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Falling Dollar Brings New Life to Angola

Dateline - Luena, Angola, March 13, 2008

Editor's Note: The following is a fictionalized account of a non-existant trip to Angola. Any resemblance of characters to persons alive, dead, incorporeal, ethereal, purgatorial, conspiratorial, editorial, imperialistic, craven, graven, enslaven, or otherwise real is completely coincidental. In other words, I made this shit up, if that wasn't completely obvious.-- Waldo

This is a long walk for an over-used joke. With the strength of the US Dollar reaching historical lows, many travellers and investors are finding their dollars increasingly unwanted by foreign businesses (link). But the story is not all bad, as this reporter found on a recent journey to sub-saharan Africa.

"We can't get enough of the Dollars," said Kwele Mbasi, a resident of Luena, through a translator.

But Mbasi, who represents an unnamed human rights and socioeconomic organization, does not use the Dollar in the traditional way. Here in Angola, where the economy is growing at a faster pace than almost anywhere else in the world, there is no need to trade in what is quickly becoming an over-valued and worthless currency. Instead, he loads crates of the currency, many times purchased off traders and smugglers in the country's capital of Luanda for pennies-on-the-dollar, onto trucks and brings them far up into the hills, to residents scarred by years of civil war.

Luanda: Land of mystery, adventure, and crates of cheap money (Photo: Silje L. Bakke) "Our recent economic prosperity has been a blessing and a curse," Mbasi explains, "While those of us in the cities have seen our standards of living increase, there has not been a lot of attention paid to the more rural and tribal areas. Many of them do not have running water or proper shelter. That is where the American Dollars help most."

Indeed, upon pulling into this small village, mere dozens of kilometers away from the bustling township of Luena, our trucks are swarmed by villagers eager to get their hands on our "worthless" cargo. A short walk through the village explains why. All throughout the village, men were breaking open the crates of cargo and pouring them into vats with a gooey brown liquid.

"Over here you see how we have mixed the shredded Dollars with our own type of [paste] and created a waterproof roofing material. Before the Dollars became so readily abundant, we didn't have a good way to seal the roofs of these villages during the rainy season. Also, if the roof wears out, it is cheap enough to replace each year," Mbasi explains, "But the real advances have been in sanitation."

But how, I asked, could the mere introduction of cheap raw materials improve on the sanitation of this area, which did not have running water or a local well?

Its super-absorbant, and rain-repellant! "As you can see, we've stacked large quantities of Dollars at various points near the river," Mbasi declares as we walk the few kilometers to the riverbed, "We don't have to worry about theives or mercenaries taking it, of course, because of its lack of intrinsic value. It then provides the villagers with a ready supply of toilet paper, encouraging them to walk away from the village before defecating or urinating. We've been able to reduce the spread of disease greatly in these regions."

Why not just purchase these basic needs, such as toilet paper and building materials, and bring those to the villagers instead of using the Dollars?

Luena: A place I saw on Google Maps. "Much of our region is still a barter-based economy," Mbasi elaborates, "If we purchase proper goods in the city, and bring them here, then these villages becomes targets for attack. They will be looted so that warriors and mercenaries can trade for war goods. But with the Dollars, there is nothing to trade them for. It would be as if they were bartering with the dirt from the very land itself!"

With that, and a hearty belly laugh from Mbasi, we set off back for Luena. Our time here in the village was over, but the same can not be said for Mbasi, and the newfound lifeblood of this central African nation.

For WNN this is Payme Ineuros reporting.

Last Updated: February 12, 2012
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