THE GREAT CURRENCY QUESTION

6 Feb

The tragedy of the Zimbabwe dollar has cultivated an affective outlook on currencies from the average citizen selling vegetables in the disconnected and inaccessible part of the country to the policy makers occupying the high rise buildings which form the blunt splendour of Harare.
The pain of holding a currency which loses value at every second is hard to comprehend let alone endure. The introduction of the multi-currency regime in 2009, which allowed circulation and trade of four currencies namely Botswana Pula, British Pound, South African Rand and the United States Dollar saw the return to relative economic and price stability.
It became entrenched in most people’s minds that a shift in currency was the salvation that the economy badly needed. It’s a surmise that is not only empty in that it lacks evidence but defies economic logic.
Up to this day Zimbabweans, average citizens to policy makers alike, still feel currency is the only panacea to economic problems the country is currently facing. There has been a lot of questions tossed around this notion from the sarcastic filled suggestion of returning to the Zimbabwe dollar, adopting the Chinese Yuan, joining the Rand monetary union to the unhindered use of the multi-currency regime with the United States dollar as the primary currency.
In as much as most of these seemingly look like a cornucopia of therapeutic economic solutions there is need to dissect further into each suggestion and come up with a position which easily fits Zimbabwe and its present challenges.
Return to the Zimbabwe dollar
The question of returning to sovereign currency is not only contentious in the abstract but more of an emotional subject. Many people and business enterprises lost their savings due to hyperinflation associated with the Zimbabwe dollar from 2004 to 2008. The cash crisis of 2003 to 2004 which ushered in the traveller’s cheque, bearer’s cheque and subsequently the agro cheques will remain attached to the ills of the Zimbabwe dollar era. The painful reality of seeing a currency lose 50% of its value against the greenback as was the case with the Zimbabwe dollar in November 1997 hinders any economic growth outlook, planning, saving and investment.
Against all these sad realities what is the logic in returning to the Zimbabwe dollar?
The current state of the economy will not sustain return to the local currency. Whilst others believe the Zim dollar debate borders on emotion rather than debate there is a lot of rationale that flags this question.
First of all there is need to understand that the price of a currency is determined by the basic demand and supply fundamentals. Local appetite for the Zimbabwean dollar is low and this is largely a result of emotion and past experiences. This is evident especially looking at the amount of resistance that the bond coins faced when they were first introduced. Foreign demand for the Zimbabwean dollar, if introduced, will also be anticipated to be very low because foreign demand for local products and investment is low.
The resultant effect of any premature return to the Zimbabwe dollar is a disparity between supply and demand of the currency leading to further distortions which can only mirror the disastrous 2004-2008 period.
What then needs to be done for the Zimbabwe dollar return which is devoid of previous experiences like hyperinflation?
One aspect that Zimbabweans across the social and economic spectrum need to understand is that money follows production. The problems associated with currencies like inflation and decline in value against other currencies are also a result of production capacities or economic policies.
The fact that a certain currency is preferred at the expense of the other will not loosen economic challenges if they exist. Therefore, economic policy and productivity are key to the sustainability of a currency.
Before any talk of return to the Zimbabwe dollar it is important that Zimbabwe achieves a production capacity that allows more exports thereby driving foreign demand for the local currency. It is also important that a vibrant economic policy which drives investment and savings is put in place as the two are key injections to any economy. Having dealt with these issues, the question of emotion will only fade away especially when demand is largely driven by foreigners through exports and investment.
To ensure that there is market confidence and a safety net available, the return of the Zimbabwe dollar, having put in place satisfactory policies coupled with productivity, can also be instituted in tandem with the continuation of multi-currencies as countries like Mozambique and Zambia do.
Adopting the Chinese Yuan
This has become one of the trending issues in Zimbabwe and the reception has been one of divergent feelings.
The belief which the common man, who can be excused for his ignorance, and some nutty politician bear is that just because the Chinese are Zimbabwe’s “best friend” they will bring a plane loaded with the Yuan so that we can enjoy and thrive!!
If the assertion holds truth why couldn’t they save us in 2008 when the Zimbabwe dollar became even worse off in value compared to German’s currency after the First World War.
The Reserve Bank Governor made it clear that the Chinese Yuan can also be used as a trading currency just like the Rand, Pula, Pound, Australian dollar and Indian Rupee with the United States dollar as the base currency.
So amidst all the debate Zimbabweans have got to understand that the Yuan is also represented in the bracket of “multi-currencies” that are allowed to trade in the country.
Probably what people want to know is whether at one point the Chinese Yuan will be Zimbabwe’s base currency.
Knowing the Chinese authorities to be over protective of their economy the odds do not favour any scenario of that nature. Recently, the Chinese stock market has been on a free fall and we have seen how the central government has moved in to halt any further losses.
China has huge trading partners in the form of the United States, Australia, India and Russia. It is evident that in such scenarios there are constant trade wars and controlling the currency price movement becomes imperative. In such cases of “trade wars” China would want ultimate grip on its currency and the process will not be smooth when countries like Zimbabwe are also tossing with their currency.
If we really desire to retain that element of common sense we will only realise any talk of the Chinese Yuan is baseless.
Joining the Rand Monetary Union
The Rand monetary union is also a possibility. This has got positive and negative implications as well.
South Africa is currently Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner. Most of Zimbabwe’s imports come from South Africa and the “bulk” of the little exports that we are able to put on the international market find their way into South Africa. In that case there is a lot of exchange between the two countries and it might sound rational to be part of the Rand monetary union.
Furthermore, millions of Zimbabweans are living and working in South Africa and most of them remit billions of Rands home annually. These diaspora remittances have also become a lot significant to the country given prevailing foreign investor fatigue.
The pertinent questions that may be asked if Zimbabwe actively commits itself to join the union is how much it can contribute and how much it can cost the union. In all fairness Zimbabwe can only contribute a little but cost a lot especially looking at the current state of affairs.
Sentiment drives currency and the current scenario of political tensions coupled with zero respect for property rights and foreign investment in Zimbabwe will not be of any benefit to the union. Zimbabwe’s economy is also facing anaemic growth and most indicators point to an economy in recession an unviable situation which can hamper any bid to join the Rand Monetary Union.
At the same time the Rand is also facing its own problems stemming out of South Africa’s economic policies and a global downturn in commodity prices and it is very evident that there is no room for newcomer who can possibly bring in “new” problems.

