Saturday, May 16, 2015

It was all about the money -- the journey to Africa in 1997,  the house in Zimbabwe, shown here with me standing in the front yard, and then me sitting with my wife in the living room of that same house,  and the two of us standing in the back yard in a pose of domestic harmony as the sun quickly dried the laundry.

My spinster aunt died and left me and her other nieces and nephews some money  -- more than I expected, money I had not earned and did not deserve, so I went to Africa and shared the wealth. 

My funds never actually entered the Dark Continent  -- that would have been a bad mistake. Capital that flows into Zimbabwe does not flow out. It becomes imprisoned and subject to difficult restrictions.

I kept my account at the bank in Wilmette, Illinois, and withdrew funds as needed by the use of the local branch of Barclay's in Zimbabwe.

The bank manager, Mr. Moyo, was a Shona man, a political appointee, a well-dressed and over-fed man who knew nothing about banking, who was almost proud of his ignorance. "I am the manager of this bank. I have the power. That is all I need to know."

The teller, a nice young man in a crisply ironed white shirt, had difficulty adding and subtracting numbers. He did not inspire confidence. He looked at my credit card and withdrawal slip as if it were blinding fireworks from outer space. The look on his face was childish. I recounted the money in front of him,  to my satisfaction and his.

My observation was that Africans are not financially skilled, and for that reason they have very little money. That is a judgment I could easily make about myself, to be fair.  People who are good at earning money tend to be good at keeping it as well. I am not one of those people.

Money that goes to Africa leaves very quickly, almost instantly, to be installed in a Swiss bank. Or money that goes to Africa does not get stolen, it evaporates -- this is astounding, but the money actually dissolves and disappears from the earth, not even enriching the thieves who run the government..


Mr. Moyo, the Barclay's bank manager, was a Shona man. The Shona are the dominant tribe in Zimbabwe and control all the high offices and corporate positions. I would have to go into tribal politics to explain how that works. Leave it that Mr. Moyo did not need to know anything about banking, but he did need to know the right people.

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