Thursday, December 04, 2008

Falling apart

The heading is not about me but Zimbabwe the country. Since I last wrote on the so-called "historic" powersharing agreement basically no progress in implementing it has been made. What on Earth made them sign the paper without first having allocated ministries and powers goes beyond me, I know I never would have.

So while the discussions drag on Zim is at an accelerating rate becoming a non-functioning country. Since a couple of months almost all shops are "licensed forex retailers" meaning they sell almost all goods in USD instead of zimdollar. The zimdollar has become so worthless we have stopped trying to keep count on the number of zeroes one is supposed to use while issuing a cheque. Once more cash is so hard to get by that prices for things sold in zimdollar have 2 prices: one for cash and one for any form of bank/account payment.

But this is still nothing compared to the more worrying developments. Most public schools have been closed for quite some time as the teachers find it pointless to go to work for salaries that are worthless. The health sector is now hit by the same phenomena, nurses and doctors no longer come to work. Public hospitals have no medicines or staff. Private hospitals only treat you or admit you if you pay cash upfront in hard currency. Unless you happen to have a medical insurance NOT issued in Zimbabwe, the local medical schemes are now worthless.

Thanks to this people with treatable diseases die. That is the long and the short of it.

Pharmacies charge prices easily twice what medicines cost in neighbouring countries. I can go on.

Access to clean water has collapsed in most cities after the national water authority Zinwa was formed some years ago. Harare has slowly got to a situation where some suburbs has not had city water for months. It should come as no surprise that we have a cholera outbreak with hundreds of dead and thousands sick. In the midst of this the whole capital went dry for a couple of days as Zinwa ran out of treatment chemicals.

The latest was when soldiers in Harare and Mutare lost patience with trying to get money from the bank (yes, we still have a daily withdrawal limit that is still worthless) and basically robbed and looted. Whether this is a sign of the troops finally losing faith in the rulers or a plot to declare a state of emergency is an ongoing discussion.

Welcome to the festive season 2008, Zim style

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Zimbabwe, Mana Pools game count

It has been quite some time since I wrote anything here. During that time Zimbabwe has seen the introduction of a new currency and the signing of a powersharing agreement supposedly leading to a Government of National Unity (GNU).

Well, they only forgot to sort out who was going to be allocated what ministries. So while they are trying to sort that one out it is "business as usual" - meaning basically no business - and the new currency is in free-fall towards any major currency. And we are limited to withdraw 1000 Z$ a day from our accounts. That does not even cover busfare for those who use minibuses. Or buy you a newspaper. Welcome to "Gonomics" (from our Reserve bank governer Dr. Gono).

Today we needed a bankcheque of 30 000 - to see the doctor. The fee for issuing one is 20 000... hurra hurra. Completely absurd. But noone accepts normal cheques any longer as these take around 4-5 days to clear, at which time inflation has rendered the money worthless.

To something more uplifting: the annual gamecount at Mana Pools National Park took place 12 - 15 September. Here a link with photos from said gamecount. Sadly I came home with a killer flu that downed me for the rest of the week but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What happens now?

Finally we see some positive developments on the political arena in Zim. If you have missed it: yesterday the leaders of all 3 involved political parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding that is seen as the start for negotiations in earnest to solve the political crisis.

The rather short and to the point text can be found here .

People here are veeery cautiously optimistic. It would not be the first time that the "ruling party" shows one face to the world and a very different domestically. So we all wait (sort of used to that) and try to find every scrap of news on the progress we all hope for.

I just hope they really are honest about this and that something solid comes out of this. We are sick of counting gazillions in empty shops...

Monday, July 14, 2008


If you don't understand that life in Zimbabwe is incredibly tough at the moment then I don't know what planet you live on. I am not even referring to the ongoing violence that reportedly takes place mainly in rural areas but just the everyday life.

Contrary to what one might think it is not amusing to be a trillionaire.It is rather depressing actually. We are now in a situation where neither the banks, the shops or any accounting software can manage the number of zero's involved in ordinary shopping. I also hear that neither MS Excel or Openoffice Calc can deal with quadrillions (or whatever you call if after trillions) since they have a max of 15 digits.

Let me give you an example: I paid for my internet subscription last week. That came to 2.25 trillion dollars. Now we have a problem: the card payment system kan only deal with up to 1 billion. Yohoo.... OK so I wanted to pay by cheque. It is just that there is a limit on 900 billions for a cheque. That would have meant 3 cheques to pay for 1 thing only. I ended up doing a bank transfer but those can take days now since there are so many forced to use them for all sorts of payments.

