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Zimbabwe Drip-Feeds Dollars To Tackle Cash Crunch

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Zimbabwe’s central bank drip-fed dollars on Monday to a handful of commercial banks to allocate to large businesses, part of currency reforms authorities hope will ease a cash crunch that has starved the economy of many basic goods.

Zimbabwe ditched a discredited 1:1 dollar peg for its dollar-surrogate bond notes and electronic dollars last week, merging them into a lower-value transitional currency called the RTGS dollar.

Economists welcomed the move but doubt it will prompt a swift turnaround in the southern African nation, which has grown used to currency turbulence since excessive money-printing under former leader Robert Mugabe triggered hyperinflation.

READ MORE | Zimbabwe: The State Of Crisis

Ordinary Zimbabweans are not yet able to use the RTGS dollars in their bank accounts to buy dollars from banks, and the bond notes – which many businesses are reluctant to accept – are still in circulation.

“The devaluation was long overdue. The economy has been in limbo and the RTGS can now play a role in boosting competitiveness,” Anthony Mandiwanza, chief executive of Zimbabwean food and dairy firm Dairibord, told Reuters.

“What is critical is that the government lives within its means and narrows and eliminates the fiscal deficit.”

DOLLAR NOT WEAK ENOUGH?

The last time Zimbabwe had its own currency, a decade ago, Mugabe’s government turned on the printing presses to fund higher salaries for government workers and curry favor with the military – with disastrous economic results.

Mugabe’s successor Emmerson Mnangagwa has promised a break with the past, but many Zimbabweans are wary after his government ramped up borrowing in the lead-up to a national election last July and inflation rose to a 10-year high in January.

The central bank started selling U.S. dollars to banks at 2.5 RTGS dollars on Friday.

READ MORE | Explainer: The Cash Crunch Behind Zimbabwe’s Violent Protests

Mandiwanza said banks had told Dairibord the same day that it could submit requests for dollars at around 2.5 RTGS each and that it would receive an unspecified amount on Monday or Tuesday.

A dealer at a large bank in Harare whose firm operates on the interbank market said launching the RTGS at 3 to the dollar or higher would have been better to encourage U.S. dollar sellers.

“There are a lot of (dollar) buyers … but no sellers because the rate is not high enough. What we are basically doing is allocating foreign currency to corporates but no trading is taking place,” the dealer said.

MANAGED FLOAT

Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe after an army coup in November 2017, hopes to steer the economy back to credibility and lure back foreign investors, who have also been deterred by violent security crackdowns on post-election protests last year and demonstrations last month against a steep fuel price hike.

The central bank has said it will let the RTGS dollar trade in a “managed float”.

But it has not explained how it would control the currency’s movements given it does not have significant foreign exchange reserves.

READ MORE |150 percent price rise fails to fill Zimbabwe’s fuel pumps

The currency dealer said the central bank was only selling dollars to banks that had lined up customers who had agreed to buy them.

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“We have seen this before in the past and it went nowhere, the interbank system will ultimately become redundant if the Reserve Bank doesn’t allow the currency to freely trade,” the dealer said.

There are also indications that the central bank is not selling many dollars. Only around $5 million changed hands on Friday, a senior central bank official told The Standard newspaper in an article published at the weekend.

A Standard Chartered bank teller in Harare said her branch was not selling dollars to individuals yet, and downtown bank queues were no longer than normal.

On Monday, one U.S. dollar was being sold on the black market for four electronic dollars – those locked in individuals’ accounts for months due to the chronic cash shortages – compared to 4.2 on Friday, informal currency traders said.

“The big players are holding onto their money, that is what is holding rates at the moment,” one currency trader at Harare’s Eastgate shopping center said. -Reuters

-Alexander Winning, MacDonald Dzirutwe and Alfonce Mbizwo

Current Affairs

Sustainable Development In Africa Can Be Amplified By The Media

The COVID-19 pandemic has struck the world like a bolt of lightning exposing the contours of deep inequalities. Media reports have helped reveal the interwoven threads of inequality and health, with poorer people suffering a strikingly disproportionate share of the fallout from the virus, either through infection or loss of livelihoods.

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In 2018, the United Nations Secretary-General Mr António Guterres, launched an SDG Media Compact to leverage their resources to advance the Sustainable Development Goals. By disseminating facts, human stories and solutions, the Compact is a powerful driver for advocacy, action and accountability on the Sustainable Development Goals. Photo- UN

When 17-year-old high school student Darnella Fraizer filmed the last minutes of George Floyd’s life under the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin, she could not have imagined that her footage would reignite the explosive global question of racial inequality and the subsequent clamour for reforms in policing.

