Find us on Google+

Saturday, 28 February 2009

What future for monetary policy in Zimbabwe?

Peter Draper and Andreas Freytag argues that of the three options facing Zimbabwe policy makers to tackle hyperinflation (adopting a currency board, the South African Rand, or a crawling peg), “Randisation” deserves serious consideration – if South Africa will step up to the plate.

What future for monetary policy in Zimbabwe?, Peter Draper and Andreas Freytag, VOX EU, Commentary:

Zimbabwe is much in the news again with its newly minted unity government. It remains to be seen whether it will cohere and drive a concerted reconstruction process. Zimbabwe’s future monetary policy is of enormous importance, given the country’s infamous inflation rate.

Three monetary reform scenarios are being discussed – an ordinary or crawling peg to a basket of currencies, “Randisation” (adopting the Rand), and a currency board, i.e. a domestic currency with the money base 100% backed by foreign reserves. The latter two would entail Zimbabwe surrendering monetary policy sovereignty – an issue attracting considerable controversy


The currency board or “dollarisation” option is closely associated with US scholar Steve Hanke (2008). In Zimbabwe’s case, he refers approvingly to the currency board Southern Rhodesia operated in the 1940s. However, the preconditions were very dissimilar to Zimbabwe today. Regardless of Rhodesian governments’ other failings, their administrative capacity, and therefore the credibility of any new institutions, was far more developed, whilst trade and capital markets were far less integrated than today.

Mr Mugabe and his Zanu PF party not only destroyed the economy thereby creating hyperinflation, poverty and starvation– they also eradicated a workable administration. The latest manifestation is the cholera crisis, now reportedly affecting 80,000 people and spreading rapidly into neighbouring countries. Critically, all kinds of economic institutions necessary for a country to develop are now lacking.

This does not imply that monetary reforms cannot take place. But it makes it clear that a currency board or dollarisation may be difficult to implement. Both regimes necessitate meeting a number of institutional pre-conditions, particularly fiscal stability, openness to trade and capital flows, and market flexibility. Another basic condition is trust in markets and in state agencies. If the central bank is not to be trusted, why should the ordinary Zimbabwean citizen trust a currency board (unless it is located out of the country)?

Furthermore, a currency board would require the Zimbabwean government to possess sufficient foreign exchange reserves to finance the monetary base. In January 2008, the date of the latest available data, the Zimbabwean central bank’s foreign assets accounted for approximately 0.1% of the monetary base. Clearly reserves are too small to finance the monetary base in a currency board without recourse to massive foreign capital injections from the donor community. But those are only likely to be forthcoming once Mr Mugabe and his securocrats have decisively left the scene – a prospect we find rather bullish under current political circumstances.

Over time, a currency board system requires the ability to earn the necessary money growth on global markets. Zimbabwe does not have the production structure (even before the meltdown) to generate the exports required nor the human resource capacity to sustain such a high rate of exchange (i.e. the US dollar) through rapid productivity growth, and the high rate of exchange would encourage imports (no bad thing if you have the foreign exchange, which Zimbabwe won’t) whilst discouraging exports. Hence Mr Hanke’s advice could penalise Zimbabwe’s recovery for a long time.

Finally, it is not obvious that the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank should lose its competencies, as the currency board solution would require. Those advocating
this path argue that the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank has become so politicised (correct) that it is beyond redemption (debatable). However, the same argument applies to other state institutions used as Zanu PF’s piggy bank. The situation is much worse than it was in Estonia and Lithuania when they adopted currency boards in 1992 and 1994, respectively.

Overall, a currency board may be the least attractive alternative.


What about adopting the Rand, as recently suggested by South African President Mr Motlanthe, and rejected by Zimbabwe’s new Finance Minister from the Movement for Democratic Change, Mr Biti? For each South African citizen, 1000 Rands are circulating. Adopting the same ratio in Zimbabwe would require 11 billion Rands. Currently the total cash circulation in South Africa is about 73 billion Rand. An increase of 11 billion Rand would add 15% – a substantial increase.

This solution requires dismantling the central bank’s money-issuing function. Politically, this may be easier than having a crippled central bank. Randisation would more politically insulated than a currency board, as money issuance would require South African approval. Politically, this would be very tricky. On the other hand, Zimbabwe would gain the reputation of the Rand without requiring the backup of foreign reserves.

However, South Africa’s partners in the Common Monetary Area (Namibia, Lesotho, and Swaziland) may not support this path. Moreover, unless South Africa imposes stringent conditionalities on the reconstruction loans it undoubtedly will extend to Zimbabwe, the latter will be enormously tempted – especially in the likely absence of major donor funding – to deviate from the CMA’s strictures using fiscal policy, thereby destabilising regional currency arrangements.

A peg

What about the third alternative put forward by Mr Biti, a simple (or crawling) peg to a basket of currencies including the rand? This scenario, coupled with a Zimbabwe Reserve Bank and Finance Ministry with new leadership, seems possible and politically most feasible. It requires less ambitious policy reforms in other policy areas and does not require huge foreign reserves to sustain it. The question is whether Zimbabwean institutions would have the confidence in their people and foreign investors to sustain the peg. Like the other two scenarios, it is unthinkable without a ban on government borrowing at the central bank. This condition must be highlighted, as it is the sine qua non of any sensible monetary reform.