Continuity with the multi-currency
Well, what if we can just use all of them? The United States dollar, Rand, Aussie dollar, British Pound, Rupee, Pula and Yuan.
Continuing with the multi-currency regime presents the only viable solution for Zimbabwe. However as most people expect that can alone cannot bring economic salvation. Good economic policy will bring the much needed salvation.
Why would multi-currency be the viable option?
When people or businesses are actively involved in trading, one thing they genuinely seek is risk aversion which can make them pay few where they were supposed to pay more or get more where they were supposed to get few.
Use of multi currencies allows for hedging of risk as well as arbitrage. This is evident with the current scenario where people are buying more South African goods using the United States dollar than they could six months ago.
Therefore multi-currency allows economic agents to shift to the preferable currency at the prevailing time whilst hedging and in some cases performing arbitrage against any price or foreign exchange risk.
Depending on a single currency will not be good for risk aversion especially for countries like Zimbabwe whose economies are fragile.

In this current predicament there is not a single currency that is solely ideal to Zimbabwe. The multi-currency regime serves well and it is imperative that the Zimbabwe attaches itself to the multi-currency system going forward.

WILL THE AFRICAN TERRAIN PROVE TO BE A SMOOTH ONE FOR BOB DIAMOND’S ROUTE TO DELIVERANCE?

5 Oct

In a world that is persistently trying to break the walls of corporate greed, there is nothing that can aptly summarise disgust such as putting the tag “unacceptable face of banking” on a huge personality like the C.E.O of a multinational bank.

Such were the remarks of Peter Mandelson, the former UK secretary of business, during the time when Barclays was facing claims of extravagant compensation to the top managers. Mandelson vitriol was aimed at Bob Diamond who was C.E.O at the time. It had been widely reported that Bob Diamond had received £63 million as “reward” for his work at Barclays.

Apart from compensation claims, Barclays got entangled in one of the worst financial blunders of the century now widely known as the LIBOR scandal.

From the two events, Bob Diamond fell from grace as could be expected. Following his resignation from Barclays, there could only be two wide options that Bob Diamond would introspect on. He could either settle into the quiet and lucrative life of a Canary Wharf former or seek redemption elsewhere. The latter was always going to be a difficult option considering the cloud of scandals hovering above his head.

Two years post the fallout at Barclays, Bob Diamond refused to wave goodbye to an industry he has always loved. In 2014, Atlas Mara, a company founded by Bob Diamond and Ashish Thakkar announced it would assume control of sub-Saharan bank ABC Holdings Ltd.

