Easy way to make money? Digital collectibles craze hits Kenyans


Visual artist vonMash works to create a Non-Fungible Token (NFT) for the online digital art market. An NFT is a collectable digital asset that represents intangible items available on the internet such as art and music.

Photo credit: Courtesy | AFP

When Emmanuel Ignatius uploaded his first non-fungible token (NFT) on March 2021, he did not expect that 30 minutes later he would sell it at Sh170,000.

Bidders flooded his page because of his ‘Black Lives Matter’ themed NFT that was uploaded during the murder trial of the late George Floyd.

Emmanuel studied art from primary school up to college where he studied graphic design at Africa Digital Media Institute in Nairobi.

“I was not able to complete my studies because of the Covid-19 pandemic. I had to transition into freelance work where I was able to briefly work with Sol Generation,” said Emmanuel.

His work focuses more on digital art which barely sold as much before the era of NFTs. “Before I was just doing it for the money but now that is no longer a factor. I can now work with people and on projects that I have always wanted to do,” he added.

The 22-year-old Kenyan recently sold an NFT for Sh700,000, making it his highest selling token.

An NFT is a collectable digital asset that represents intangible items available on the internet such as art and music. NFTs are built using programming, like cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

However, cryptocurrencies are fungible which means that they can be traded or exchanged. Every NFT is unique on its own, which makes it hard to replace it with anything else, even another NFT.

Most content creators, especially graphic designers and illustrators, are taking this opportunity to make money on different websites called marketplaces specifically designed for the buying and selling of NFTs, such as SuperRare. Such websites have crypto wallets that allow you to store your NFTs and cryptocurrencies.

When someone buys an NFT, they own unique rights to the token but not ownership to the artwork.

NFTs have now created a link between creatives and the cryptoworld. The more unique your work is, the better.

However, several celebrities and public figures have started acquiring NFTs, which is just like buying expensive art in galleries. Others, like Kenyan rapper Octopizzo, have also started crypto-based partnerships to mint and sell their own NFTs .

Henry Ohanga, commonly known as Octopizzo, earned over US$2,000 (Sh228,000) in the first 15 minutes of dropping NFTs of songs from his latest album Fuego in collaboration with HoneyCoin’s creator platform last month.

HoneyCoin founder and CEO David Nandwa said they created NFTs for five different songs in the album. Each NFT was priced at US$20,000 then split into a thousand shares, with each share costing US$20.

“We also made it easier for Kenyans to buy NFTs directly through M-Pesa. Some people find it hard to go through the whole process of creating a crypto wallet so instead we create it for the client and send a wallet address with the NFT they purchased in it,” Nandwa added.

With a degree in software engineering, Nandwa created the HoneyCoin creator platform to make it easier for creators to earn and have ownership of their work.

“Most musicians signed to labels get just a share of what their music makes. Through NFTs, they can get the full value of their work without using intermediaries,” said Nandwa.

Eliud Kipchoge was among the first Kenyans to debut an NFT collection, which included digital representations of his career milestones. Kipchoge’s collection is backed by Momentible.io, a platform that curates NFT collectibles of legendary moments while giving athletes and musicians the opportunity to immortalise their legendary moments as non-fungible tokens, according to the Kenyan Wall Street. His collection was sold for over Sh4 million in April 2021.

Kenyan companies are also taking advantage of the growing NFT market in the country. Adanian Labs and Cardano are partnering to launch the biggest African based NFT project called Bloow.

The project was announced at the Africa Tech Summit that was held in Nairobi in February this year, with Cardano co-founder Kenji Sasaki as one of the main guests.

Adanian Labs is a Kenyan venture studio while Cardano is a blockchain platform whose cryptocurrency named ADA has been ranked as the seventh biggest cryptocurrency in market capitalisation, according to Cryptoslate.

The project seeks to revolutionise the creation, distribution, and monetisation of music. “Bloow will empower African musical artists with blockchain technology by delivering disintermediation, transparency, and IP sovereignty to all that choose to participate on the platform. Music fans will now have the opportunity to collect the songs they love as programmable and digitally scarce tokens,” said Jefferson Mkungusi, Africa Blockchain Centre CEO.

Blockchain technology

NFTs use blockchain technology which is what most cryptocurrencies rely on to keep records and transfer information securely across multiple computers through distributed ledger technology.

According to the Next Advisor, a blockchain organises information added to the ledger into blocks, or groups of data. Each block can only hold a certain amount of information, so new blocks are continually added to the ledger, forming a chain. However, the date is immutable, meaning that it cannot be copied or altered.

Creating an NFT is referred to as minting and is only done in a marketplace. Buying, selling and auctioning of an NFT all happens in the marketplace that the NFT is hosted on.

“The best ways to make money through NFTs is to either create your own unique collection, buy and hold famous collections until their increase in value or buy and flip hyped collections on social media,” said Olive Nkirote, a digital entrepreneur. With over 14,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel ONR, Olive educates and empowers Africans with information about cryptocurrency.

Even though the NFT craze started last year, some artists had already foreseen the success behind it. ‘Quantum’ was the first NFT ever created by Kevin McCoy in 2014. It was sold last year for US$1.47 million at an auction.

Founder and CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, sold an NFT of his first tweet which was the first post on the app in 2006 for over US$2.9 million. The tweet simply states, “Just setting up my twitter.”

There is no age limit on who can make money through NFTs. The youngest person to ever sell an NFT is 12-year-old Nyla Hayes.

She made history after selling her Long Neckie collection for US$3.4 million. Inspired by her favourite dinosaur, the Brontosaurus, the collection is a series of NFT pieces illustrating diverse women with elongated necks.