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History Repeats Itself in Zimbabwe

New President, Same Old Problems

A man poses with Zimbabwean bank notes in the capital, Harare, June 2015 Philimon Bulawayo / REUTERS

In August 2008, I visited a hospital roughly 100 miles outside the Zimbabwean capital, Harare. Hundreds of patients lay in overcrowded wards and on makeshift beds in hallways and in waiting areas. Outside, hospital employees scrambled to pitch tents in order to accommodate the sick and dying still streaming in from the countryside. Doctors stood by helplessly, unable to do anything without the necessary drugs and equipment.

Zimbabwe was in the throes of a hyperinflationary meltdown. Basic sanitary services had collapsed, unleashing a cholera epidemic that would eventually claim thousands of lives. Two years before, in 2006, President Robert Mugabe’s government had abandoned the Zimbabwean dollar in favor of a new quasi-currency called the “bearer check.” But prices continued to skyrocket and zeros quickly accumulated on the bearer checks. Soon, the Central Bank was printing hundred-thousand-trillion-dollar denominated notes that could barely buy a bottle of soda. Inflation would peak at 500 billion percent

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