Zimbabwean Dollars for Sale

You can buy a Zimbabwean one hundred trillion dollar bill on the street in Zimbabwe for five American dollars.

Zimbabwean Dollars
Zimbabwean dollars, including the one hundred trillion dollar note. Photo by Failure magazine.

By the time the Zimbabwean dollar was abandoned as currency in the spring of 2009, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe banknotes were virtually worthless, thanks to hyperinflation that reached an official annual rate of 231 million percent in July 2008. But these days, Zimbabwean bills which can be purchased: on the streets of Zimbabwe's capital, Harare; from vendors at the tourist mecca of Victoria Falls; on the Web; and elsewhere have become a compelling (and perhaps hot) collectible.

There are several eve-popping denominations to choose from, including the twenty billion dollar note, fifty billion dollar note, twenty trillion dollar note, and hundred trillion dollar note (all pictured above). In Zimbabwe, one of these bills can be had for just a dollar or two (U.S.), except the hundred trillion dollar bill, which typically fetches a little more. On eBay, you can expect to pay at least double those amounts, and perhaps much more, especially if the bills are new and uncirculated.

The irony is that Zimbabwean dollars are worth at least as much today as they were when they were legal tender the million, and billion, and trillion dollar denominations having been printed in the midst of an economic catastrophe caused by Robert Mugabe's corrupt and repressive regime.

In "A Predictable Tragedy: Robert Mugabe and the Collapse of Zimbabwe" (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), author Daniel Compagnon attributes the country's downfall to unsustainable fiscal and monetary policies the destruction of agriculture for the sake of political survival and the final plundering of all assets, including speculation against the national currency. In his book, Compagnon writes: "What needs to be clarified is not 'What went wrong?' but rather 'Why did it take so long to go obviously wrong?'" noting that from the beginning, there were many worrying signs of Mugabe's thirst for power, his recklessness, his lack of concern for the well-being of his fellow countrymen and women, as well as the greed and brutality of [the] lieutenants in his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

While conditions have improved in Zimbabwe since 2009 (the year Zimbabwe was #2 on The Fund for Peaces Failed State Index, Somalia being the only country with a less favorable rating among 177 nations), Zimbabwe has a long way to go to achieve a meaningful, broad-based recovery. This may explain why the longtime opposition slogan can still be heard in reference to the hated Zimbabwean leader: "Rob Mugabe before he robs you."