Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe makes no secret of his xenophobic hatred of Americans, yet the president’s government will discard its virtually worthless national currency for U.S. dollars next week.
The exchange rate? 35,000,000,000,000,000 to one U.S. greenback.
The Zimbabwean dollar has been ruined by hyperinflation, which hit 500 billion per cent in 2008. The economic chaos is a reflection of Mugabe’s isolationist and racist policies, which have seen virtually all major corporations withdraw from the country and nearly all white-owned businesses confiscated by his regime.
The southern African country began using foreign currencies, including both the U.S. dollar and South African rand, in 2009 after people began having to carry wheel barrows full of cash to buy a single load of bread.
Beginning Monday, customers who held Zimbabwean dollar accounts before March 2009 can have their bank balances converted into U.S. dollars, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, John Mangudya, said in a statement.
Zimbabweans will have until September to exchange any old banknotes, which people commonly sell as souvenirs to the few tourists brave enough to visit the country.
Under the exchange program, accounts with balances of up to 175 quadrillion Zimbabwean dollars will get $5. Those with balances above 175 quadrillion dollars will have the additional funds exchanged at a rate of $1 for 35 quadrillion Zimbabwean dollars.
In 2008 the country printed a 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollar banknote. Yet it was not even enough to ride a public bus to work for a week.
The bank has set aside $20 billion to pay Zimbabwean dollar currency holders U.S. funds.