After three weeks of listening, recording and talking bitcoin (BTC) in Africa, podcaster Anita Posch shares her experiences in part one of this new six-part documentary podcast series.
Listen/subscribe to the CoinDesk Podcast feed for unique perspectives and fresh daily insight with Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocketcasts, Google Podcasts, Castbox, Stitcher, RadioPublica, IHeartRadio or RSS.
In this first part of the “Bitcoin in Africa” podcast documentary series, join Anita as she learns about the current living situation of Zimbabweans and the country’s political history. Combining on-the-ground recordings, interviews and thoughtful narration, she paints a picture of why things are how they are, as well as the state of human rights and free speech.
“I wanted to see by myself if this is true and how far bitcoin is known and used there,” said Anita Posch.
Recorded February 2020 in the run-up to the growing quarantine movement and coronavirus travel restrictions, Anita traveled to Zimbabwe and Botswana to listen, learn and record about the usage of bitcoin in these countries. In the world of bitcoin, countries like Zimbabwe and Venezuela are frequently mentioned as places where the cryptocurrency could or perhaps should be making a difference and where they can really help the people’s economic situations.
Check out another of Anita’s favorite episodes featuring Andreas M. Antonopoulos debunking arguments against bitcoin like high volatility, energy consumption, inequalities and the exaggerated risk of possible failure.
TRANSCRIPT: “Bitcoin in Africa: The Ubuntu Way” – Part 1 – Zimbabwe: Ideal conditions for Bitcoin?
Hello friends, bitcoiners and pre-coiners alike! This is the first episode of a multipart series called “Bitcoin in Africa: The Ubuntu Way”
In February 2020 I travelled to Zimbabwe and Botswana to find out, if and how bitcoin (BTC) is used there. I spent three weeks in Zimbabwe, two weeks of that time I was in Harare the capital and I travelled for one week to Bulawayo and Victoria Falls. After that I spent some days in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana to meet and talk with the founder of the Satoshicentre, Alakanani Itireleng.
The instrument you heard is a mbira (pronounced m-BEER-ra , IPA (ə)mˈbɪəɾə) it is an African musical instrument, traditional to the Shona people of Zimbabwe.
Why did I visit Zimbabwe?
I wanted to see with my own eyes how the living situation is for people and, more importantly, to research the usage of bitcoin. Bitcoin is in my eyes first and foremost not a speculative, trading object, where everything is about price. For me it’s a tool of liberation that enables individuals and communities to free themselves of tight restrictions by authoritarian or totalitarian nation states that harm people’s human rights. This has many faces. In the so-called western world, in countries with freedom of speech, safety and a high level of wealth, it is the possibility to free oneself from the banking system. The banking system has in the last 30 years in combination with national and global regulations evolved into a very strict system of surveillance and allowances. Where we – the majority people of integrity are being policed by the banks – because of fear of money laundering and terrorism finance done by the few. In conjunction with “surveillance capitalism” – a term coined by Shoshana Zuboff in her book, well worth reading – surveillance capitalism – which is the permanent recording of all our digital traces on Facebook, Google and Co. – that are being used not only to comfort us with better search results and convenience, but also to manipulate our decisions and extort our data for money and higher profits. This has had disastrous consequences for democracy, freedom and our privacy. So in countries with high living standards, safety and a relatively good working banking system with a low inflation rate controlled by so called “independent” central banks, I would argue that governments try to regulate bitcoin in the face of “money laundering and financing terrorism” – while in countries like Zimbabwe bitcoin has to be tamed or controlled by the governing elite, because of the possibility for more “human rights and freedom” for its citizens and their loss of power.
This podcast special and my trip to Africa would not have been possible without my sponsors and supporters.
I want to thank my sponsors first: Thank you: Peter McCormack and the whatbitcoindid podcast, Coinfinity and the CardWallet, LocalBitcoins.com a person-to-person bitcoin trading site, SHIFT Cryptosecurity, manufacturer of the hardware wallet BitBox02, and many thanks to several unknown private donors who sent me Satoshis over the lightning network.
This special is edited by CoinDesk’s Podcasts Editor Adam B. Levine and published first on the CoinDesk Podcast Network. Thank you very much for supporting the Bitcoin in Africa series with your work.
Thanks goes also out to stakwork.com – stakwork is a great project that brings bitcoin into the world through earning. One can do microjobs on stakwork, earning Satoshis and cash them out without even having an understanding about the lightning network or bitcoin. I think we need more projects like that to spread the usage of bitcoin around the world.
