Master Guantai: The Kenyan Man Making Bitcoin Multilingual & Taking it to African Tribes
“I tend to be very, really ambitious.”
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Photo credit: Damian Patkowski
Guantai Kathurima is a young, Kenyan man with big ambitions.
He dreams of transforming Africa by translating bitcoin education into five different African languages. Why? So that he can take it to African communities and tribes.
It’s a sizable endeavour, but he is self-assured, with a nutty belief that things are possible when you have a brutal, sickening work ethic.
According to him, there are no shortcuts to success. That’s why on social media, he goes by the name “Master Guantai.”
“I thought to myself that when you want to be a master, you must put in 10,000 hours. I owe it to myself to put in the 10,000 hours. Like so far, honestly, maybe I've done half of that because on a daily basis, I do three hours of exclusive studying [of bitcoin].”
There’s no denying he works hard.
When we have our conversation it’s a Friday night at 8:00 pm – his time, I should add. He sits up straight the entire conversation, barely moving from his position, listening intently, and speaking with laser-focused concentration. Meanwhile, I have tilted my head a hundred times in fascination and almost contorted myself into a pretzel.
Our differences in video-etiquette aside, we both agree that bitcoin can transform lives.
We go on to speak about the broken banking system in Kenya, the need for more education, and more importantly his intention to bring Bitcoin to Africa.
The State of Banks in Kenya
In the last 10 years, Guantai has seen two major banks collapse: Chase Bank and Imperial bank.
When the regulators stepped in to ‘fix the issue’, the creditors were paid while honest, hard-working Kenyans who had their money sitting in banks got nothing in return.
“Imperial Bank was owned by this guy who just suddenly died. When he died, they came and did an audit of the bank. The guy had two different sets of books. So they announced on the news that yeah, this book is being closed by the regulators and everything. Things are not good because they do not have your money. And the police won’t do anything.
You see even the psychological marketing of it. Like, you're going to put your money in the bank it’s called ‘a deposit.’ It's not a deposit. It's an unsecured loan to a bank. People do not know that when the bank goes into foreclosure, nothing remains. You'll be in the fifth tier of the people that are going to be compensated. By then there is literally no money left. So I can't imagine [putting] like 80% of my money in the bank.”
Isn’t it interesting that Guantai can’t imagine leaving 80% of his money in the bank when Canadians can’t imagine parking 80% of their money in bitcoin? The irony. It’s almost as if we lived in two parallel worlds.
To many Kenyans, the idea that you could have money in your bank account one day and it is completely gone the next day is still very fresh in their minds.
Now, Kenyans must prepare for darker times ahead because, in August of this year, Kenya will hold their general elections. Tribalism and polarisation emerge during a campaign season and the possibility of violence is extremely high.
“So the problem with elections in Kenya is that when there's been an election, there's been some sort of post-election violence, which in 2007 it was like really, really bad. When that happens, basically MPESA (a mobile phone-based money transfer service) can be offline. Banks are not open and banking is not working.”
Money Problems Exist in the Developed World Too
Lately, we’ve been seeing that when people rebel, their banking opportunities can be one of the first things to be cut off (just like the Canadian Truckers’ ‘Freedom Convoy’ of 2022). Sure, money can’t stab like a knife or shoot like a gun, but terminating someone’s access to banking is a weapon that debilitates people just the same.
I find it fascinating that nobody in the developed world talks about money.
Most of us in the developed world don’t yet realize that our money system is broken. Perhaps that’s because day to day, nothing seems so bad: our banks are still functioning, we have limited visibility into fraud or bribery and corruption seems minimal.
Sure, the money systems works for the rich. But it doesn’t work for the rest of us. The system is rigged on so many levels to benefit those who already have wealth.
So why is it that developing countries see the problems when we don’t? Perhaps because our problems are deeply engrained and slow moving. Perhaps our systems, our rules and our politics are so complex that much of the problem is hidden. Perhaps it’s the violence and blatant corruption that they see that bring money issues to light.