This act of filming validates the force of the media globally, we need a similar drive for urgent action in Africa. We need the continent’s media to help ensure the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are achieved and the life of every African afforded the opportunity they deserve.

“Around the world, success in achieving the SDGs will ease global anxieties, provide a better life for women and men and build a firm foundation for stability and peace in all societies, everywhere,” said the UN Deputy Secretary General, Amina Mohammed

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a wave of demonstrations from Lebanon to Chile, from Iran to Liberia, was sweeping across countries. This was a clear sign that, for all our progress, something in our globalized society is broken.

The COVID-19 pandemic has struck the world like a bolt of lightning exposing the contours of deep inequalities. Media reports have helped reveal the interwoven threads of inequality and health, with poorer people suffering a strikingly disproportionate share of the fallout from the virus, either through infection or loss of livelihoods.

The global sweep of protests due to years of disenfranchisement and racism has made it clear that the world must change to offer equal treatment to all people.  

Media can do the same for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Achieving the SDGs, and so improving the lives of millions of Africans, depends heavily on increasing public awareness, and on the focused action and funding that such awareness ignites.

One major shortcoming of development progress is the lack of widespread knowledge about the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. We must look to the media to push the SDG discourse; what is reported and how it is reported helps shape policy and has implications for the millions of people whose lives are affected. Knowledge is power and if citizens are aware of the issues, they are empowered to help determine the national response.

Traditionally, development experts have failed to explain the relatively new concept of sustainable development to influencers such as educators, politicians, and the media. Doing so is key, so that easily understood narratives are developed to raise public support.

We are already a third of the way towards the 2030 Agenda deadline which 193 UN member states committed to. But at the current pace of change – notwithstanding the global pandemic – Africa is likely to miss out on the time-bound targets in key sectors – including health, education, employment, energy, infrastructure, and the environment. 

Improved public awareness of the SDGs themselves, and of the actions needed and the bodies responsible for such actions is essential. By stepping up to address and explain the global quest for social justice and equality which the SDGs represent, the media can help galvanise civil society, business, international bodies, regional organizations, and individuals.

Pressure from an informed public, pushes policymakers into action, offering hope to millions of poor people.

Development is never far from the media agenda in Africa, so the opportunity to build understanding of sustainability is there. Sustainable development experts must explain why the SDGs are important, and why ‘business as usual’ in development is no longer viable in the face of increasing populations and climate change. Then, news outlets, who would then be able to develop compelling narratives to make the concept understandable by all can help raise the SDG profile, thereby raising public support.

We must “flip the orthodoxy”.

What is reported, how it is reported, and on what channels helps in shaping policy and has implications for the millions of people whose lives are affected.

To this end, the media must be brought into the conversation and be made to understand the role they can play towards the greater good.

The SDGs pledge that “no one will be left behind” and to “endeavour to reach the furthest behind first.” In practice, this means taking explicit action to end extreme poverty, curb inequalities, confront discrimination and fast-track progress for the furthest behind.

The media can shine a spotlight on those left behind, for example by using COVID-19 to examine the wider issue of universal health coverage, the subject of SDG 3.

It also plays a critical role in holding governments to account for their Agenda 2030 commitments. Though these commitments demand that countries have clear reporting and accountability mechanisms, most nations still have no reliable data on their progress towards specific goals. This matters because countries can only unlock financing for the SDGs by disaggregating data to understand where resources are required. In Africa, where national commitments are rarely backed by adequate investment, this is particularly important.

Rapid mobile penetration in Africa offers unparalleled opportunities for content sharing on digital platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Though lack of affordable internet connections and poor connectivity remain a challenge, mobile technology is a powerful enabler across many sectors.

One in every six people on Earth lives in Africa; its problems are the world’s problems and solving them is the world’s responsibility. If Africa fails to achieve Agenda 2030, the implications will be felt across the planet through conflict, migration, population growth and climate catastrophe.

The media in Africa is a stakeholder in the achievements of the SDGs. Let us support the media and enlist their help in the quest for economic, environmental, and social justice across the world.

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. He has served in various parts of the world with UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP, UNOPS, UN Peacekeeping and the Red Cross Movement. A decorated Special Forces veteran, he is an alumnus of Princeton University. Follow him on twitter-@sidchat1

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.​​​​​

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From The Singing To The Shooting: ‘Will Never Forget For As Long As I live’

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Oupa Moloto poses in one of the classrooms at Morris Isaacson High School where the protests started; image by Motlabana Monnakgotla

Forty-four years ago on this day, bullets tore through a peaceful school protest in South Africa ending in bloody riots and an uprising that got the world’s attention. Two of the students from the time shudder as they reflect on that cold, dark morning in June.

