BY PROF. AL MARIAM
On September 13, 2020, two days into the Ethiopian New Year, H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed dropped a thunderbolt on Ethiopia! He announced in an unscheduled, nationally televised address demonetization of the current notes and introduction of new Birr notes for 10, 50, and 100 denominations and a novel Birr 200. Within 90 days, the old notes will no longer serve as a legal tender.
PM Abiy said the new currency has been in planning for some time under what he called “Project X”.
Few people knew about “Project X” and even fewer expected demonetization. Those who knew were not talking. Even the know-nothing, do-nothing, empty barrel YouTube clicking vultures of social media had a clue.
Amazingly, in a political world that leaks like a sieve, not an inkling about demonetization got out.
Maintaining a complete information blackout on such a vital issue testifies to the extraordinary team PM Abiy has assembled to deal with Ethiopia’s economic problems and put an end to the kleptocratic thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The demonetization announcement came out of the dark and impenetrable night and fell on the “money changers” like a thunderbolt!
In retrospect, it should have been called “Project Thunderbolt.”
To me, demonetization is the equivalent of cleansing the Ethiopian Temple from the merchants of death and economic doom and casting out parasitic dens of thieves and thugs who have been bleeding dry the poor people of Ethiopia for decades.
Woe to the TPLF that stole and counterfeited over 100 billion Birr!
Woe to the corrupt money hoarders who stashed cash under their mattresses, in their backyards, underground vaults and secret locations and neighboring countries!
Woe to the money launderers who kept multiple bank accounts to conceal their stolen loot!
Woe to the tax evaders and cheats who secreted billions of Birr to avoid paying their fair share!
Woe to smugglers, counterfeiters, and money changers!
In 2013, I prophesied, “Meles and his worshippers have profoundly troubled the Ethiopian house and they shall inherit the wind!”
In a single act, a coup de grace, PM Abiy cleaned the Ethiopia Temple/House and cast the criminals that had troubled the Ethiopia House for 27 years like chaff into the wind.
I am glad to announce the TPLF is gone with the wind and into the trash bin of history just like I predicted in October 2017!
Why doesn’t PM Abiy starve the Beast?
I must confess one of the questions I am frequently asked is, “Why doesn’t PM Abiy change the currency? The TPLF is using the billions of Birr it stole and counterfeited to destabilize the country. Why doesn’t he starve the TPLF beast of cash?”
What I know for sure and remember is a speech PM Abiy made less than two weeks after he took office, which I documented in my April 29, 2018 commentary.
On April 17, 2018, PM Abiy pleaded with those who have sucked Ethiopia dry and appealed to their sense of patriotism:
… We have a big problem generating foreign exchange. I want to appeal to you now to bring back the money [dollars, Euros] you have stashed away in Dubai. We are facing severe hard currency problems. We have the problem not as a government but as a country. We want you to help us now. If you ask me why, [let me use a metaphor to explain it to you]. If your mother is sick and her children do not help her get better, it makes no sense for them to show up at her funeral. Our country is in deep trouble, specifically with hard currency. The government will do what it can, but I’m appealing to you to bring back the money [you have illicitly transferred out of the country]. It does not matter if bring it back from the friends and relatives you have kept it with or from wherever you have stashed it. You understand exactly what I mean when I say bring it back. If you don’t, the problem is not going to be solved easily. That is why we are coming to you and saying we are in big trouble, help us. We are not saying give us money. What we are saying is return the money you moved out of the country [and make it available for hard currency and help the people]. If you help us now, at another time you can say to us you helped us when we were most in need and you should expect us to help you [in your time of need]. You have to help us very much right now. [It is futile] for you to be just asking the government to give you [hard currency we do not have], you must also give back…
[There are many] Ethiopians who have stashed away a lot of money in Dubai and China. Huge amounts of wealth. We are asking them to return the money back to the country. By the way, the Chinese when their citizens have stashed away money outside the country, they use whatever power they have to go into those countries and get the money back to China. We have not reached that point, but we’ll get there. Those who are ripping off the country and accumulating wealth in other countries, it is only a matter of time before we get to them. It is only a matter of time before a proper solution is found… That money if it’s returned will alleviate a lot of problems…
Over the past year, PM Abiy continued to plead with the money changers, hoarders, thieves, and crooks to bring it back the billions of Birr they stole into the banking system and help the country.
No questions asked!
The crooks just did not believe PM Abiy.
They mistook his pleadings for peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, and love of each other and country for weakness.
They mistook his patience and tolerance of their nonsense for fear and lack of self-confidence.
They underestimated him terribly in every respect.
In August 2018, I advised everyone not to mistake the velvet glove for the iron fist. I warned, “When push comes to shove, PM Abiy will take off the velvet glove and everyone will see the iron fist.”
As I explained in my July 2019 commentary, “Abiy Ahmed means what he says and says what he means. There is no BS with him. He is a straight talker. He will say what can and cannot be done. He does not sugarcoat the bitter truth. He does not mince and dice the truth to make it more palatable.” What you see is what you get with Abiy Ahmed!
Behold the iron fist today!
The empty barrels who bragged about taking over government in “24 hours” are now cooling their heels in jail awaiting justice.
Behold the thunderbolt today!
The crooks and thieves who stole billions from the Ethiopian people can now use their demonetized currency for read end wiping purposes in the bathroom.
Well, the money changers, counterfeiters, thieves, smugglers, tax cheats and scumbag residents of Axum Hotel in Mekele now know “what time it is.”
Outta luck, outta ideas, outta cash, outta hope, they know it is time to pack it up and crawl under the rocks from whence they escaped in May 1991.
Bleeding Ethiopia Dry
I have always been concerned about corruption and capital flight from Ethiopia.
