Zimbabwe may permit the reintroduction of mobile money agents

Zimbabwe may permit the reintroduction of mobile money agents

In a remarkable change of heart, Zimbabwe seems to be about to bring back mobile money services that it once blamed for the country’s currency crash.

The aim, according to Bloomberg, is to boost the use of the new gold-backed currency – the ZiG – introduced earlier this year. As Bloomberg explains, the ZiG is the nation’s sixth attempt at a stable local currency in 15 years.

Although it appears at only to be a proposal from Zimbabwe’s Treasury at the moment, it seems likely that agents of service providers Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, state-owned NetOne and Telecel will be allowed to start operating in Zimbabwe coming weeks.

The agents will act as bureaux de change and help the public access small amounts of foreign currency for everyday use, according to Kuda Mnangagwa, the deputy finance minister.

He explained that users with an Econet line who register for Ecocash can convert from ZiG to US dollars or from US dollars to ZiG at the official exchange rate, in theory taking exchange services off the streets.

The hope is that this will increase the use of the ZiG, introduced in early April, and curb the unofficial market.

There were thousands of agents until July 2020, when they were banned from operating. It seems that agents for Econet’s Ecocash, the largest mobile operator, were accused of charging premiums on transactions and blamed for driving one of several collapses in the Zimbabwean dollar, though Econet denies this.

The move also reinforces attempts to eliminate street market traders, who the government accuses of contributing to its previous currency crises, although a number of commentators point to unrestrained money printing and irresponsible fiscal policy as playing at least some part in the country’s currency problems.

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