Forty-four years ago on this day, ‘Soweto Uprising’, South Africa’s famed student protest, led to bullets, fire and tears and an iconic photograph the world came to associate with the country’s brutal apartheid regime.

On June 16, 1976, a day etched in blood in South African history, 13-year-old school student, Hector Pieterson, was shot dead in the police firing that ensued, a moment captured for posterity by photographer Sam Nzima.

Even today, there are those who distinctly remember the coldness of that dark day, when all that the students protested was being taught in Afrikaans, a language they felt was oppressive.

Oupa Moloto, now 63, who was then a student at the Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto where it all started and who was thrown into prison after that horrific day, recalls it vividly. He thought it was going to be a peaceful protest, but it turned out to be a day filled with bullets, police dogs, burning tyres and angry students.  

Moloto had first spoken to FORBES AFRICA in 2016 when he had shared all the details. The memories of that day will never fade away.

“Finding ourselves singing in the streets as young people, challenging the government of the day, it was just excitement. The sadness that is going to remain with us and going to be indelible in our lives is when the police started shooting at young people, that is the one incident that one will never forget for as long as I live,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

The protests started in Soweto and quickly moved to other townships in South Africa such as Alexandra and Tembisa. Towards the end of the week, the whole country was standing up against the government and everybody got involved; even adults and children in Bulwer, a small town in the KwaZulu-Natal region where Duduzile Dlamini-Ndubane was a student at Pholela High School.

Duduzile Dlamini-Ndubane in KwaZulu-Natal

She says they were told not to go to class by a group of male students on that Wednesday morning, and she was not too sure how they had received the information on the nationwide protest against teaching in the Afrikaans language.

“We made our way to the school grounds, we started singing, some students didn’t even know what was happening but nonetheless stayed with the group. We were then chased out of the school grounds and told to go back home. It was a noisy protest but no police came and there were no injuries,” remembers Dlamini-Ndubane.

Today, she is a professional nurse based in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa and Youth Day to her is a constant reminder that unity is key.

“When we unite behind a great cause, we change not only the current situation, but we make history. Youth need to unite and fight the right causes to change the world for the greater good,” she says.

Back in Soweto, Moloto says the struggle of today is an economic one for young people.

“Students are looking for economic freedom, hence #FeesMustFall; they want to get into the institute of learning without being in debt because they believe education can help them to be part of the economy of the country,” he says.

“When Hector died in 1976, he belonged to no party, he was just a student who died for all political affiliations of the time.”

However, going back to the Soweto Uprising, Moloto disagrees on how the commemoration of it has changed from then to now.

“In 1977, when we were commemorating, it was more of a unity, all political parties would gather at Regina Mundi to celebrate, today, the fight is no longer in a unified fashion. The municipalities and organizations have their own way of commemorating like AZAPO visits the Tsietsi Mashinini grave and the City of Johannesburg visits the Hector Pieterson Museum. That lack of unity is what concerns me. As long as we are not united when we commemorate, this day does not have an impact,” he says.

“When Hector died in 1976, he belonged to no party, he was just a student who died for all political affiliations of the time; we need to unify.”

After that eventful day, the liberation movements benefited because thousands of students joined political parties inside and outside of the country. June 16 was a catalyst in South Africa’s struggle for democracy, and scripted by the students in the nation’s history books.

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Heroes & Survivors

Why Palliative Care Is Also Pertinent In The Pandemic

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Eric Kabisa of the Rwanda Palliative Care & Hospice Organisation sets off with his team; image supplied

The real heroes are also palliative care providers who go out of their way for patients with chronic illnesses, like this Rwandan team of professionals that conducts home visits offering critical care to those afflicted even more during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s a Tuesday morning in mid-May, and the team from the Rwanda Palliative Care & Hospice Organisation (RPCHO) is preparing to visit the homes of terminally-ill patients in need of palliative or specialized medical care. The team, led by the organization’s Executive Secretary, Eric Kabisa, comprises a doctor, a nurse, a social worker and a psychologist.

For this team, their work tending to needy patients is more than just a job – it’s a deep calling.

This small team cares for over 70 patients with life-threatening illnesses; visiting them in their homes, providing medical consultation and nursing care as well as addressing some of their basic needs. They also offer counseling services to patients and care-givers.

FORBES AFRICA joins Kabisa’s team, all masked-up and ready with supplies, for the home visits. This team also includes nurse Peace Kyokunda.

The Covid-19 pandemic has no doubt disrupted the momentum of their work and though RPCHO was part of the essential services that had the green light to operate during the government-imposed lockdown in the country, Kabisa explains why the team had to temporarily stall the home visits.

“Since March 14, when the first Covid-19 case was discovered in Rwanda, we had to stop the home visits and would only do phone consultations. This is because we did not want to put our patients, most of who have very low immunity levels, at risk.”

