HARARE (AFP) – Zimbabwe unveiled a 100 trillion dollar note Friday in the latest grim measure of its staggering economic collapse, heightening the urgency of a new round of unity talks set for next week.
Veteran leader Robert Mugabe and opposition chief Morgan Tsvangirai are set to hold talks Monday with key regional leaders in a bid to salvage a four-month-old unity accord, which has yet to be implemented.
The stalemate over disputed elections last year has only fuelled the economic and humanitarian crisis that has impoverished the country, leaving nearly half the population dependent on food aid as a cholera epidemic sweeps the country.
The Reserve Bank announced in the government mouthpiece Herald newspaper a series of trillion-dollar denominations to keep pace with hyperinflation that has left the once-dynamic economy in tatters.
The new 100,000,000,000,000 Zim-dollar bill would have been worth about 300 US dollars (225 euros) at Thursday’s exchange rate on the informal market, where most currency trading now takes place, but the value of the local currency erodes dramatically every day.
The move came just one week after the bank released a series of billion-dollar notes, which already are not worth enough for workers to withdraw their monthly salaries.
Inflation was last reported at 231 million percent in July, but the Washington think-tank Cato Institute has estimated it now at 89.7 sextillion percent — a figure expressed with 21 zeroes.
When Mugabe took power at independence from Britain in 1980, the Zimbabwe dollar was equivalent to the British pound.
For years, the nation’s farms, schools and health care were considered a model for Africa. Now 80 percent of the population is in poverty, 1.3 million are living with HIV, five million depend on food aid, and more than one million others have fled overseas.
A breakdown in basic sanitation and water has spawned a cholera epidemic that has killed 2,100 people since August and shows no sign of slowing.
Despite the ever-worsening crisis, Zimbabwe is locked in a political limbo following elections last March, when Tsvangirai won a first-round presidential vote and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) seized a parliamentary majority for the first time.
The MDC victory was greeted with a wave of political attacks that Amnesty International says left more than 180 people dead — mostly opposition supporters.
Citing the violence, Tsvangirai pulled out of a run-off election in June, allowing 84-year-old Mugabe to claim a one-sided victory condemend by western powers.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki brokered a power-sharing deal signed September 15, but the rivals have yet to agree on how to form a unity government, while attacks and arrests of MDC members have continued.
Hoping to salvage the deal, South Africa’s new President Kgalema Motlanthe plans to fly to Harare on Monday with Mbeki and Mozambican President Armando Emilio Guebuza to mediate new talks.
“They will focus their discussions on the outstanding matters in the implementation of the global agreement,” Motlanthe’s spokesman Thabo Masebe told AFP in Johannesburg.
Tsvangirai told reporters Thursday that he remained committed to the unity accord. “All I lack is a willing partner,” Tsvangirai said.
But he said he was not willing for talks to drag on indefinitely.
“At some point we will have to decide whether it is worth going into this government or not,” he said.