Thank you also to GoTenna, for donating several gotenna devices to set up a mesh network in Zimbabwe and to Team Satoshi, the decentralized sports team for supporting my work.
This special is also brought to you by the Let’s Talk Bitcoin Network.
Voice of captain: Mascati…. Welcome on board… Make yourself comfortable….
I did talks about bitcoin in both countries and introduced around 100 people to the possibilities of using and earning bitcoin and showed them how it can improve their living situation in the short and long run.
I met with many people from different backgrounds with a diverse set of goals and interests. I talked with them about their daily life, how the economic situation has changed in the last 20 to 40 years, about their hopes and fears for the future and, of course, about bitcoin and its chances and challenges in Africa. In 2014 Alakanani Itireleng a true Bitcoin OG founded the Satoshicentre in Gaborone to educate her fellow citizens about bitcoin:
INTERVIEWEE: “I want to help people get into the Bitcoin ecosystem and set the ecosystem to make it like work for Africa, not only for Botswana to make it to work for for Africa, you know, we are the very people that need bitcoin. Yeah.
We are the people. I think so too. Yeah, we are actually this is the place where it is needed the most. Like I was shocked when I was in the U.S. in Orange County [California]. I saw a drive-through bank. Yeah. I was like why do you guys have a drive through banks? You don’t need bitcoin. So we need bitcoin.”
February 2020: My trip to Zimbabwe starts. I arrive at Harare airport – before I am allowed to join the queue in front of the immigration desk my body temperature is measured – it is coronavirus season. All is good. They ask me where I come from: I say Austria. The answer is a question: Australia? I say no: Austria in Europe, next to Germany. Ah. Austria. Alright. I join the queue for the immigration procedure. I apply for a visa – and pay 30 U.S. dollar in cash. This, despite the fact, that in June 2019 the use of U.S. dollar and other foreign currencies was outlawed by the government.
So, if the government outlawed the use of foreign currencies, why did I just pay my visa fees with U.S. dollar cash? This is just one of many questions I ask myself during the three weeks of my stay in Zimbabwe.
Next step, customs control: I am very nervous because my suitcase is packed with devices for bitcoin use. I am bringing donations from my sponsors, several Hardware wallets, the BitBox02 by SHIFT cryptosecurity, several Card Wallets, a RaspiBlitz, which is a Bitcoin and Lightning Fullnode and several GoTenna devices to set up a mesh network to communicate and even send bitcoin, while being off the grid. So coming from the immigration desk I try to stay behind a couple to sneak through and I am lucky, the custom officers are not interested in me or my suitcase. I feel a great relief.
After arrival my friends immediately take me out to an event. They say, you have to see that. And they were right.
It was the Austrian new year’s concert in Harare. It felt a little weird. Being in a church, with an audience of 99 percent whites – so called “Murungus” in the local Shona language – attending. A group of elderly Rhodesians coming together to listen to a classical concert in the tradition of Vienna philharmonic orchestra. That’s not quite what I expected to find. But this audience is also a part of the country’s history and current life. This shows that Zimbabwe is a land of many contrasts.
In the three weeks of my stay, I showered exactly one time. Bah, you might think. No, I did wash myself, but only in a so-called shallow bath. You fill the bathtub just a little bit, like 2 cm high and then you wash yourself sitting and pouring the water over yourself with a jug. Why? Because of the water drought, there is no public water supply. So people try to save as much water as possible, you don’t even flush the toilet when you have been on the small side. You have to buy water privately that is delivered every two weeks with a truck. And if possible, you collect the rainwater. Even though there is no water supply the water company still sends bills and you have to pay them.
Same with electricity: It depends in which area you live. If you are close to hospitals or to the areas where people from the government live, then your chances to have water and electricity all the time are high. If not, then you have to suffer from power outages. At the place where I was staying, the power went on around 11 p.m. and went off around 5 a.m. in the morning. That means that people – and there are a lot of them – who cannot afford to buy a solar panel and an inverter – have to work by night. If you cannot afford a gas stove, you have to cook by night. And still: the electricity provider ZESA sends you bills and you have to pay them.