Going to do a bit of grocery shopping easily comes to a few trillions and we can basically only use a few shops where we are known and can use cheques.

The daily withdrawal limit (of cash) is 100 billion dollars. Last Friday that amounted to less than 1 USD in "street rate". For that I or Mia go to the bank every day...

On Saturday we went to Donnybrook Racecourse to watch some motocross and stock car racing. Paid entrance fee using a cheque and assumed that the bar/resto would also accept cheques. Nope. So we have cash for 2 drinks and then what happens when the kids want ice-cream or drink or something? You guess it, crying kids and an irritated father. We noticed too late that just about everyone else had brought their own coolerboxes.

As for inflation it is now so fast that quite a few businesses no longer can cope - by the time they need to re-stock the prices are higher than what they charged for the goods.

This will not stop until the politic impassé in the country is resolved. No matter who you claim won the second round of elections Zimbabwe's economy will not become "normal" until you get support from international organisations such as the World Bank, IMF etc. And that will not happen until these organisations, donors and others are satisfied that a credible and reliable government exists, one that they are willing to enter into agreements with.

So for whatever it is worth I hope the ongoing negotiations quickly come to some sort of result that we and the world can accept. Some interesting links: (download the july newsletter)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Techno blog

Just have to be a bit "over the top" about how well the latest version of Kubuntu is working. Now I have also added Virtualbox and can run Windows XP and Vista within my Linux environment without reboots etc., good for support to those who are using those (yes, I know they are the majority by far....)

And that means I can use one of the few apps I have really been missing, Float's Mobile Agent, to sort out phonebook and such on my SonyEricsson phone. In XP (works better than Vista) within Kubuntu. Great! And test whatever antivirus etc anyone might need, any problems arise I can take a "snapshot" first and then roll back to that later.

Yep, I am excited still after some 25 years in this business over stuff like that...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Photos from the Kenya - Zimbabwe drive

Just a few photos taken while in Kenya and on the drive back to Harare, Zimbabwe

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

5 days driving through East-Central Africa

Back in Harare after a drive with both ups and downs from Nairobi, Kenya to Harare via Tanzania and Zambia. Round 3700 - 4000 km in 5 days..

I think I can safely say that we experienced both the best and the worst sides of this type of long travels and the way people can act towards you.

The traffic situation in Nairobi is the worst I have ever experienced and I will be happy if I never have to experience anything worse. A kind of permanent traffic jam and it can easy take 45 minutes or more just to move from one place to another. Even though we started driving before 5 am to avoid morning traffic it was still tough to get out of town and onto the road towards the border.

Once we reached the border we got stuck for around 2.5 hours.. mainly cause the car we drove had to be "exported" out from Kenya due to it having been "temporarily imported" for such a long time. Waiting in the heat forever was irritating but one of those things you just have to endure.

After that we were making good progress towards Arusha over the Masaii-plains when after an hour or so we hear and feel that one tyre is rapidly losing air. Great, the first flat already. Get all tools out and start removing the flat etc. surrounded by a small crowd of incredibly dirty sheepherding kids.

And now is when the problems begin.. the car in question, an Isuzu KB280 D/Cab, has the sparewheel sitting under the car at the back. Using a hoisting mechanism one is supposed to lower it and then retrieve it. It is "only" that the whole thing refuse to budge more than a quarter round or so.The wheel is definitely not moving. Finally I heave with all might and - the tip of the lever breaks...

Now what to do? I manage to get the broken part out but now the lever does not fit proper and we are getting nowhere. I flag down a truck that is on its way up towards the border and explain our situation, hoping perhaps they have the same type of lever. As it happens they don't but they have plenty more tools than we do. One of manage to hammer the tip of the lever back to shape and then all 3 of us try. And we all agree that it is stuck and the only thing that will happen with more force is that we break the tip once more. Now what to do, we can't drive some 20 km to Arusha on the rim.

One of the guys come up with the idea that it might be possible to remove the whole mechanism with wheel and all from under the car. He crawls under and slowly but surely manage to undo all the bolts and Hurrah! Roughly 1 hour after we stopped the sparewheel is finally free for use. I profusly thank the 2 guys for all help and the amount of time and sweat they sacrifised for us. I hand them some money (tanzania shilling that we dont have too much of yet).

This can serve as one of many examples of the best sides of traveling through Africa and interact with Africans. People are often friendly, unhurried and willing to assist and help whenever they can.