Guantai certainly sees it this way.
Does Kenya's Salvation Lie in Bitcoin?
“So, in Africa, basically people embrace bitcoin a lot because of the store of value proposition.”
“That really, really resonates with them. Living in third-world countries, where politicians don't have your best interest at heart, things can change really quickly. With Bitcoin, [Kenyans] see it as property which no one can mess with. So it’s really, really good.”
Guantai then references earlier this year when Canadian authorities mandated that banks freeze the accounts of Canadians participating in the protests against COVID-19 mandates (you might remember it as the “Freedom convoy”).
“If I want to show someone [in Kenya] the importance of bitcoin, all I have to do is tell them that if Canada can obviously do that – take money from [a Canadian’s] account, what do you think is going to happen to your money in a third-world country? So, if you can’t see the seriousness of that, and how bitcoin helps, just wait for it to happen to you.”
I get curious so I ask: “What does the Kenyan government think about bitcoin?”
“Honestly, African leaders are very sharp people and their advisers are very sharp people. So you will find that on a personal level – with their friends and cronies – they all have bought bitcoin. But they will never make this public because obviously their power rests on the Kenya shilling.”
Makes sense. Controlling money always bestows great power to those controlling it, which is why kings and governments have obsessively held very tight control of it.
Project Bitcoin Mtaani is Born
Recently, Guantai met up with Yusuf from Build with Bitcoin to build a school in Makueni County, Kenya.
As a humanitarian organization, the Build with Bitcoin organization is creating opportunities by providing access to education, sustainable farming, clean water, and humanitarian support – all powered by bitcoin donations too!
(You can see an example of their work here and here.)
It was while working together that Guantai’s lightbulb went off: there’s an opportunity to educate marginalized African communities about bitcoin! You see, educated Kenyans can speak English, listen to a bitcoin podcast, understand it and experiment with it.
“But other communities who lack the privilege of understanding English, [for them, we want to translate bitcoin education] in Swahili and other native African languages that they primarily understand as well as communicate in on a daily basis. We can do pamphlets and we are going to do videos. Things of that sort.”
He goes on:
“My platform is called Bitcoin Mtaani. Mtaani means neighborhood, like your hood. So it’s bringing everybody together.”
But arriving at this idea wasn’t so easy and glamorous. It rarely is because our lives are a collection of serendipitous moments that (hopefully) eventually lead us to ideas and projects that light us up.
It was no different for Guantai.
For four years, Guantai worked for the Kenya navy but he didn’t want it to be a life-long career. He knew he would never achieve his personal goals and aspirations to build wealth, which is why he quit the military.
He spent his free time learning new skills that would allow him to work from anywhere in the world on his own time. That’s when he stumbled upon Forex trading (short for Foreign exchange Trading; the idea of trading one currency for another in order to make a profit).
In true Guantai nature, he studied voraciously and put a thousand dollars to begin trading. Unfortunately, he lost his money because his so-called “teacher” had actually set up a scam.
“In like less than a month, there was no money in my account… [it] really piss me off.”
As pissed as he was, he thought if others can do it, so can he. Only this time, he was going to learn from a legitimate source: a youtube channel by the name “No-Nonsense Forex.”
Once again, Guantai fell deep into a rabbit hole, consuming youtube content until one day he landed on an episode about bitcoin.
“Actually, he only started speaking about bitcoin at first so I did that. Like, I only started with bitcoin and quickly learned why it is superior to all shitcoins. I am so glad I did not go to the shitcoin casino.”
From there, he slowly made his way to the big names in the bitcoin space: The Pomp Podcast, What Bitcoin Did podcast, Michael Saylor and BTC Sessions.
“When I listen to a Michael Saylor interview it is like listening to music, because of how well he explains bitcoin.”
(That makes me laugh a little because I know exactly what he means.)