So I travelled the country and arranged a number of interviews. Three of my interview partners in Zimbabwe wanted to stay anonymous. One person is working for a human rights organization in Harare. Another one feared about his professional career and the third one is a teacher in a public school who is also afraid of possible threats. The other two I was talking with would have been ok with their names in the public, but I decided to leave their names out, too. Why? Because people are scared. As my interview partner who is working for a human rights organization puts it:
HUMAN RIGHTS SPEAKER
“The human rights situation here right now is really poor. I don’t, I haven’t I haven’t been this pessimistic about it in 10 to 15 years. It’s really is … it’s as repressive as it has been with like, an added layer of like a sinister, vindictive.
And I think that there’s a small number of activists or organizations trying to do something. And in some ways, because there’s so few of them, it’s really easy to just sit really hard. So if you are one of those handful of people you can get kidnapped, raped, beaten up and stuff. You know, you fight [for your] life, you know, every day.
And like, how long does the energy last? So because some people, I mean, that’s my observation on my feet, you know, just that you can do it for a certain period of time. And then you just, I don’t know, it’s almost like a, like a fading out, you know?”
So one can say there’s no free speech in this country?
Yeah. And adding up … Especially what you receive from a kind of like whatever in form of like a global support network coverage of it’s very poor, you know? I mean, you get a headline in the media and like this, and this happens, but actually, the peer support internationally, I also like find quite poor.
One of my interviews was taking place at a self-service restaurant in the middle of Harare. My guest and I started talking and I recorded with my audio recorder and two handheld microphones. After 20 minutes a woman from the restaurant approached us:
….recording is not allowed….
We continued and finished our interview and left for another restaurant. But this was a disturbing experience. At least for me. I am used to being able to record my own conversations wherever I want. But people here are scared. And as I realized afterwards reports from foreigners about Zimbabwe require a permit. Also, you are not allowed to take pictures of government buildings.
With all those complicated living conditions, what are the positives about living in Zimbabwe?
The people, the people, people it is and yeah, the climate. And the possibilities. You know, if you are an entrepreneurial person you are very free to start new things – there are not so many strict regulations for starting a business. In fact, you have to have this self-sovereign attitude otherwise you couldn’t survive here. Still, it is very different, if you have the possibility to leave the country or not.
Because It’s tough. I mean, I think that’s a big part of why people leave, is the combination of kind of lack of civic freedom and lack of economic prospects. And it’s a little bit like what we were just saying about the colleague who’s gone to work in London, like you had an opportunity like that, you take it and if you mean, even if, even if the choice was like, be a tomato vendor here or work as a waiter in South Africa, I’ll work as a waiter in South Africa or for any other foreign currency I can send it home. I can support my family.
There are 16 million people living in Zimbabwe and only about 800,000 of them have a formal employment. That are only 5 percent of the population, that means 95 percent are informally unemployed; they hustle, they live off nothing. Of the 5 percent with a formal employment, most of them work for the government, are civil servants or teachers in public schools.
This is what the headmistress of a school told me:
“And everybody else is just living [by] hustling. Yeah, we hustle. Oh, yeah, it’s … you have people who work but and who are self-employed. But very few people are, like, working … for a proper institution, because even the institutions are in a difficult place because you’ll have rentals, for example, charged in U.S. dollars, even though the government would say no, it’s not allowed. Even if they rate it, it will be like astronomical prices. We, like, I don’t even earn that much.
So typical rental, for example, for a one-bedroom apartment, let’s call it that, which is pretty standard, you’re looking at about 250 to 350 U.S. dollars, the average person at most is maybe earning 2,500 Zim dollars, which is about 100 dollars. So how do you pay your rent?… [S]o now like it’s become, employment has almost become like a jail, because it’s, like, because now you don’t have time, because they’ll take all your time, you don’t have time to find that additional $200 or $250 to pay your rent. But, really and truly, you need additional maybe $400 because you’ve got the other bills outside of rent.
So it’s almost like being employed, is almost a disadvantage … in this country because you’re locked down at that price and even if everything goes up, every month, your salary will remain the same. And a lot of companies struggle to put – what did they call it? Something allowance of, forgetting the term – an adjustment, as, yeah, it’s called a salary adjustment to move with the market. It’s never really completely what you actually need. They’ll try maybe you get an extra 200 bond or an extra 500 bond. But it’s difficult, you know, it’s difficult to keep up with that corporate struggling as well. Very few corporates are able to pay people very well for it to make sense.”
