Category Archives: Zimbabwe

Cashless pushes around Africa

Nigeria: The Central Bank of Nigeria set a tariff of 3% for deposits and 2% for withdrawals of  more than Naira 500,000 (equivalent to ~$1,380) from individual accounts. They also set a tariff of 5% for withdrawals from corporate accounts, and 3% for deposits, over Naira 3 Million (equivalent to ~$8,280) from corporate accounts. This is in the states of Lagos, Ogun, Kano, Abia, Anambra, and Rivers States as well as the Federal Capital Territory. This is to promote cashless transactions. (Source)

Uganda: The Bank of Uganda has banned merchants from imposing surcharges for the use of electronic card payments and also the setting of minimum and maxim amounts that can be transacted on cars. In addition, they have asked banks in Uganda to harmonize tariffs that they levy on customers of banks for when they use each other’s ATM’s.

Kenya: Today is the deadline set by Kenya’s Central Bank after which the old series of the Kshs 1,000 (~$10 notes), bearing the image of the first President of Kenya, will cease to become legal  tender for transacting in the country.

Tanzania: Mobile app lender Tala suspended issuing loans in Tanzania. The company which claims to have lent over $1 billion to 4 million individuals will continue in Kenya which they say, with 3 million customers, is a critical part of their global business, and where they are piloting new financial education services. California-headquartered Tala also has customers in The Philippines, Mexico and India, and is backed by investors like PayPal, IVP, and Revolution Growth.

Zimbabwe: The Cashless push has gone awry in Zimbabwe where the Government has now banned Ecocash agents from making cash deposits and withdrawals for customers as these are now happening at values that are at variance. This has resulted in a situation where $1 in cash is worth ~$1.50 in digital money. 

The reason for the collapse of the Zimbabwe Economy

Anonymous guest post. 

Land redistribution (or seizures) didn’t sink the Zimbabwe economy. In fact a 2011 independent study, quoted at the time in the New York Times (it’s unlikely to get more sceptical than that) declared that the redistribution programme had actually worked – that Zimbabwe was not just more productive; its food security had also rebounded to pre-redistribution levels.

But many (especially Western) analysts politicize the economic crisis without properly comprehending it. They link the collapse of the currency with the collapse of settler production, which in turn is caused by misrule. Misrule is then metaphorised as a trust problem, which is then looped back into the economic crisis, this time as its very basis.

The land redistribution-economic collapse analysis was deliberately trotted out in the early 2000’s by both the British and the white settlers. It’s a myth, as carefully and boldly planned and executed as anything Goebbels ever put out. It’s the Big Lie Theory stunningly executed. The Big Lie worked on a very plausible assumption: given that the white settler control of agro-industry was the heartbeat of the Zim economy, it followed that dismantling it would trigger the disintegration of the economy. This was only true to the extent that the land seizures disrupted productivity so severely as to halt it altogether.

Herein lies the Big Lie: it was easy to assume that a change in land ownership would mean a collapse in agricultural production. This evidently (as the statistics demonstrate) was a manifestly racist assumption. For one, it failed to account for ongoing smallholder production. More to the point, a decade after land redistribution, agricultural production was at the same levels, if not higher than what they were prior to redistribution.

So: what accounts for the collapse of the Zim dollar? The simple answer is sanctions. In 2002, and at the height of the land redistribution programme, (then President) Mugabe refused to sign onto the second phase of the IMF ESAF programme.

In response, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Fund. At the same time, and in solidarity with the white farmers, Bill Clinton (presidency ended in 2001) and the US Congress instituted sanctions against Zimbabwe. The result: Zimbabwe lost ALL its major export markets. And as a follow-on, its hard currency reserves began to tank.

Those sanctions have still not been lifted. This makes Zimbabwe, after perhaps Cuba, Iran and North Korea, the biggest pariah country on earth. Attempts to lift sanctions and the IMF suspension over the past two decades have all been unsuccessful.

One last thing, which I think is at the core of the sanctions question: why haven’t they been lifted? I was at a press briefing in 2010 or thereabouts with (then Prime Minister) Morgan Tsvangirai and his deputy, Arthur Mutambara. These were clearly individuals who had been brought into Uncle Bob’s cabinet (at the instigation of Mbeki and the grand coalition peace deal) precisely on the calculation that they were acceptable faces to the West.

And the question they were asking was: why have the sanctions not been lifted now after the peace deal? Almost a decade later, the whole determination of the Emmerson Mnangagwa government to conduct a credible poll turned on the assumption that, following such a credible poll, sanctions would be lifted.

In fact one could argue that the current design of the post-election Commission of Inquiry is itself an attempt to convince Bretton Woods and Washington that Zimbabwe now has a ‘credible govt’. But still, there are no clear indications that even if the poll had been deemed credible, that sanctions would be lifted.