If the government can keep away from the money press, both the peg and the circulation of the Rand are sustainable. Overall, it is not clear to us which is more desirable. On political grounds the peg is more feasible, but if the economy is to be brought back on track, inflation has to be reduced quickly and Randisation proffers that possibility.

The really interesting question is – if Zimbabwe did move to adopt the Rand, would South Africa step up to the plate? It has the institutions to do so (a mostly independent central bank and strong development finance institutions), and Zimbabwe could join a reformed Southern African Customs Union to gain access to revenue - although we would worry about the impact on Zimbabwe’s trade policy. Unfortunately, South Africa’s track record with respect to Zimbabwe is not encouraging. Given South Africa’s rising budget deficit, pressing social problems, and escalating debate over the future of domestic monetary policy, Zimbabwean policy makers should exercise caution.


Hanke, Steve H. (2008), How to Kill Zimbabwe’s Hyperinflation, Global Dialogue, Braamfontein, August, pp. 23-25; 35-36.


  1. Mr Mugabe and his Zanu PF party not only destroyed the economy thereby creating hyperinflation, poverty and starvation– they also eradicated a workable administration.

    I can much more easily argue that the MDC destroyed the economy. They were instrumental in the drawing up of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001.

    The ZANU-PF government were merely reactive to the fact that after the passing of ZDERA, they had to run the economy on a cash only basis, even though all governments in the world run their business on credit.

    And ZDERA was co-written by Eddie Cross, with the intention of destroying the Zimbabwe dollar.

    These are the same individuals who are now in power and want to hold a fire sale of the Zimbabwean government's assets - just like in Zambia.

    They are also making noises about turning back land reform, which will lead to civil war.

  2. Has there been any effect on the Zambian Kwacha as a result of the dollarisation of the Zim and DRC economies? The Kwacha has tumbled by over 60% against the US$. Against other major currencies like the Euro and the Pound the slide is less than 15%. Who is mopping the US$ out of Zambia? Is it the citizens of DRC and Zimbabwe who need it as their legal tender?

  3. Actually the Euro and Pound have depreciated against the dollar, that is why the Kwacha has depreciated less against the Euro and Pound.

  4. Just to add to my first post, any economic analysis of the Zimabwean currency, which does not take into account the effect of financial sanctions has no credibility.

  5. Cho,

    I have added a public comment on their website:

    Dear Andreas Freytag and Peter Draper,

    I have read your article on Zimbabwe's economy and currency, however, I have seen no mention as to the origin of their economic problem, which are financial sanctions imposed (I believe illegally, because they were imposed outside of the United Nations) by the United States against the state and economy of Zimbabwe.

    I am referring to the 'Multilateral Financing Restriction' titles Section 4.C. of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001, introduced by Bill Frist (Republican from Tennessee), and co-sponsored by the odd group of Jesse Helms, Hillary Clinton and Russ Feingold.

    Section 4.C lists the prohibitions to be imposed against Zimbabwe, of extending credit, getting new credit, rescheduling loans, etc., effectively forcing the Zimbabwean government to operate on a cash only basis - which would be relevant in your examination of what happened to the Zimbabwean currency.

    I quote the two relevant sections of this public bill:

    Section 4.C named Multilateral Financing Restriction:

    (c) MULTILATERAL FINANCING RESTRICTION- Until the President makes the certification described in subsection (d), and except as may be required to meet basic human needs or for good governance, the Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director to each international financial institution to oppose and vote against--

    (1) any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe; or

    (2) any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.

    Section 3, titled Definitions, lists the multilateral financing institutions to which these restrictions apply, and I quote:


    In this Act:

    (1) INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS- The term `international financial institutions' means the multilateral development banks and the International Monetary Fund.

    (2) MULTILATERAL DEVELOPMENT BANKS- The term `multilateral development banks' means the

    International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Development Association, the
    International Finance Corporation, the
    Inter-American Development Bank, the
    Asian Development Bank, the
    Inter-American Investment Corporation, the
    African Development Bank, the
    African Development Fund, the
    European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the
    Multilateral Investment Guaranty Agency.

    Now I haven't made a detailed analysis of who owed Zimbabwean debt in the year 2001, but my guess is that this list is directed at those who could have the most impact on Zimbabwe's economic situation, and not in a good way.

    The effect has been that the Zimbabwean government was forced to operate on a cash only basis, and we know the results.

    It is my understanding that legal sanctions can only be imposed through the United Nations, not by individal countries through their national parliaments. If I am wrong about that, I stand corrected. But it would not be the first time that the Bush Administration was involved in lawbreaking.


All contributors should follow the basic principles of a productive dialogue: communicate their perspective, ask, comment, respond,and share information and knowledge, but do all this with a positive approach.

This is a friendly website. However, if you feel compelled to comment 'anonymously', you are strongly encouraged to state your location / adopt a unique nick name so that other commentators/readers do not confuse your comments with other individuals also commenting anonymously.