As a teacher and headmistress. she can tell about the situation in schools:
Wow, I mean, I work in education. I work in education, and I can tell you, it’s difficult. It’s difficult. Have a staff complement of 14 and they, my, you have to then obviously get money from school fees. So you have a lot of schools now. Trying to diversify. Because if you put all that pressure on the parents, then your parents can’t afford to send their children to your school. So it’s like, Okay, what do you do? We need to increase our fees because I need to be able to pay my teachers more. But if I throw that burden on the parents, I, as a parent know that I can’t even afford that, you know, per term for every child, that I’ve got some parents of two, three, four children, and they need to bring [their] children, so what do you do? You end up subsidizing? That’s when you have schools that have maybe a little Market Garden, you know, where you commercialize your kitchen and you start baking. You know, when you’re not making lunch for the kids, you’re selling food on the side so that you supplement your income. It is difficult and teachers have struggled the most, especially who work for state schools, public schools, they are in the worst possible position. Those who work in private schools are in a much better position because they can afford to charge more government schools can’t charge what private schools are charging, because government schools supposed to the public schools supposed to be affordable for anyone to send their child to school, then they put in a difficult position where you’re told you cannot not accept a child because they haven’t paid fees. So you have to accept them.
So you’ll have, let’s say, 50 children, and maybe only 15 of them have paid the school fees. But because as a government school, you’re not allowed to send children home because they have a right to education. How do you take care of the other 35 … and still take care of your teachers and it’s, it’s our country, is madness, you know. The more I talk about it, you know, it sounds terrible.
Not only that prices are rising daily, the whole society is crippled by corruption. Before 2017, when Robert Mugabe still was the country’s leader, there were roadblocks by police everywhere. They would stop your car and say that you have done something wrong or mock you about small things they find in your car – ending with demanding money. Friends told me that they stopped driving through the city of Harare, because at one time they were stopped by five roadblocks inside the city and had to pay around 100 USD in fines only to get from one side of town to the other. With the new government, this has changed. No more roadblocks inside Harare. When I was there, it was almost spooky. Because I did not see any police. A friend said: If you need the police at your home, because something has happened, you cannot just call them and they’ll come, you have to go and fetch them.
And still there are roadblocks. A thing that I have never encountered in my life before: when we were on our roadtrip to Victoria Falls, we were stopped by roadblocks at the borders of each city. Coming from Austria, I have never seen something like that before. And it feels creepy. It’s like, every time I see police and I have to stop – or maybe they wave us through, you never know – it feels like you have done something wrong. Uncertainty, being at the mercy of their whims – that’s not a good feeling.
As any person I hate talking ill about my country, but it’s the truth, sadly, sadly is the truth. We are struggling. We are struggling. We have doctors are not paid nearly what a doctor should be paid realistically. We don’t have equipment. We don’t have the right medication the cost of medication alone is unbelievable. You can’t afford to get sick. We were in a fuel queue with car behind us was a doctor, a doctor was in there. And he eventually was he was actually a doctor on call. And he’d also been in this queue for like, two hours or so. And the guy was supposed to be on call and knowing already that [office] was so severely understaffed. A doctor who supposed to be attending to patients but is stuck in a fuel queue is a problem. So he went up to the front and he tried to get fuel, at least in a jerrycan, and he showed them his card and the fact that he was on coal and it was a huge fight. But I think in the end, he only got like 10 liters, which is enough just to get him to work and get back home at the end of it. And as we’re trying to help him sort of fill up his car. He then says, As a doctor, I can safely say to you cannot afford to get sick. Please do not get sick in this country because it’s one of two things: It’s either you cannot afford it because they are hospitals that are beautifully equipped, fully staffed, all the medication, all these hospitals are here right now in this country, but you know you are paying a premium for it. Even our medical aides, not all of them are accepted at these hospitals. But then you have our government hospitals, which are not as well equipped. And if you don’t have the kind of money that is required to get proper health care, your chances of not making it or you know, probably not getting the best health care you possibly could a very, very high, very high and if a doctor can say, don’t get sick, what does that what does that tell you?
While traveling from Harare to Bulawayo I met a doctor who lived a big part of his life in Zimbabwe. I would say, he is in his early 70s and he fought in the Rhodesian Bush War, which was a guerilla war to fight for the independence of Zimbabwe in the 1970s. It ended with the declaration of independence of Zimbabwe in 1980 with a new leader called Robert Mugabe. This doctor lives in Europe now, but every year he returns to his old home country to stay for some weeks. He brought a suitcase full of medical supplies with him, to donate it to a hospital, because public hospitals are lacking everything. At the airport, custom officers opened his suitcase and demanded money for the supplies.