Once we got the tyre fixed in Arusha (new tube, the old had more or less disintegrated) we continued to Moshi. The city lies at the foot of Kilimanjaro, unfortunately very cloudy weather with some rain meant we did not really see more than the lower slopes this time. We found a nice small hotel where we basically collapsed, worn down after a tough first day on the road. After a shower and a dinner (of course we got the waiter that could have been in Fawlty Towers) we crashed in bed to get well deserved sleep.

Next day was completely different. We just drive on along good roads down towards Chalinze where you then either turn down towards Dar es Salaam or up towards the mountains and the borders to Malawi or Zambia. I manage to get hold of old friend Darrin who runs a camping/lodge between Mikumi and Iringa and we made it our goal for the day even though he would not be there. A nice drive through Mikumi National Park where we saw giraffe, elephants and assorted smaller game along the way ended the day.

It is just about dusk when we turn off the road and in to Baoabab Valley. I had not been there since 2001 and I am well aware that it has had problems since but also that they started refurbishing last year. Was hoping for the best so that Mia would not be too disappointed.

Only problem is that the place seems totally empty! After some hooting 2 nice and friendly masaii guys show up, Steven and Jimmi. The situation is that the manager Eric apparently has left for Dar to seek medical treatment, the cook too but to get some leave and the "vice-manager" Oria is in the nearest village to get malaria-treatment.. OK. I explain to Steven that we know Darrin and he has promised us "the River Banda" for a friendly price (Baobab Valley Camp is right next to Ruaha River). Steven carries our suitcase down to the rather grand River Banda, it has got a huge bed and is semi-open to the river. Sadly no power as the generator stopped working and Steven doesn't know how to fix. We refresh with an icecold shower and chill a bit when suddenly the generator roars to life! Only nothing changes in our banda... I go up to the restaurant/bar area and find that Steven had got help from 3 gentlemen who stopped to camp for the night.

Too bad then that our banda is not connected - and that Mia finds a small scorpion in the handbasin. Hm. We kill it and you bet that the sheets were thoroughly shaken before going to bed.

While Mia with some assistance from Steven makes something with eggs to eat (once we fixed that the gas was finished in the kitchen) I go and check on the other visitors. It is hard to believe but on the parking stand 3 Morris Minor ranging in model from -49 to -65 (I think it was).
In these cars a company of 6 are travelling and planning to drive these oldtimers from Cape Town to London! Beat that! I gave them some information on Dar where they aimed to arrive next day and generally on driving in Tanzania (good roads, plenty of police, roadblocks and villages to slow your progress). Fantastic! Eventually I managed to find some info on the net about their MAD Odyssey.

Next morning Oria is back and we chat about old memories from Dar, how to continue to improve the Valley and such while Mia makes some breakfast. Then it is off towards our next goal, the border between Tanzania and Zambia. After much thought we decided to drive that route since we count on it taking one day less and we are a bit tired of travelling (spent nearly a week in Nairobi before starting the drive home). We get to the border as the sun starts to set and this is not only one of but THE most chaotic border I have ever experienced.

Luckily I know what to do, what documents to sort and what needs to be paid so in the end it did not take all that long actually. We drive on and are now faced with the next problem: where to stop for the night. Nightdriving in Africa is generally best avoided and on these truck- and busroutes definitely not recommended. I called a friend in Lusaka and asked for advice, he recommended the small town Mpika som 300 km from the border.

And now we sadly run into problems again. We had just passed the turnoff to some small place and were starting to worry over how far we had left, if nothing else because it was quite some time since we filled up diesel. We saw a number of buses that had stopped on the side of the road (it is by now pitch dark) and decide to stop and ask someone. Mia turns off towards the "oncoming" side of the road as the drive side is full of parked buses. She then sees a man in reflecting clothes waving frantically from the "drive side" of the road. Thinking it is police or something waving to her (you have no idea of the amount of roadblocks we had been through) she crosses the highway. From behind comes a bus that did not manage to break in time but hits us in the back. It is of course the bus the man is waving for...

Now follows the less nice side of people in Africa. Out of nowhere a sort of mob quickly gathers that are trying to get in the car, get me and Mia out and for some reason seem set to either steal or beat us up or both. It feels rather nasty and Mia is also very upset and trying to argue about who's fault is the accident. I manage to get round the car to her side and a police in civilian clothes has also appeared and is trying to calm things down. A bunch of pissed off buspassengers contribute to the commotion as does the fact that quite a few people are obviously drunk.