It seemed Bob Diamond chose an unlikely terrain to prove his critics that he still had the will and energy to lead from the front.

Without an iota of doubt, Bob Diamond’s route is filled with a lot of hurdles. First of all Bob was a specialist in the investment banking field but Africa’s investment banking sector is quite subdued particularly in most countries in which ABC Holdings operate. It remains to be seen if Diamond will advocate for a business largely focused on investment banking or continue with consumer and business oriented banking.

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Bob Diamond

One aspect that irritates a banker is government interference and control. The pure capitalistic economy is the only ideal system for bankers who look out to make abnormal profits. In fact bankers believe the best government is no government at all. On the contrary, Bob Diamond will face a new reality in Africa. Government interference in Africa is much common with the second largest operations of Bob’s investment situated in Zimbabwe, a country notorious for rigid regulations and constant nationalisation threats.

The risk profile for financial institutions operating in Africa is high, particularly credit and operational risk with mild to high level liquidity risk in some economies as well. This is one element Bob Diamond has got to prepare himself on his journey to deliverance.

According to IMF publication on banking in sub-Saharan Africa, most countries in the region still display shallow banking systems with insufficient depth and instruments. This makes quite obvious the fact that Bob Diamond will face an unfamiliar industry which lacks depth and probably capacity as compared to his previous experiences in developed economies.

It can only be suffice to say with all risks, government controls and insufficient depth the returns one can possibly expect from an investment in Africa’s financial sector will always be low compared to advanced economies and emerging markets. Will Bob Diamond be content?

Despite the scandals Bob Diamond has been entangled in, there is no doubt he is one of the fine and smartest decision makers in business. His meteoric rise from academia to the corporate sector is proof. That means to say he is not a fool to make a deliberate decision to put his foot in the African banking sector. Most economies in Africa are on a phase of rapid growth which could be the reason why Bob Diamond decided to tap into the region. ABC Holdings, the bank in which Atlas Mara is invested, has over the years performed fairly well in countries it operates. It might be a case of Bob Diamond and his colleagues looking at ways to galvanise on such gains and build a formidable brand.

Whatever it could be that Bob Diamond saw in Africa, the question lingers on…will it be a smooth route to his redemption?

 

The theory of #CecilTheLion

31 Jul

My name is Mr Zimu-aseti and I teach the Grade 7’s at Phikelela Primary school. My students are smart!! After all Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate in Africa. The oligarch prides itself in “educating” its citizens to become distinctively docile. “At least we are still getting an education, who cares about the type of education we receive”, my friend Broncho is always insisting. Broncho is a fool though, but he is my friend.

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Cecil

Zimbabweans have settled well in the trappings of mediocrity. Our petrifying slogan is built around a confounded nuisance which goes like, “As long as we are living, we have seen worse things so there is nothing we can do man”.

Aaargh, pardon my nonsense man. I want to talk about Cecil the Lion but my cognitive space is filled with maize hops and water, so I sometimes go off topic. Ok, have you got a camera on you chap? Alright, alright turn it on. The mic is on me. Come with me chap, film me as I deliver my 8 o’clock lesson to my beloved Grade 7’s.

*Steps into the classroom*

Like a judge in a courtroom, students rise at the sight of their teacher.

Class: Good moooorning sir!!

Me:     Morning class. Thank you, you can all take your seats. Ok, today our Social Studies lesson will be centred around one of the most prominent theories of the New Renaissance, the theory of hashtag Cecil the lion, hashtag all lions matter hashtag rest in peace Cecil. In short you may call it the theory of hashtag Cecil the lion just in case you will have a lot of agony in cramming a lot of these big words. I am a very good, passionate teacher and you are still young so I do not want to hobble your dynamism. Get your notebooks out and copy what I am about to write on the chalk board.

*Pulls out a chalk from the box like I am pulling out a cigar from a box inscribed, “Made in Jamaica“, turns my back to the class so I can face the chalk board and writes:*

Country=Economy

Income is a factor of economic activity.

My government doesn’t care about the economy. Low economic growth means low incomes. Low incomes means the majority of US cannot afford safaris and most of US will never be able to see a lion in our lifetime. Therefore, Cecil the lion is not an issue to US.

*Turns my back to the board so I can face the class and continue spouting nonsense*

Ok class, the opposite to this theory is true. Take note of the words in bold. We are done for today. See you tomorrow!!

