetary system that was a little bit fairer—that wasn't under the control of an ex-colonial power, and which could also allow African nations to do much easier cross-border payments and trade.”
How do you think Bitcoin can be used to liberate developing countries like Senegal from dependence on wealthy countries like France?
That took me a while to figure out, because initially, I was mostly focused on Bitcoin, the asset itself, right? But then I quickly realized that maybe that's not necessarily what we're looking for in order to solve problems. The volatility of the asset itself makes it not very convenient for someone who's in the developing world, who's barely making ends meet, to hold this asset that’s highly volatile. Because if you're poor and you don't have any money, you cannot wake up tomorrow and have this asset that is worth $100 today be worth maybe $80 or $70, or way less than it was worth before.
So I started looking into why this network was important and how we can leverage it, if you ultimately cannot use it as a currency per se. Because I feel like the word “currency” in “cryptocurrency” is a misnomer, actually. Because right now, if you look at Bitcoin as a cryptocurrency, the only place that actually uses it as legal tender is really El Salvador, but nowhere else in the world, right? So it aligns itself more like a digital asset than really a digital currency per se.
In that case, is Bitcoin something that people can stockpile, almost like gold or some other store of value like that? So that you can exchange it or liquidate it in the future, if need be?
Exactly. To me, Bitcoin is an asset we could basically use to create intergenerational wealth, especially for people who’ve never really had access to financial instruments.
“To me, Bitcoin is an asset we could basically use to create intergenerational wealth, especially for people who’ve never really had access to financial instruments.”
When Strike actually launched the Bitcoin service, and I was trying to figure out how it worked, I heard Jack Mallers and Michael Saylor talk about the network itself and how valuable it is. That’s when my second insight came. I said, “Okay, well, what we need to do is use Bitcoin as basically a monetary network itself.”
Now, just a couple of months ago, Cash App in the US integrated the Lightning Network. That means that any other payment application in Africa right now that integrated the Lightning Network can also communicate with the Cash App network in America. And that is only possible because of the Bitcoin network as a monetary network.
Bitcoin is also highly portable. You don't have to be tied to whatever region you live in. Look at what the people in Ukraine are going through right now. At the drop of a hat, they basically have to leave their homes and leave everything behind. If you have gold or whatever, you can’t take it with you, because you're getting bombed everyday! And if somebody catches you at a checkpoint, they're probably going to confiscate your gold anyway.
A lot of people criticize cryptocurrency due to its volatility, plus its environmental impact and other concerns. Where do you see it going in the future? Do you see it remaining popular despite its volatility?
Oh, yes. I think the volatility is pretty much temporary. We are still in the market discovery phase. The market will dictate the true value of Bitcoin—but first, there needs to be much wider adoption of it. As that happens, the price will basically stabilize, but it will take a while. In the meantime, things will definitely be choppy. But I believe when there’s more widespread adoption, we'll see more stability in the network.
To me, this is a revolutionary technology that allows anyone to safeguard their wealth at the generational level. Ultimately, that's really what's missing in places like Africa. We’ve got to be able to pass on wealth to our descendants and teach them about the value of saving and accumulating wealth for our families and for future generations.