Grubby greenbacks, dear credit, full shops and empty factories … Inflation reached an absurd 231,000,000% in the summer of 2008. Output measured in dollars had halved in barely a decade. A hundred-trillion-dollar note was made ready for circulation, but no sane tradesman would accept local banknotes. A ban on foreign-currency trading was lifted in January 2009. By then the American dollar had become Zimbabwe’s main currency, a position it still holds today. … Zimbabwe’s dollar had been too liberally printed: a swollen stock of local banknotes was chasing a diminished supply of goods. Now the American banknotes the economy relies on have to be begged, borrowed or earned. Even so, the monetary system works surprisingly well. A scarcity of greenbacks keeps inflation in the low single digits. The economy has made up much lost ground.
There was no future, no jobs, said my companion. Corruption flourishes, he went on, so-called tenderpreneurs thrived, a breed who use inside knowledge to make a mockery of the tender process, inflating costs while lowering standards. ... A teacher-turned-trader, part-time entrepreneur and occasional taxi-driver, he owns a plot on which he grows maize — although not for his family: the crop is sent to relatives in the countryside. Reversing the traditional direction of trade, workers in the city are now feeding the farmers. The drought, the worst for three decades and embracing much of southern Africa, is taking its toll. ... Zimbabwe is far from “dead”. The country is free of religious divisions — although cursed by ethnic and clan tensions — and still has supportive neighbours, a battered but surviving infrastructure, a broad English-speaking skills base and a talented diaspora longing to return home. And above all, the military are still — for now — in the barracks.