*Class dismisses at 08:15 a.m and I head for the pub*

Hey chap let me see the video. The mic was on, let me see if you were doing your work? Ok, ok good stuff!!

I LOVE CECIL THOUGH!!

SISIRI. SISIRI. SISIRI.

The blacker the berry, the bigger I shoot!!

18 Jun

You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture
You’re fuckin’ evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey
You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me
And this is more than confession” – Kendrick Lamar

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Pardon my obsessions with Kendrick Lamar. Today I write this piece in anger. Emotions overwhelm my ability to think rationally.

I woke up playing Twista’s song, Hope, in my head. It was a new day! God had given me the ultimate blessing…the blessing to live another day.

“I wish that we only saw good news every time we look at CNN”. These lyrics by Twista kept on echoing my cognitive space until I discovered myself deeply settled amongst the Cable News Network audience. I was well prepared for the daily rhetoric of the anaemic Greek economy and the growing threat of the so called Islamic State.

The setup of the news theatre was different today. I was in the audience but I could see myself on stage. We, the protagonists, were filled with deep sorrow. The view into the audience painted an everyday picture of dichotomy between good and evil. I could see a section of black and white folks with their heads cast down in sorrow and shame. The other section had the both sets of races and ignorance was much prevalent and supremacists were celebrating horror.

Suddenly I saw myself back in the audience. It was time for me to choose the part of the group I would associate with. Can I just take this popcorn and be part of the ignorant army? I have always held my head up high, and so is it possible to identify myself with the pragmatic who see profound shame and sorrow in this act of evil?

With the picture I saw on stage it is only right for me to bear the feeling of indignation and deep resentment for evil.

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The historic Charleston Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

Here I am, back from the galaxy writing my piece of protest! Here is the line:

IT’S THE PIGMENT WHICH IS ONLY BLACK. DON’T SHOOT ME. DON’T HATE ME!!

May God bless the souls of the nine people killed at Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina. Let justice prevail and may we all flourish in our diverse of colours, religions and political views.

Co-exist is the word!!

How much a dollar “really” cost?

11 Jun

So I was just listening to Kendrick Lamar’s new album, To Pimp a Butterfly… oh what a gem it is! Most of the songs in that album are gilded in the splendour of lyrical mastery and resonant funk. The thought of every lyrical content in the album can only invoke one’s Intelligence Quotient which might be the reason why Lamar himself said, “Just putting the word ‘pimp’ next to ‘butterfly’… It’s a trip. That’s something that will be a phrase forever. It’ll be taught in college courses — AI truly believe that.”

Now I stumbled upon the song “How much a dollar cost”, and I challenged myself to tackle this clever paradox searching for answers.

Taking off the first verse Lamar spits,

“How much a dollar really cost?The question is detrimental, paralyzin’ my thoughts

Parasites in my stomach keep me with a good feeling, y’all

Gotta see how I’m chillin’ once I park this luxury car

Hopping out feeling big as Mutombo…”

dora

 

How much a dollar cost? It sounds like the correct response to this question is trapped in the halls of mystery.

According to Genius it is Kendrick’s encounter with a homeless man at a South African gas station that stands as the defining moment for the creation of this track. The homeless man importunately begs Kendrick R10 (approximately US$1) but the unmoved Compton raised rapper is convinced he is only dealing with a crack addict posing as a poor guy with no place to sleep. Upon realising the spiritual significance of this encounter after the beggar nagged him on his knowledge of the scriptures particularly Exodus Chapter 14 ( as he would aptly rhyme in the song, “Starin’ at me for the longest until he finally asked, Have you ever opened up Exodus 14? A humble man is all that we ever need”) Lamar felt his cognitive perception might have cost him a place in heaven.

The R10 (US$1) he could not give the homeless man who was Godly embedded, perhaps through his wit in the scriptures, might have cost the rapper a place in heaven.

In the end of it the song “How Much a Dollar Cost” was created. Intriguing!!

Well, from this lesson I have come to realise that a dollar can cost us a lot of virtues which we end up giving away (love) or systematically adopt as caveats for development (hard work) and a lot of vices we end up accumulating for ourselves (jealousy).

A dollar can cost or accumulate:

Hard work

Life

Envy

Jealousy

Morality

Love

Hate

Murder

Integrity

The inherent malleability in humans make us succumb to the vices that accumulate dollars for us in sheer ignorance of the virtues that define us.

