This week, the BBC published a collection of diary entries from Esther (a pseudonym), a 28 year old professional living and working in Harare. The diary chronicles her daily struggles living in the capital of Zimbabwe as the country collapses around her. The diary makes for fascinating reading and provides a real (and particularly human) insight into the collapse of the country that was—at one point—the shining future of southern Africa, highlighting the problems of runaway inflation, the hope (and subsequent disappointment) surrounding the elections, and the recent slate of abductions. The story is definitely worth a read.
Staying with Zimbabwe, the BBC also carried a story on the increasing dollarization of the economy. After re-issuing its currency and stripping ten zeros from denominations in August—such that $10 trillion become $100 overnight— the government issued a new $500 million note on DATE. The bigger problem, however, is the fact that inflation continues to rage out of control. According to some estimates, annual inflation in Zimbabwe currently floats somewhere between the official estimate of 231 million percent and parallel market rates of up to 200 billion percent. Now, the economy of Zimbabwe has effectively been dollarized, as many purchases now have to be made in U.S. dollars or other hard currencies. For the estimated 20 percent of the population with access to U.S. dollars, this means that goods are once again available in supermarkets. But for the estimated 80 percent of the population without access to international currencies, life remains untenable.
This is a far cry from the Harare I remember. At the time of my last visit in 2001, the crisis was only beginning to break. Gasoline was in short supply, and petrol cues were part of daily life. But the supermarkets were still full, the water was still safe to drink, and people were able t go about daily life without significant difficulties. And most importantly, there was hope in the air.
Here’s hoping the new year brings a return to stability and prosperity in Zimbabwe.