The more he learned about bitcoin, the more he felt compelled to shout it to the seven winds. So, Guantai sat down, crafted a business proposal and came up with a budget he’d need to kick off his new educational business… which came to a total of $20,000 USD.
As you might have guessed, trimming down his budget was not an option.
“I did that for like a month, the whole budget and everything. Yes, I started looking for the money to start it. I know a lot of people say that we should start small and just buy a laptop and a microphone but I tend to be very ambitious.”
In need of funding, he began connecting with bitcoiners online.
“I was constantly sending emails, DM’s, LinkedIn, and obviously yeah, getting ignored a lot. And a lot of no’s, a lot of maybe’s. Yeah.”
They say luck is when preparation meets opportunity — and that is true for Guantai.
On December 2021, he joined a Twitter space hosted by Galoy Money in which they discussed bitcoin projects worldwide. Then as fate would have it, in January, 2022, Guantai spoke with Andrew Begin (Director of Marketing, Galoy) and Chris Hunter (Co-Founder, Galoy) who admired Guantai’s proposal and agreed to give him the money (along with 2 other private investors who shall remain confidential).
Finally, Guantai secured the funding! This is MASSIVE and I am so thrilled for him.
So, what’s next for Guantai, you ask?
“The proposal has the full rundown for the contents of season one, which will be 20 episodes. Basically introducing Bitcoin and how to securely self-custody your future.
The second section is interviews. I will personally demonstrate Africans the charge towards hyperbitcoinization. I will speak with lawyers [about] legal counsel, the implications of bitcoin and existing laws in different places. All of this in English.
Then I will get guys to translate it so everything will be on the website and other social media channels. I will provide the content free on Bitcoin TV since YouTube is stifling bitcoin content, as is evident with the Bitcoin 2022 conference.”
Writing Guantai’s story was important for me, for a couple of reasons.
First, for his conviction. He knew deep down in his soul what was not right for him (staying at the navy). He jumped into the unknown and that takes a LOT of courage to do.
He studied bitcoin obsessively and made it his life’s mission with the mighty force of his human will. It’s not easy holding on to that much conviction for four years, especially given the circumstances. I applaud his grit.
What I love most is his idea to include different African communities and tribes into the fabric of bitcoin.
Yes, bitcoin is inclusive in nature, it’s designed to work for everyone, it’s borderless, but most of the educational content that exists today is in English. To read and understand English, you’d have to have privilege in the first place — the privilege to get an education, to not be removed from school because you’re a girl, and go so far as to learn English.
Plus, his mission hits close to my heart.
If you’ve been with The Misfit newsletter for a little bit now, then you know my grandmother is Indigenous. She speaks Quechua and only learned Spanish in her adult years. I can only wonder how a financial education might have changed her life.
So when I think of bitcoiners like Guantai wanting to help marginalized communities and tribes (and people like my grandmother)… well, it could bring me to tears. Their lives could be shifted forever all because someone had the will to do so.
Bitcoin may not be perfect. But in Guantai’s eyes, it’s mission, it’s purpose and it’s potential seems to offer his people a solution to at-least one of it’s problems. Money.
I look forward to seeing how African communities and tribes will understand bitcoin in their own languages and within the lenses of their own culture. They will offer the first world a profound, new perspective that is missing in today’s conversation led by bitcoin economists, technologists and meme-makers. They are going to show us more real world applications of Bitcoin in action and blow us away with solutions we never even imagined.
I mean it when I say, Guantai’s work is of enormous importance.
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A huge thank you to Carly Coughlin for introducing me to Guantai and making our call happen (and being a part of it!).
To connect with Guantai on Twitter, follow him at:
Bitcoin Mtaani: @BitcoinMtaani
Other people mentioned:
Yusuf @YusufBWB from Build with Bitcoin Foundation
Brad Mill: @bradmillscan
Chris Hunter: @btcnyc from Galoy Money
Andrew Begin: @agbegin from Galoy Money