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My World: All millionaires and all poor

By Muyiwa Adetiba

A friend brought some Zimbabwean dollars home the other day. You know, the way people bring home loose change from trips abroad. Only these notes were denominated in millions.

His answer to a young relative’s question, was that you needed between half-a-million to a million Zimbabwean dollars to buy a bunch of bananas. He also described the extreme poverty in the country especially in the rural areas, and how he and his team of Christian charity workers were planning to provide he-goats and she-goats for rural families to breed and thus escape from the gruelling poverty.

Yes, their currency says they are all millionaires and yet they are all so, so poor. I couldn’t help thinking of the Zimbabwe I went to in 1980 to be part of their Independence celebrations. A Zimbabwe that was so luscious, so beautiful, so alive. And it’s all due to inefficient, thieving leaders who cover up their ‘lootocracy’ and incompetence by printing higher and higher notes.

It reminds me of the story around Idi Amin, the Ugandan strongman in the seventies. When told by his finance cronies that the country was running out of money, he simply said ‘print more’ currency!

Now I am no economist and I couldn’t begin to understand the economic merits for or against the proposed 5,000 Naira note. But I have been around long enough – From 20 Naira to 1,000 naira notes – to know that higher notes have simply worsened our purchasing power. Each time we had a higher note, we needed more to buy less.

If, as an economist friend once said that economics is about ‘common sense really’ (indeed most professions are premised on logic and common sense) then the proposed new higher note does not make too much sense.

Last week, Mr Atedo Peterside told us dismissively that it would cost more to print the lower denominations (I think he said 47 billion Naira) and that if he had his way, he would print a N10,000 note. When asked if it would cause inflation, he quickly dismissed it as ‘Voodoo economics’

Now, if the solution to printing less for more is this simple, why is it that only countries with high inflation and poor fiscal management  follow  that path? Why doesn’t Britain print a five hundred pound note? Why doesn’t the U.S. print a thousand dollar note? Who, Mr.Peterside is actually practising voodoo economics? And why is higher and higher currency usually associated with higher and higher levels of poverty?

If as Ex U.S. President Bill Clinton said of Fiscal Management that it all boils down to arithmetics, then maybe somebody should tell Mr Peterside and Mallam Sanusi – both Floreats that the figures don’t add up.

And Mr Peterside, where is that young, fiery, articulate writer of the late seventies who was usually on this side of the divide? Where is he?

I listened to his take on the fuel subsidy debate and the numbers. Like this one, it didn’t add up.

SEGUN BUCKNOR – Please get well soon

I recently heard that Mr Segun Bucknor,a prodigiously talented individual, has been ill for a while. My heart goes out to him and to all those who have been taking care of him. He was probably one of those born ahead of his time. If he had been born in these days of entertainment boom, he would have soared to great riches.

But he was born at a time when popular music attracted a different class of people and he had a pedigree that didn’t lend itself to that class.

He must have been a bit of a rebel to have even gone into music in the first case. Born into a respectable and conservative family, he attended a respectable and conservative secondary school. (I am told he got a scholarship at the famous Kings College Lagos on account of his high grades at the entrance examinations)

We adolescents and school boys stood in awe of him as he dazzled on stage back in his early music days. I was to meet him years later, when he came to write a weekly column for the Punch Newspaper. I had many interesting rides with him in his old jalopy where all manners of discussions took place.

I was impressed by his intellect and his grasp on a lot of issues. I was also impressed by his humility. I hope he gets well soon. And if help can reach him through the readers of this column, then this piece would have served a purpose.


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