For cases that needed urgent medical attention, Kabisa and his team would ensure an ambulance was dispatched to pick them up and rush them to hospital whatever time of day or night.

Technology was the only point of contact with the patients during the lockdown period as the team would offer counseling sessions and even guide care-givers via phone on how to handle the patients.

Sadly, the lockdown was not without casualties. Nurse Kyokunda narrates how they lost one of their patients during that period.

“One of our patients who suffered from cancer needed morphine to manage his severe pain but for two weeks, he could not access it… Even though we got him an ambulance to take him to hospital, it was too late. He died at the emergency ward,” she says, her voice laden with emotion.

As soon as the Rwandan government eased the lockdown restrictions, the palliative care team was ready to resume their duty-trips, exercising utmost precaution.

With supplies including cartons of milk and adult diapers, among other things, we set off to visit the first patient with them.

Soline Kabagwira lies silently on a mat spread out on the floor of her small living room. A combination of cervical cancer and HIV/Aids has left her scrawny and frail.

The house is quiet save for the birds chirping outside her small window and young children playing in the distance. Her own two children are up and about doing chores their mother would probably have been attending to had she been well.

On seeing Kabisa and Kyokunda, Kabagwira barely manages a faint smile and can hardly move. She welcomes us but does not allow us to take any pictures.

We are the first group of people to visit her since the lockdown.

“This pandemic robbed me of something precious; people’s company. Before, people would come to see me, talk to me and even pray for me. That would give me hope, something to look forward to. But now, it’s quite lonely, no one comes by anymore,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

Besides the loneliness, her days are filled with thoughts of what would happen to her children after her time.

“Who will take care of them when I’m gone?” she asks, shedding silent tears.

Kabisa and Kyokunda empathize with Kabagwira and take time to counsel her. They speak words of reassurance and comfort while exuding utmost professionalism. By the time we leave, Kabagwira is calm and gently falling asleep. We leave, but with an assurance of another visit soon. (Unfortunately, FORBES AFRICA learned that Kabagwira breathed her last on June 5.)

On our trip that day in May with RPCHO, we also meet Antoinette Bayambaze, another patient suffering from cervical cancer. Since the start of the lockdown in Rwanda, her condition has been moving from bad to worse. She is unable to speak but her daughter Angeline Nyirasabimana graciously agrees to share her experience from a care-giver’s perspective.

With a family of her own to take care of, Nyirasabimana has had to find a way to juggle between being a wife, mother, businesswoman and care-giver to her terminally-ill mother. She had somewhat mastered the art of wearing each of these hats, but the Covid-19 pandemic threw her off balance.

“This period has been particularly difficult for us. With the lockdown measures, I could not go to see my mother who lives very far from me. The palliative care team also had to stop the home visits. My mother did not take our absence well as she did not understand much about the pandemic. Her condition quickly deteriorated,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

Being far from her mother when she needed her most weighed Nyirasabimana down.

“It was tough helping my mother remotely. Taking care of a sick loved one demands physical presence. There are some situations that just cannot work with social distancing,” she says.

Apart from the distance, Nyirasabimana could not easily access pain medicine as well as supplies such as adult diapers crucial for her mother, which was a main cause for concern during the lockdown.

“It was tough helping my mother remotely. Taking care of a sick loved one demands physical presence. There are some situations that just cannot work with social distancing.”

The RPCHO does not work in isolation. In fact, the government considers it a crucial link in the palliative care chain.

Dr Francois Uwinkindi is the Director of the Cancer Diseases Unit at the Rwanda Biomedical Center. He works closely with Kabisa and his team to ensure patients with life-threatening diseases in the community get the care they need.

For many cancer patients, accessing the Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence located in northern Rwanda for treatment and drugs was an uphill task during the lockdown period, forcing the government to come up with various solutions.

“Drugs that could only be found at the Butaro Cancer Center were now available at the Rwanda Cancer Center located at the Rwanda Military Hospital in Kanombe. The government would also provide transport services for patients who needed to go for treatment at the Butaro Cancer Center,” says Uwinkindi.

The Rwanda government also explored the option of using drones to deliver drugs to cancer patients in the rural areas, saving many lives in the process.

Post Covid-19, Uwinkindi is of the opinion that technology is the way to go. “Where necessary, we should exploit ‘telehealth’ and continue with consultations via phone or video calls. This greatly reduces costs and time,” he says.

All in all, palliative care teams around the world have had to find creative ways to work around the Covid-19 pandemic to provide crucial services to patients with chronic illnesses, recognizing that palliative care is a necessity, even during a flu pandemic.

– Tesi Kaven

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