Got back from Harare on Thursday afternoon. It was a great trip. The flight there on Sunday was on a Bombardier Q400 with 67 seats operated by Malawian Airlines and took about 45 mins. We got through passport control and customs etc and were picked up by our hosts John and Cheryl and they took us to their lovely home the other side of the city.
We had three days of very successful meetings in Zimbabwe. The main reason for the trip was to meet one of our existing customers but we had arranged to meet several other people who could potentially work with us to increase our involvement in the Zimbabwean solar market. We met with a couple of different financial institutions, a haulage company, and paid some speculative visits to several stores to investigate what was currently on offer to people. It was plain to see that there is a lot of potential there due to the fact that Harare is without power for 18-20 hours a day and that the current offering does not cater for enough of the demand.
The currency situation was incredibly complex. Looking on most FX websites is rather misleading. The exchange rate published on the ones I checked stated the rate as USD 1 = ZWL 361.90 but this is out of date. Investigating more closely you can find that there is an interbank rate published by the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank, which at the time of leaving for our trip was about 14.90 to the USD and that the currency is referred to as Bond Notes rather than ZWL. However, while we were there it rose to about 24 and then back down to 15ish. Our first and only attempt at changing USD into the local currency only yielded 9 per USD.
The rates were not the most confusing thing though! It was also rather confusing knowing which currency we could use. For example, in KFC the prices were listed in USD but they could not accept USD cash, only by card. In the Holiday Inn, you could get your bill in either USD or ZWL but the exchange rate was 1 to 18 so it was better to pay in USD. Added to this was the fact that the Bond Notes only came in denominations of 2 and 5 so paying a Z$ 312 bill in 2 Z$ notes was very entertaining. Sorry for referring to them as Bond Notes, ZWL and Z$, they are all the same thing. I was going to try to make it more consistent but then I thought I would leave it like that so you get some idea of the confusion 🙂
You can tell that Harare has a lot of potential generally. There are some huge properties, I guess built during more prosperous times. The business district in the centre of the city is noticeably larger than Lusaka’s and there are lots of tree-lined avenues which must be beautiful when in full bloom. We also drove through an area on the outskirts of the city where there are a lot of new buildings being constructed, though we didn’t see much building activity going on. One thing we did notice was the huge queues at petrol stations, probably in excess of 100 cars queuing to fill up at any one time.
Anyway, apart from the time spent in Harare we also had a trip to Chinhoyi which is about 140km north of Harare towards the Zambia border. On Tuesday our customer who is based there picked us up in the morning and drove us up there so we could see his office and shop. A couple of people had said that “you can’t go to Chinhoyi and not go to see the caves!”, so I managed to wangle a visit. The caves were beautiful, in particular the pool of clear blue water at the bottom. You could see several fish in there and it is possible to scuba dive.
So on Thursday morning we headed back to the airport and flew back to Lusaka. One of the first bits of news we received on our return was that the load shedding in Lusaka is going up to 12 hours a day and will be like that for the next 18 months!!! On Saturday I had no power from about 4:45am until about 7:00pm and then today from about 7:00am until 8:45pm. I heard that back home in Gibraltar there was a power cut for a couple of hours, I’d take that!!