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Across Africa with Bitcoin: My Ordeal at a Bank in Zimbabwe

Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:56 PM
Frisco d'Anconia
Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:56 PM

In November 2008, Zimbabwe’s inflation rate was estimated at an unimaginable 79.6 billion percent. This was the era where Zimbabwe bank notes varied from 10 to 100 Billion Zimbabwean dollars.

The country had no other option but to abandon their currency and adopt the US Dollar in 2009. But the country run out of US dollars and withdrawal were limited to just $50 a day.

With the introduction of the bond notes pegged to the US dollar last year, the situation in terms of hyperinflation is quite better, but it is still awful trying to get money. Daily withdrawal limit is now set at $100 bond notes. However, some banks have even limited that to $30 whilst others have closed their ATMs.

Banks are unable to accommodate people, who are forming long queues out into the street.

Long Queues

Walking or driving through the streets of Harare, long queues at Banks and ATMs meandering its ways into the streets are a common sight these days. Banks no more cannot accommodate clients at bank halls, and they have to lined up to be served.

Long ATM queues are a common sight in Zimbabwe’s capital of Harare.

On Thursday, I joined a queue at the Ecobank branch at Borrowdale at 9:30 am to receive a Western Union transfer. I had to stand in the sun outside the bank in a queue that was as long as a hundred meters.

There was desperation written on the faces of everyone in the line. Some of them have been there as early as 5 am. I decided to strike a conversation with some of the people nearby. “Is it like this every day?”, I asked a middle-aged woman in front of me, and she responded by asking me where I come from.

When I told her I’m from Ghana, West Africa, she started complaining bitterly about how they cannot get access to their own hard earned money. A young man behind me in the queue remarked that sometimes people have to sleep at the entrance of the bank when it is getting to holiday seasons like Christmas and Easter.

I decided to introduced them to Bitcoin and proceeded to download a Blockchain wallet on the smartphone of the lady I spoke to earlier. At this stage, they became so interested and a human circle was formed around me.

I managed to assist five people in all to get a wallet and tipped them $2 each. They were amazed at the speed the cash got into their wallets. With excitement written on their faces, I gave them the address of Bitfinace and told them they can buy Bitcoin and exchange their Bitcoin for cash there.

It was so invigorating since this is the essence of the Across Africa With Bitcoin Journey. When it finally got to my turn and I was served it was half past 13:00.

Engaging a banker who asked for anonymity at the banking hall, I learnt the situation is going to get worse, as banks’ cash reserves are dwindling.

Suffering Productivity

The circumstances Zimbabweans find themselves in is no doubt affecting productivity. To stand in a queue for hours before you can get money is very debilitating and counter-productive for work.

Another bank where people are spilling out into the streets.

Many of the people I spoke to at the bank explained to me they have left their business or been excused from work to come and access banking services. It is so frustrating and unthinkable.

Ripe For Cryptocurrencies

Obviously, the situation here can be remedied by pushing the adoption of cryptocurrencies. Tawanda Kembo of Bitfinance, Zimbabwe’s only Bitcoin Exchange tells me his company had to withdraw their advertisement since demand exceeds supply.

The challenge here is to scale education on Cryptocurrencies as well as supporting organisations pushing adoption in Zimbabwe. Crypto investors should also give Zimbabwe attention since there is a lot of money to be made here.

We should ignore the idea that digital currency businesses could be expropriated since the government understands it through the work and association with Bitmari founders, another organisation giving women farmers loan in Bitcoin. More about Bitmari in the coming days.

Support the Across Africa With Bitcoin journey by sending some Satoshis: 1GZQhtC15GVkq3eWwNrwYz9BCfDd3MmMo5.

Images from Frisco d’Anconia for CCN.com.