Corruption is everywhere. And it seems that there are different rules for different people. Yes, I think one can say that for every country, but the differences are so big here. If you have USD, if you are in a high position, if you are in the right network, you can have a great life in Zimbabwe. I have seen private houses with swimming pools blue as the sky, many shiny SUVs and most of the better off people employ gardeners, maids and other staff.
When I was there a new rule by the government was published. The minimum wage for a gardener or worker is allowed to be as little as eight USD. Per month. And of course: this is not paid in USD, but in Zimbabwe dollar.
For instance: The maid in a house – close to where I stayed – works seven days a week, from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., doing housework, cooking, taking care of the kids. She is a so-called live-in maid. Due to the power cuts she has to iron by night. She also sleeps in the house of her employer. For this, she earns 10 USD per month. Most of the time the families of workers like her live in another part of town, where the rents are cheaper. So, because they cannot afford a car, if they want to go home, they have to take the bus which costs them around 1-2 USD. How should anyone be able to live from that?
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I could go on with these examples of mismanagement and corruption. For instance: MealieMeal – which is like a cornmeal- it is the Zimbabweans staple diet… The thing people eat on a daily basis like rice in Asia, noodles in Italy or potatoes in Germany. It’s part of their diet and normally relatively affordable. But it is not available at the moment. The producers of MealieMeal are being forced by the government to get paid in Zimbabwe dollars. So they decided, before they are paid in this bad money that loses its value daily, they rather store the MealieMeal in their warehouses and wait for better deals. This is something that hits people in towns worse, than those in the countryside. Because there either you have your own corn or the local chief settles a deal with the producers so that his people get MealieMeal.
Basically much of the conversation is about where to get what, at which prices:
STREET AUDIO: Do you know that they have chibage?
And I did not even mention the fuel queues up until now. So petrol: The urban spaces in Harare, Bulawayo and other towns are not densely populated in general. That means, that distances are very great. And there is no public transport like we know it.
Yes, there are a lot of mini buses and also bigger buses to travel over land. Someone like me would be completely lost because there are no timetables or stops with signs. And yeah, there are no road signs at all. Nowhere. So you really need to know your way or ask people. That means everything is depending on cars and buses. If you cannot afford that, you have to walk. And I saw a lot of people walking. Women, who were carrying heavy bags on their heads – yes like we see it on television – and men, who interestingly enough, carry much less than their accompanying women. And yes, I have asked. It is a very patriarchal society.
Coming back to the petrol.
There are severe petrol shortages. You never know when and where you can get petrol. I was told that most of the time, when fuel shortages occurred, the price was raised afterwards. In the weeks I was in the country, I saw many, many people queueing for petrol. Long lines of cars are parked at the side of the streets waiting for the petrol station to open. People spend nights and days queueing, never knowing for how long the petrol will last. One of my interview partners excused himself for not calling me at the time we agreed upon because he was in the petrol queue for such a long time that he did not have power anymore in his cell phone.
Before we dive deeper into the current situation in the following episodes, let’s take a look back and take a look into the history of this beautiful land Zimbabwe and its people.
The Encyclopædia Britannica begins its history of Zimbabwe with “The Stone Age”
The first Bantu people are thought to have reached Zimbabwe between the 5th and 10th centuries CE. Zimbabwe is home to many stone ruins, including those known as Great Zimbabwe, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986.
Overview of Great Zimbabwe. The large walled construction is the Great Enclosure. Some remains of the valley complex can be seen in front of it.
The Portuguese, who arrived on the east coast of Africa at the end of the 15th century, dreamed of opening up the interior and establishing a route to connect their eastern settlements with Angola in the west. The first European to enter Zimbabwe was probably Antonio Fernandes, who tried to cross the continent and reached the neighborhood of Que Que (now Kwekwe).
A second great movement of the Bantu peoples began in 1830, this time from the south. The Ndebele, carved out a kingdom. The Ndebele were warriors and pastoralists, in the Zulu tradition, and they mastered and dispossessed the weaker tribes, known collectively as Shona (Mashona), who were sedentary, peaceful tillers of the land.
For more than half a century, until the coming of European rule, the Ndebele continued to enslave and plunder the Shona. This is an important fact for the later development.