So one is now driven very close to the conclusion that Zimbabwe is being turned into the new Haiti i.e. that its punishment for daring to stand up to Western capital and threaten the very idea of white supremacy is going to be punished for generations to come.

Also, read the Guide to Harare, the work of the late Professor Sam Moyo.

Guide to Harare

A guest post 

Getting There: One can fly to Zimbabwe from Nairobi with South African Airways (via Jo’burg), Ethiopian Airlines (via Addis Ababa), Emirates (via Dubai) or Kenya Airways (KQ) for approximately $850. KQ flies direct to Harare and sometimes via Lusaka and returns via Lilongwe, Gaborone or Lusaka. Kenyans do not require visas and there was no Yellow Fever certificate requirement.  If one plans on extending their stay in Zimbabwe, it’s best to write more days (than required) on the immigration form rather than the exact number in one’s current itinerary.

On arrival, you find that, what used to be Harare International Airport in the 1990’s, is now the Domestic Terminal, while the new Chinese-built airport, is modern, airy and clean. Zimbabwe has four (4) airports around the country, but no domestic flights at the moment, besides charters.

The Immigration and Visa desks at Harare International are labeled in both English and Chinese.  Visa prices vary depending on nationality and tourists needing visas can pay up to US$55 for one.

The baggage claim area at the airport is spacious and luggage carts are free.  At one end of baggage claim, there are several glass cubicles where Customs officials search people’s suitcases for items bought abroad and sometimes make one pay duty fees.

Getting Around: The taxi/cab minimum fare is US$4 for a distance of about 3KM or transport within the city. Transport outside the city varies, and one must negotiate before entering the cab. They speak English very well and Shona is widely spoken.

Harare is clean and organized with orderly driving.  The streets are Western style and organized into blocks.  If one has a driving license one can hire and drive any car so long as they have been in the country for less than 6 months and carry their passport at all times.

Harare is a nice city to drive around in. The area around Samora Machel Avenue and First Avenue has a mix of indigenous banks and international banks which have now been localized. Across from these banks is the Federal Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

Business and Economy: Zimbabwe is a multi-currency state. The economy was dollarized in 2009 and US Dollars, South African Rand and Euros are the most common legal tender, while Botswana Pula is also accepted. Cash is king as many places do not accept cards.

The US$ is the most preferable currency, and while you’ll find the rare $2 bills here,  US coins are not in circulation. Obtaining change is a large problem countrywide in shops/supermarkets and with vendors, so cashiers will give out candy, matches, pegs, sugar packets, bottle openers or a pen as change.

Also, US dollar notes are washed in washing machines by individuals & shopkeepers to keep them clean (delicate cycle), then hang out on clothes lines to dry. It’s the easiest way to have “crisp” notes in the absence of fresh new US dollar notes fresh from a mint.

Power blackouts are common and most Hotels and Lodges have generators. Also, while all the city roads had, street lighting, they were never on at night.

 Where to Stay:

  • Rainbow Tourism Group Hotel (Formerly Sheraton Hotel) costs US$110 per night. It is a huge hotel that is gold in color, has free Wi-Fi and is located close to the city center from where one can walk to fast food places such as Steers, Nandos, in 20 Minutes. Food at the hotel is good and ranges between $16  – 25 for the buffet dinner and the breakfast is also good in quantity and quality. 
  • House of Garrison is a lodge in the upmarket suburbs where one can get multiple supermarkets and restaurants. It costs $100 and is a bit of a ride from the city center, but the lodge has a custom breakfast and free Wi-Fi.
  • Meikles Hotel; a very nice hotel right next to Eastgate Mall, Zimbabwe Parliament and a beautiful public city park, which costs $275 per night for bed &  breakfast. The service is great and the staff attention to detail is very impressive.  The walls all over the large hotel have lovely photographs from Zimbabwe’s history. The internet here is reliable, with Wi-Fi is US$1 for one hour.

Keeping in Touch: The airport has a “Rent A Phone” shop in the Arrivals area.  For mobile communication, its better to use the local carrier services, as roaming is costly. A local SIM card is US$4 and one is required to register it with their passport, and it can take up to 48 hours to activate your number. Phone airtime/credit is sold in units of US$1, 5, and 10.  Hotels in Harare have reliable Wi-Fi which is sometimes free, while lodges outside Harare can charge up to US$5 for 30 minutes of internet.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: To view animals, one can visit Chengata, Pamuzinda and Shumba Lodges which are about 1 ½ hours from Harare and all very close to each other. Pamuzinda has a resident giraffe named Geoffrey, while at Chengata, one can get to pet and feed a small elephant family

Taking photos in or around the airport area or any “government” area is not allowed. Cars that are parked at the drop off area get their car wheels clamped immediately the driver leaves the vehicle, even if it’s for a few minutes.

