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April 26, 2012

Brother, can you spare a dime?

Using U.S. Dollars, Zimbabwe Finds a Problem: No Change

HARARE, Zimbabwe — When Zimbabweans say they are waiting for change, they are usually talking about politics. After all, the country has had the same leader since 1980.

But these days, Robson Madzumbara spends a lot of time quite literally waiting around for change. Pocket change, that is. He waits for it at supermarkets, on the bus, at the vegetable stall he runs and just about anywhere he buys or sells anything.

“We never have enough change,” he said, manning the vegetable stall he has run for the past two decades. “Change is a big problem in Zimbabwe.”

For years, Zimbabwe was infamous for the opposite problem: mind-boggling inflation. Trips to the supermarket required ridiculous boxloads of cash. By January 2009, the country was churning out bills worth 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollars, which were soon so worthless they would not buy a loaf of bread (the notes now circulate on eBay, as gag gifts).

But since Zimbabwe started using the United States dollar as its currency in 2009, it has run into a surprising quandary. Once worth too little, money in Zimbabwe is now worth too much.

“For your average Zimbabwean, a dollar is a lot of money,” said Tony Hawkins, an economist at the University of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabweans call it “the coin problem.” Simply put, the country hardly has any. Coins are heavy, making them expensive to ship here. But in a nation where millions of people live on a dollar or two a day, trying to get every transaction to add up to a whole dollar has proved a national headache.

Still, the new predicament is an improvement. By virtually wiping out inflation, analysts say, use of the United States dollar saved Zimbabwe from total economic collapse and brought the country back from the brink. The country’s political future remains deeply unsettled since the disputed 2008 election gave way to a shaky power-sharing government. But its economy is growing, if from a very low base.

Posted by joke du jour at April 26, 2012 06:01 PM

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