During this period, however, British and Afrikaner hunters, traders, and prospectors had begun to move up from the south, and with them came the missionaries.
In South Africa Cecil Rhodes formed the British South Africa Company, which received its charter in October 1889. Its objects were to extend the railway, to encourage immigration and colonization, to promote trade and commerce, and – of course – to secure all mineral rights, in return for guarantees of protection and security of rights to the tribal chiefs.
The Ndebele resented this European invasion and in 1893 they took up arms, being defeated only after months of strenuous fighting. The Shona had at first accepted the Europeans, but they too became rebellious, and the whole country was not pacified until 1897.
“The Rhodes Colossus” by Edward Linley Sambourne, published in Punch after Rhodes announced plans for a telegraph line from Cape Town to Cairo in 1892.
By 1892 about 1,500 settlers from the south had arrived in Rhodesia. The railway reached Bulawayo in 1896 and Victoria Falls in 1904. After Cecil Rhodes’s death in 1902 he was buried in the Matopos Hills and they built him a monument that stands on top of these hills destroying the beauty of the land.
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In 1922 – British South Africa Company administration ended, the white minority opts for self-government.
1930 – Land Apportionment Act restricts black access to land, forcing many people into wage labour. Between 1930-1960s – Black opposition to colonial rule was growing.
1965 – Prime minister Ian Smith unilaterally declared independence from the United Kingdom under white minority rule, sparking international outrage and economic sanctions.
The Rhodesian Bush War lasted from 1972 to 1979 it was a Guerrilla war against white rule.
According to Rhodesian government statistics, more than 20,000 people were killed during the war. Rhodesian security forces, guerrillas and around 8.000 black civilians, and 500 white civilians were killed.
In 1980 – Zanu leader Robert Mugabe won independence elections. He became the first prime minister as Zimbabwe achieved an internationally recognized independence on April 18, 1980.
He stayed president of Zimbabwe until 2017.
Mugabe was born to a poor Shona family – hence remember how the Ndebele enslaved and plundered the Shona, before the European rule.
Because between 1982 and 1985, Mugabe sent the military and the so called 5th brigade – trained by North Korean – to crush armed resistance against him from Ndebele groups – in a military crackdown known as Gukurahundi, a Shona term which translates roughly to mean “the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains”. The Gukurahundi campaigns were also known as the Matabeleland Massacres. Approximately 20,000 Matabele were murdered in these first years after the war; most of those killed were victims of public executions.
Margaret Thatcher’s U.K. government was aware of the killings but remained silent on the matter, cautious not to anger Mugabe and threaten the safety of white Zimbabweans. The United States also did not raise strong objections, with President Ronald Reagan welcoming Mugabe to the White House in September 1983. In October 1983, Mugabe attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in New Delhi, where no participating states mentioned the Gukurahundi.
Economically, Southern Rhodesia developed an economy that was narrowly based on production of a few primary products, notably, chrome and tobacco. It was therefore vulnerable to the economic cycle. The deep recession of the 1930s gave way to a post-war boom. This boom prompted the immigration of about 200,000 whites between 1945 and 1970, taking the white population up to 307,000. They established a relatively balanced economy, transforming what was once a primary producer dependent on backwoods farming into an industrial giant which spawned a strong manufacturing sector, iron and steel industries, and modern mining ventures. These economic successes owed little to foreign aid.
In the 1990s hundreds of thousands of acres of largely white-owned land were expropriated. In April 1994, a newspaper investigation found that not all of this was redistributed to landless blacks; much of the expropriated land was being leased to ministers and senior officials. Responding to this scandal, in 1994 the U.K. government – which had supplied £44 million for land redistribution – halted its payments.
Over the course of the 1990s, Zimbabwe’s economy steadily deteriorated. By 2000, living standards had declined from 1980; life expectancy was reduced, average wages were lower, and unemployment had trebled. By 1998, unemployment was almost at 50 percent. As of 2009, three to four million Zimbabweans – the greater part of the nation’s skilled workforce – had left the country. Mugabe increasingly blamed the country’s economic problems on Western nations and the white Zimbabwean minority, who still controlled most of its commercial agriculture, mines, and manufacturing industry.