The police finally manage to quiet things down and we drive the car some 30 meters to a roadblock (why did we not spot that and stop there...).. After this follows hours of discussions, interrogations of the drivers and witnesses, various police get involved (the most senior notably drunk), negotiations etc before we take our car together with the bus driver and police to the nearest station, 45 km in the wrong direction. After paying fines comes the next problem: there is nowhere to make a copy of license and documents in the middle of the night. Argh.

After some discussion we agree with the busdriver to "codrive" to Mpika and meet the buscompany agent there. He can then copy the documents early next morning, give us the originals and then we continue. Fine, we get there, meet the guy, are shown to a motel where we crash into bed, completely wasted, at 2.30 am.

Following a quick breakfast some hours later we meet up with Peter at the fuel station. Now we find out there is no power in Mpika and it is said to stay that way - for 2 days until Monday... aaargh once more. Eventually we agree that Peter comes with us some 400 km to a larger city where he can copy documents and then meet his boss. We manage to copy along the way and then part with Peter. Once we hit Lusaka at the end of this day it is all about shopping a bit, eat some food and just watch TV and catch up on lost sleep. The last leg home the next day goes via the small Kariba Dam border, a very conscious choice by me as I know buses and trucks are not allowed via that border. Thankfully the drive is very non-dramatic and we arrive home in good order.

Having arrived home I noticed that 5 days in a car was an excellent way to mature a Gouda cheese we bought in Nairobi, yum. The children are still in Nairobi and will be home in a couple of days.

Zimbabwe is in a sad state and the circus surrounding the election outcome continues. While we were gone the rate for 1 USD fell from round 65 million zimdollar to around 115 million.. and a bag of peanuts cost 73 millions last I checked. A lunch sandwich with cheese and sandwich meat costs 70 million. Welcome to Ha-ha-harare, fun capital of Southern Africa.

Will scan and post some photos from the trip later!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Election fever, waiting and zimflation

If you have not noticed that Zimbabwe held elections for Parliament, Senate, Local council and President last Saturday you must either be off this planet or on a "no media for months"-diet.

So we now stand in a historical scenario where the ruling Zanu has lost the majority in Parliament, yet there is no celebration going on, no jubilations on the streets etc. Why? Because everyone knows that the real power in Zimbabwe lies not in Parliament (or Senate) but with the executive Presidency. And on the outcome of that election no official figures have been given.

So we wait and we wait. In the lack of information the air is thick with rumours from various coup scenarios to rigging to outright win for one candidate or the other. Did I mention negotiations between the 2 major parties? Just check or to find a few of them. The Herald on claims it will need a second run-off election and given their state as "official media" here that is what most people think.

If that will happen or is true remains to be seen... we wait and we wait.

In the meantime we are all billionaires. I kid thee not when I tell you that onions cost 20 million. Each. Imported but even so. A cheap lunch on the town is around 200 millions. We have had more cash-crisis than I care to remember - meaning it is difficult to actually find notes/cash enough for your daily transactions. A reasonably large shopping of groceries will easily hit 3 billions. I like the guy who waved a placard around in a photo "I am a starving billionaire".

The house is full of money that has become unusable, from 10 dollar notes up to 10 000. The kids play with them, what else can they be used for?

What does over 100 000 % inflation mean? One way to illustrate: end of December we were allowed to withdraw 50 million a day from the bank, roughly enough for a few groceries. Now we are allowed 500 million a day and that will take you just as far. Or 2 lunches or 25 tomatoes. Now THAT is inflation to you - in 3 months.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Some times the going is tough

Have been quiet for quite some time but have not felt any inspiration for one reason or the other. Survived a nice Xmas and New Year's though so am back now!

It has been a bit tough lately, is like a lot of things seem to be happening that are negative. Maybe I need to do something about my karma, if anyone remembers that old way of thinking.

My grandmother died early February, 93 years old. She was a lovely old lady that I was very fond of and I will miss her. Bless you Farmor!

Then I have been struggling with this system installation in Zambia and I can not remember a scenario where it has been so complicated or where so much has gone wrong in one and the same project.

I am now for the t
hird time since early February in Lusaka and still struggling to get this even installed. That is unique for least as far as I can remember.

Reminds me of Murphy's Law alright cause the chain of things that have gone wrong here feels like "someone is out to get you" sort of.

Have a look at this "thing", it is actually the sink/basin where I am staying.