Food & Bars: Various familiar South African franchise restaurants are found in Harare such as Spur, Nandos, Steers, with meals going for less than US$8.  The Steers, Chicken Inn, Debonairs Pizza outlets in town all had the loose change dilemma, and at  Chicken Inn, they offered fried eggs, chili sauce tubs or cheese slices equivalent to one’s change!

Food in top Harare restaurants is excellent especially the steaks. We visited an Irish pub, O’Hagan’s, and a restaurant Millers Cafe, both in Harare’s The Village.  A beer was US$4 at O’Hagan’s and a ½ kilo steak meal was about US$15 at Millers Cafe.  However, a majority of the restaurants are closed on Sundays.

Odd Points:

  • You may dislike President Mugabe but refrain from political discussions in public, it can get you in trouble.  
  • Police use some Mercedes Benz as police cars, and it is claimed they often ask citizens who call for assistance, for fuel money before they to rush the crime scene. 
  •  When driving out of Harare, one gets to see the once “White Farms”, which now have large tracts of long wild grass, with small patches of maize/corn growing. 
  • A can of Coca-Cola soda at the Harare International Airport goes for US$10, but at other shops, a 300ml bottle can cost US$ 0.50.

Dallas, Freakonomics, Zim$

Crime Freakonomics
I am now reading Freakonomics, the fascinating book about an economist interpreting everyday questions with unique perspectives. Driving home through a traffic jam yesterday it got me thinking about traffic police and roadblocks in Kenya. Some Q’s to consider;

  • Do police actually help the flow of traffic? I’d argue not and that they make it worse on some routes by holding up traffic for 10 minutes on some roads while letting others pass.
  • Do roadblocks actually help reduce crime? Some do and I know people in hijacked matatus who have been rescued by police. But many more roadblocks are simply cash points that target matatus and lorries where random checks are lax and since they are usually stationed at the same points every day, crooks know to avoid them.
  • Are the man hour’s armed policemen spend at roadblocks and checkpoints better used elsewhere? They should be used in roaming patrols or undercover work and the police should hand over traffic control to another body like national youth service (NYS).

One less bell

Kengeles Yaya is no more. There will be a new restaurant opening up there soon with new owners. Good luck buddy!

The problem with shared ATM’s

Barclays Bank ATM’s were not working for most of Saturday and Sunday, inconveniencing the weekend social activities of many of their customers. Barclays run their own network and outsiders can only use their machines with visa branded cards. But what if the same happened to another large network like KCB, Co-op, Kenswitch or Pesa Point? I used to use a Kenswitch and if the network was down, ATM’s of all the member banks would dispense cash (if they could) based on the previous days’ account balances. Anyway, it’s important to know your bank network and have access to another system for emergencies.

Zimbabwe Goldmines

Was chatting about my SA trip and some of the recent troubles in Zimbabwe which I shared. A frequent traveller buddy then offered a tip that we should travel to Zimbabwe with US$ and buy up real estate, minerals and other commodities in Zimbabwe which are greatly under-valued owing to the currency crunch in the country. Once the political situation improves in a few years (we hope & would be taking a huge risk) the investments will give tremendous returns. Oh and suddenly everyone what to know what a blog is that can get one to South Africa gratis

Arsenal for sale

Someone is buying up shares of Arsenal FC at about ₤5,000 pounds each i.e. 700,000 shillings per share

Standard

Is someone at the Standard reading this blog? Recent speculation here about Safaricom’s next product appeared in the newspaper today.

Mimi Couch ‘Tato pia

KBC is going to show re-runs of the TV show Dallas i.e J R Ewing & co, starting tonight and on Wednesday nights. How will the show fare, how has it aged, and how much of its lustre has gone? KTN have a comedy block on Sunday that runs back-to-back episodes of Different Strokes, Sanford & Sons, and the Jefferson’s. Between them, I’d say that Sanford has held up the best and is still watchable, with the Jefferson’s slightly behind because it was being copied so much and no longer seems racially revolutionary, while Different Strokes has aged the worst because of what happened to the kids (in real life) when they grew up.

True or False?

In a case of extreme cost-cutting at an investment bank, employees will pay more to use the staff canteen for the convenience of being able to eat closer, the bank has installed a sprinkler system which will drench anyone smoking for more than five minutes and toilet cubicles doors will automatically open five minutes after staff have entered to do their business.

More Tsunami relief

The Paris Club (donor nations) are offering a debt freeze and letting tsunami-hit countries suspend repayments on billions of dollars of debt. The freeze will be immediate and without conditions for those countries that request it. The five countries affected most by the tsunami pay $45 billion annually in debt repayment.

Meanwhile, Indonesia said that foreign troops must leave in 3 months, in response to the impression that it was surrendering sovereignty to outsiders. And cash-starved Zimbabwe plans to donate $3.6 million to tsunami relief efforts in Asia.