So how much must a dollar cost?

A wise man with silver hair sitting in a wheelchair told me, “Hard work and only hard work!” He further said to me, “…but Boy, listen to this and listen carefully! Once you get the dollar, let the dollar cost you nothing!!”

Will I take heed?

 

 

What happened to us?

15 Apr

“Tribal war
We nah want no more a dat
Every man deserve to earn
And every child deserve to learn, now
Tribal war
A nuh dat we a defend
Every man deserve a turn
Like Babylon deserve to burn

Man what happened to us
Geographically they moved us
From Africa
We was once happiness-pursuers
Now we back stabbing, combative and abusive”-Nas and Damian Marley

The resurgence of xenophobic violence in South Africa clearly shows that natives in that country have never embraced foreign nationals (especially those from Africa)…and might never. We thought the lessons of 2008 had profoundly perforated the minds of our African brothers.

I was convinced Pan Africanism is a reality. Some thought the black skin was the gateway to embrasure across all Africa. No we are wrong!

Xenophobia  has exposed me to the cracks and divisions among Africans.

We have become a continent where individual member states are more threatened by foreigners (or fellow Africans) as opposed to terrorism, poverty and underdevelopment.

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I remember the year 2011 when some rogue youths in Zimbabwe threatened enterprising Nigerians with “eviction” from their shops and flea markets just because they were not “indigenous”. What’s so special about being indigenous when you cannot do what the Nigerian can do? Why not start your own shop and compete?

From this I have learnt that our own insecurities have led us to a situation where we can blame no one but a vulnerable group of African immigrants.

Is it not folly for a native unqualified young  person to blame his lack of employment on a qualified and enterprising foreigner?

Whether there is a foreigner or not one will continue living in a shack if their government is not confronted with real issues like providing affordable housing for its people.

What has happened to us Africa? Lets embrace each other and stop the violence!

THE BANK OF THE FUTURE!

10 Apr

There is a crack in the banking industry! All effort in brick and mortar is the condemnation of this decade.

Well, banks are collapsing as we watch!

Wait. How severe is the collapse? What is the direction of all this?

The trajectory of this paralysis or collapse is a fulfilling and deeply motivating one. They say it’s inclusive. Some say it’s sustainable. Others say it’s innovative. ALL we know pertaining to the trajectory is that there is inclusivity, sustainability and innovativeness.

Why should we be excited at the collapse of the banking industry? Is it not sheer derision and utter folly to even stand the thought of it?

No it is not!

We are celebrating the renaissance of the banking industry. The death of traditional banking and the birth of digital banking is the revolution we are profoundly immersed and take pride in.

The collapse we are talking about is that of traditional bank where brick and mortar take the centre stage. The dot com revolution has not only brought life to the Nasdaq and Silicon Valley but to all of us. The banking sector is one of the major recipients of the revolution, reason why digital banking is responsible for the “brick and mortar” collapse.

The bank of the future is anchored on technology and the times are here!

Inasmuch as the stratosphere senses a lot of enthusiasm on the digital banking front the question remains on whether we all fully understand the benefits which accrue thereof.

The world over 2.5 billion people have no access to a formal bank account. Inextricably, the consequences of such an alarming stat clearly point to the fact that there cannot be shared prosperity as long as many people are financially excluded. Being excluded from the mainstream financial system means that one cannot accrue benefits such as credit, insurance, financial security and capital.

Many reasons have been put out to justify why there is a dysfunctional financial system which is not inclusive. One major factor overlooked is the “brick and mortar” model of banking itself. In Africa alone a greater part of citizens are financially excluded as a result of distance and location. Clearly the brick and mortar model does not work!

The brick and mortar model is unsustainable and exclusive (if not dividing too)!

Thanks to the advancement in technology there is a chance to create a new model of banking called “digital banking”. As this model is inclusive, sustainable and inclusive we feel the urge to be part of that revolution.

innovation

Starting in Zimbabwe we want to be part of a team that drives change in the banking sector. We want a “compliant” banking system which is anchored upon a digital platform. We want a “governance” driven banking system built on a digital platform. Ultimately we want a “sustainable and inclusive” banking system running on a digital platform.

Just as the mobile phone and internet has become an integral part of our lives, we will not rest on our laurels but manipulate these systems to establish a digital banking system in Zimbabwe.

We will THINK, plan and create IT!!!

(This article was originally published on the Financial Laboratory Zimbabwe official BLOG