“One of the best places to be as an artist is an NFT community” argues Kiggs (Kevin Mwangi), an artist and collector based in Nairobi. While for Reinhard Matata, another artist and collector who operates across African NFT Club, Pixel Morans, and Umba Daima, “communities are the sure way to grow faster and united.” For Ben Roberts, a member of Patchwork Kingdoms, communities offer avenues for “promoting social good causes.”¹
One prominent NFT community in Africa is Kenyan Nft Club, established in June 2021 as a space for artists, collectors, and NFT enthusiasts, which now boasts a Discord membership of over 300. Members benefit from weekly Twitter Spaces, including a Monday Art Share, an open and spontaneous forum to promote new projects, or Wednesday’s NFTs Ni Nini (“What Are NFTs”), a curated space where members discuss topics ranging from art law to music nfts to the metaverse.
The Club’s mission, according to its administrators Sherie Margaret Ngigi and Edmond Nonay, is to onboard the curious and also — via their Mbogi Onboarding Fund — to support artists in minting their genesis NFTs. On 5 June 2022, they also hosted the first Kenya NFT Summit, whose central purpose was to induct artists, collectors, gallerists, and other stakeholders into the NFT ecosystem through a series of wide-ranging talks.
Crypto knowledge creation and dissemination reverberates across Africa right now, witnessed in the parallel emergence of Nigeria NFT Community (NaijaDAO), which seeks to protect newcomers to the space as well as to arrange online and IRL exhibitions and meetups. According to its founder, Chuma Anagbado, the community is “a safe space for the enormous number of creators of Nigerian origin,” including pioneer crypto artist Osinachi.
Of course, in a digital context in which Africa is deemed to be a consumer and latecomer rather than a producer, certain benefits remain, not least the ability to learn from forerunners’ mistakes and, in turn, leapfrog the early adopters. NFT communities such as NaijaDAO and Kenyan NFT Club are enablers in this regard — helping to catalyze knowledge sharing through tri-city events like METANOIA, which interconnected Lagos, Nairobi, and New York in order to harness the new value chains inherent in digital geography.
Yet even Web3’s decentralized corporate context remains subject to familiar administrative, institutional, legal, and public policy challenges. How communities gather resources — from funding to education — is still in question, as is their ability to empower artists in a world of exorbitant gas fees. While many of these challenges are capable of being resolved, the growing pains of this new techno-financial infrastructure are contributing to a perception of loss and therefore a resistance to new technologies, despite high levels of innovation.
This perception of loss is driven by the uncertain outcomes of new technology. Back in 2015 the Central Bank of Kenya issued a cautionary notice informing the public that:
…virtual currencies such as Bitcoin are not legal tender in Kenya and therefore no protection exists in the event that the platform that exchanges or holds the virtual currency fails or goes out of business.
The Bank justified its position on the basis of virtual currency’s lack of traceability and therefore vulnerability to abuse by criminals; the overall lack of regulation of exchange platforms around the world; and the lack of an underlying asset to support the currency (which, of course, is one of the principle attractions of NFTs — cryptocurrency backed by art). And yet, in 2022, Kenya leads Africa in crypto adoption ahead of the US and China, while, in 2021, ranked top in global peer-to-peer transaction volumes according to Chainanalysis.
In his seminal work, Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies (2016), Calestous Juma (1953-2017) argued that the perception of loss is not necessarily driven by concrete evidence of loss but by established world views. Prior to the NFT explosion, one commonly held view in the traditional art world was that resale royalty schemes in practice “take real money from the entire art world, including young and struggling artists, and transfer most of it to a tiny group of famous and rich super-artists,” thereby rendering them ineffectual in redistributing wealth to those who need it most.
By contrast, in the NFT ecosystem, artists are now accustomed to receiving a 10% resale royalty on secondary market sales thanks in no small part to artists like Osinachi, who have achieved a level of bargaining power that was previously inconceivable for a Nigerian artist. Earlier this year, he told Jason Bailey:
I remember when one particular platform was launching their NFT marketplace, they reached out to me, and I was interested. But a fellow OG in the space whom I respect got in touch via DM, and pointed out that they set their artist’s royalty at less than 10%. Now, knowing the work that had gone into setting the 10% standard across all platforms, I had to delist my artworks from that platform. [...] And because, as artists, we now have the upper hand, we can actually dictate how we want things to be done by these traditional players.
Thanks to the embedding of resale royalties in smart contracts, the costs of running a resale rights system have reduced significantly in Web3. In fact, for artists there are no costs incurred in monitoring secondary sales nor for collectors who were historically required to locate relevant artists (which is good at a time when gas fees have become a major barrier to participation on Ethereum).
Risk averse national governments, including those of Kenya and Nigeria, are currently adopting a two-fold approach to cryptocurrency. First, they are seeking to protect consumers, investors, and businesses by encouraging regulators to implement oversight measures in order to safeguard their economies from systemic exposure. And second, they are attempting to reduce illicit cryptocurrency transactions that threaten national security.
For Calestous Juma, “the promise of new technologies over existing ones lies largely in the long-term prospects for improvement, not necessarily in the initial technical or economic advantages.” On this basis, policymakers who are presently engaged in regulating crypto must consider Web3 technologies — including NFTs — as mechanisms for innovation and value production rather than sheer speculation.
Of course, a crypto crash is also an opportunity to build out new infrastructures that protect digital assets, to support new and overlooked artists, and to devise new ethical frameworks in which the value of crypto art can be better understood. To this end, communities like Kenyan NFT Club and NaijaDAO play a vital role in Africa. The end of hype need not translate to a perception of loss.
Andrew Ngurumi is a writer at the nexus of visual art and the law who contributes to the Nairobi Contemporary print magazine. He is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya, practicing in areas of art law and intellectual property, as well as founder of Waithumbi Ngurumi & Co. Advocates — a boutique law firm based in Nairobi, Kenya. He is also a member of Art Identification Standard, serving in the Legal, Governance as well as NFT Committees and as co-chair of the Association of Visual Artists and Collectives in Kenya.
¹ Kiggs, Reinhard Matata, and Ben Roberts interviewed by the author on 1 June, 2022