From a human rights perspective I also want to talk about Mugabe’s growing preoccupation with homosexuality, lambasting it as an “un-African” import from Europe. He described gay people as being “guilty of sub-human behavior”, and of being “worse than dogs and pigs”. This attitude may have stemmed in part from his strong conservative values, but it was strengthened by the fact that several ministers in the British government were gay. Mugabe began to believe that there was a “gay mafia” and that all of his critics were homosexuals. Critics also accused Mugabe of using homophobia to distract attention from the country’s problems.
In February 2000, land invasions began as armed gangs attacked and occupied white-owned farms. The farm seizures were often violent; by 2006 a reported sixty white farmers had been killed, with many of their employees experiencing intimidation and torture. A large number of the seized farms remained empty, while many of those redistributed to black peasant-farmers were unable to engage in production for the market because of their lack of access to fertilizer.
The farm invasions severely impacted agricultural development. Zimbabwe had produced over two million tons of maize in 2000; by 2008 this had declined to approximately 450,000. By 2009, 75 percent of Zimbabwe’s population were relying on food aid, the highest proportion of any country at that time. Zimbabwe faced continuing economic decline. Hyperinflation resulted in economic crisis. By 2007, Zimbabwe had the highest inflation rate in the world, at 7600 percent. By 2008, inflation exceeded 100,000 percent and a loaf of bread cost a third of the average daily wage. Increasing numbers of Zimbabweans relied on remittances from relatives abroad.
The country’s lucrative tourist industry was decimated, and there was a rise in poaching, including of endangered species. Mugabe directly exacerbated this problem when he ordered the killing of 100 elephants to provide meat for an April 2007 feast.
In 2008, the parliamentary and presidential elections were held. After the election, Mugabe’s government deployed its ‘war veterans’ in a violent campaign against his opponent Tsvangirai supporters. Between March and June 2008, at least 153 MDC supporters were killed. There were reports of women affiliated with the MDC being subjected to gang rape by Mugabe supporters. Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans were internally displaced by the violence. These actions brought international condemnation of Mugabe’s government.
This is only 12 years ago. No wonder that people are scared.
In 2009, Mugabe’s government declared that – to combat rampant inflation – it would recognize U.S. dollars as legal tender and would pay government employees in this currency. This helped to stabilize prices. But then in November 2016 a new national currency called bond notes was introduced amid public resistance.
In 2017 Mr. Mugabe resigns after the military takes control. Former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa becomes president.
People have hope that from now on Zimbabwe might become a better place. But as it seems, nothing really has changed.
In January 2019, protests break out in major cities after the government more than doubles fuel prices in an attempt to tackle shortages and the black market.
In June 2019, Zimbabwe outlaws the use of any other foreign currency. Only Zimbabwean dollars are allowed as legal tender.
That meant that All USD one had held on a bank account in the country were changed into Zimbabwe dollar at the exchange rate of 1:1. This did not last long. Today – 9 months afterwards – the exchange rate on the streets is 1:43. So now 43 Zim Dollar are equivalent to 1 US Dollar.
When I came here two and a half weeks ago, I think the official exchange rate was one to 17. And in the shops, we had one to 20 or 25. Today, we got one to 30 in a shop. While so in, yeah, in two and a half weeks, the rtgs or the bond, Zimbabwe bond lost a lot. I don’t know how many percent that exactly now, but actually a lot of, yes, value. Yeah. So what do you see? Or what do you think is coming next? I mean, do you think you’re going into hyperinflation again?
We are in hyperinflation.
You are still in again? Yes.
Yeah. I think we are. It’s just that it’s not. It’s not on the scale where last time we just like I feel like it just ran out of people’s hands, like when we will became trillionaires. And quadrillion is like … [it’s] just there was no control left, like no one’s coming and no one knew how to deal with it. We’ve been there before. So now it’s like okay, let’s try and control it. But … we are currently in hyperinflation, I believe, so maybe an economist will tell me I’m wrong.
In the three weeks of my stay the exchange rate on the street went from 1:20 to 1:30. This is a huge change. This is a sad situation because for the people living is getting difficult again.
And by the way: The Reserve bank of Zimbabwe maintains a Twitter account, where you can find tweets that paint a picture about what is happening in the country.
For instance, one tweet is threatening people with disciplinary measures for posting pictures of new banknotes on social media!
In the next episode you will hear more about the banking situation and how people here are used to living in a multicurrency system, which theoretically is a perfect starting point for people to adopt bitcoin.
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Music: Start with yes Delicate beats, editing by Adam B. Levine and the CoinDesk podcast network, Idea content and production yours truly Anita Posch.
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