Corruption Watch: The absurdity of black market forex raids

VP Chiwenga, a grumpy soldier to the core, has promised to break one or two bones in the process, most likely more.

I travelled to Senegal a few years ago and witnessed something at the Blaise Diagne International Airport that I still think is awkward.

Those chaps that we call money changers here were trading foreign currency right inside the departure and arrival terminals.

They were not bothered at all.

Some of them chatted casually with men in dark suits and glasses. One or two even played monkey games with uniformed police details.

No wahala. As the Senegalese informal forex dealers and cabmen say when you are seeking their services, “noooo problem!”

These money changers were people who left their homes in the settlements close to the then new airport some 60km from Dakar, or the dusty tourist city of Mbour (pronounced as Mburu) and intervening towns and villages where they still use those ramshackle mini-buses that we last saw towards independence in Zimbabwe.

They washed, ate breakfast and took the rickety buses or walked to the airport every morning to exchange foreign currencies for the local CFA franc (which they pronounce as “Safa”.

I thought these people were really blessed. Trading at the airport as if they are doing business at a curio market in Nairobi.

Now, that’s something you would never imagine happening at Zimbabwe’s airports in a thousand years.

Not even within 5km from the airports. If you want good rates in Harare, Bulawayo, Vic Falls and so on and you still wish to keep your limbs, go change your money elsewhere.

The authorities in places like Senegal are not exactly fussy about money changers. The informal or illegal forex traders do their business as usual and one day follows the other with the same routine as sunrise and sunset.

They don’t bother because their currency is still relatively stable and no amount of money changing is going to change that.

Not here. Since the turn of the millennium, we have had big issues with parallel market forex trade. In 1999 or even 2000 — 99% of Zimbabweans didn’t know what the greenback looked like.

It was when they started messing up the economy that things changed.

The local dollar was getting increasingly useless and demand for foreign currency grew fast.

This is the thing that I want to talk about today. By end of day on Friday, more than 400 money changers had been arrested and taken to court since the government introduced the zig-zaggingly imaginary currency called ZiG. And we are still counting.

There is an angry blitz involving the police and other security agencies to flash out money changers.

Of course, you didn’t see so much energy in the last few years when we were using the useless bond currency and another weirdly named currency, the RTGS.

Hey, everything and anything will go in a country that names a type of bank transaction as a currency.

Just like they have named the newest absurdity the ZiG even though the Reserve Bank only has two ingots of the yellow metal in its vaults, hoping it’s not fake too.

Government’s thinking seems to be like: We need to hit the money changers hard at this stage so that they stay away from the streets lest the ZiG will zig-zag its away into uselessness too fast.

That’s a modest way of putting it. VP Chiwenga, a grumpy soldier to the core, has promised to break one or two bones in the process, most likely more.

They are using all manner of funny tricks to fish out money changers.

They have deployed countless undercover troops to supermarkets and the streets in search of the money changers. What they are doing is wickedly crazy.

In order to arrest the money changers, they have themselves turned into money changers.

Pushing trolleys in supermarkets and pretending to be offering services as money changers.  

In other words, they are moonlighting for forex criminals. They come up to you and lie to you that they can buy you things using ZiG and you give them the forex. What kind of law enforcement is that?  Pretending to be water so that fish can come swimming.

Who will fault the fish, especially given the fact that fish swim for a living? No-one is taking the ZiG seriously even before we set our eyes on its hard copy.

As a result, people are trading in forex. That includes government departments. Get into a kombi.

Go to Mbare Musika or Egodini in Bulawayo. Try to pickpocket the president if you will. You will find the US dollar and SA rand everywhere. Nothing ZiG about it.

So, why do the fake thinkers and strategists in government think people will all of a sudden resist the temptation to use the US dollar when just about everything is in US dollars and the rand?

When the fuel the police and CIO are is using to deploy their operatives is bought in US dollars and the passports that they need to go and import the fuel are sold in US dollars, let alone the fact that a son of a top politician is the one running the passport tender?

Where is the logic of pretending to be bushes so that locusts can land on you?

A locust will have to land on one bush or another because that’s how things are; you can’t blame it for that.

There is a saying that says he who uses the same method over and over again to solve a problem but harvests failure is a fool. This is what the government is doing.

It is not the first time we have seen raids on forex dealers taking place. We have seen these sporadic raids take place for the last two decades, with failure.

Just what results does government think it will get this time around? Just because the name of the currency has changed to ZiG and there is a new governor at RBZ, coupled with an angry VP who thinks crashing people’s limbs will solve our currency problems?

I bet my last dollar on this. The more security agents they deploy to the streets and shops, the more people they are giving a chance to become money changers.

If it’s not happening already, I tell you, before the end of May, 98% of those deployees would have had a mind change. If you can’t beat the money changers, join them.

Chances of success against the parallel forex market are close to nil, and you know what that says now. Instead of wasting so much time, energy and money chasing after the jobless money changers, just fix the economy.

Address the economic fundamentals, because that’s where the root of the problem lies.

 *Tawanda Majoni writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on [email protected]

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