I first wrote about it in my December 2011 commentary, “Ethiopia: The Art of Bleeding a Country Dry”.
Global Financial Integrity in 2009 reported, “The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage.”
Ethiopia lost USD 11.7 billion in illegal capital flight from 2000 through 2009. Net official development assistance (ODA) to Ethiopia in 2009 totalled USD 3.8 billion.
Illicit financial flows out of Ethiopia “nearly doubled to US$3.26 billion in 2009 over the previous year, with corruption, kickbacks and bribery accounting for the vast majority of that increase.”
The annual average outflow from Ethiopia for the period 2008–2012 was US$3.55 billion. During same period, “Ethiopia’s illicit outflows were 1,355 percent of the foreign direct investment flowing into the country.”
A 2016 study showed the “stock of capital flight from Ethiopia stood at $29.9 billion in 2010,including interest earnings on past outflows, which is well above the stock of external debt of $7 billion in 2010.”
In 2017, the European Union listed Ethiopia as a major criminal center for money laundering on the African continent and subjected money originating in Ethiopia to strict banking scrutiny.
PM Abiy explained demonetization is needed now for a whole host of reasons:
1) salvage the “fractured economy which we inherited, a situation where the country had not enough money to make payments for the civil servants”;
2) reduce the significant budget deficit and bring about a sustainable level of debt;
3) increase national savings;
4) bring into circulation untaxed, unaccounted money and reduce tax evasion;
5) eliminate the illegal foreign exchange currency market;
6) eliminate the rampant problem of hoarding and counterfeit/fake notes;
7) fight inflation;
8) reduce capital flight and illicit financial flows;
9) prepare the way to transition to digital economy
10) increase the liquidity of banks and
11) reduce overall financial and banking corruption.
There is evidence to support demonetization by effectively forcing people to deposit their cash in the banks instead of stashing it at home could increase national savings which in turn could enable banks to lend more for investment purposes and sustain long-term productivity. It could also lead to the creation of a “savings investment culture”. Indeed, China’s extraordinary trade surpluses are directly linked to high savings rates which are used to finance investment.
A 2017 study of demonetization in India in 2016 showed in the first year “excess bank deposit growth following demonetization has been in the range of 3.0-4.7 percentage points” and if sustained could have “beneficial impact in the form of financialisation of savings.” With more savings and investments, government receives more taxes which can finance more development projects.
Ethiopian banks have been facing liquidity problems for some time now. Over the past year, “most of the commercial and private banks in the country have faced a shortage of cash and are having difficulty in processing transactions that involve larger sums of money.” Demonetization could increase the liquidity of banks by increasing the supply of cash for banks to meet short-term business and financial obligations. Local banks have long called for demonetization to increase liquidity and Ethiopia’s Bankers Association has complained over 113 billion Ethiopian birr circulates outside of the formal banking system.
Inflation continues to be a serious economic challenge. Between October 2019 and August 2020, inflation rate has fluctuated between 18.6 – 20%. On the other hand, the money supply has been increasing by 20% annually over the past decade and half last 15 years “from 104.4 billion Ethiopian birr to almost 1 trillion birr this year.”
Demonetization could be a transitional mechanism for Ethiopia to invent a cashless economy by increasing the demand for electronic payments and debit cards replacing cash-based transactions.
The evidence on the critical importance of digital banking is irrefutable. “In East African countries including Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, mobile money is already the currency of choice for purchases ranging from buying a newspaper to paying hospital bills…” There is no reason why Ethiopia cannot join the other East African countries in making mobile money the currency of choice in the next two years.
Preliminary evidence from India’s demonetization suggests the potential for increased collection of taxes. India’s tax department has gone “after individuals and businesses that deposited lots of cash in corporate accounts.”
An analysis of the impact of demonetization on terror and antisocial activities in India argued, “demonetization has badly affected terror financing in the country. Underground operatives always store money in the form of big currency notes, and the most effect of demonetization is on those who had huge reserves of notes for unknown reasons or ventures. It is also a great step to curb the circulation of fake currency notes in India and those terror funding modules. This will prove as a severe blow and for a few years India will get relief from such anti-social activities.”
It is a public secret that the TPLF has been behind the terrorism, including the killing of Artiste Haachalu Hundessa, throughout Ethiopia, displacement of large populations through ethnic conflict and general effort to destabilize the country. It is also no secret that the TPLF has been printing counterfeit money and has used stolen and counterfeit currency to destabilize the country.
According to a 2007 Wikileaks, Ethiopia is one of the central locations for counterfeiting of U.S. dollars. In 2017, Ethiopia was listed as venue of money laundering by the European Union and any money originating in Ethiopia would be subjected to the highest level of financial scrutiny. In June 2020, over 77, 500 counterfeit Ethiopian currency was seized in Adama City, not far from Addis Ababa. In November 2019, a group of counterfeiters were arrested in Addis Ababa with chemicals and paper. In May 2020, Ethiopian security officials arrested six foreign criminals who tried to steal US$110M from an American citizen using wire transfer. There were reports last week of seizures of 26 million Birr in Western Ethiopia and hundreds of thousands of Birr in Bahr Dar and Diredawa. In the past week, various reports on the arrest of counterfeiters have surfaced in the media. A week ago, a passenger headed for Ethiopia was detained for carrying USD 99,000 at Dulles Airport.
Basic facts about demonetization
People will have three months to exchange the old currency for new ones.
The new and old notes will remain in circulation for the next 90 days after which time the old 100, 50, and 10 denominations will no longer be legal tender.
The new notes have state of the art design, quality and security features.
It cost USD 101.2 million to print the new currency.
An individual may keep up to 1.5 million birrs (USD 41,000) but companies could keep more if they can document business need. Cash withdrawal from banks should also not exceed 100,000 birrs ($2,737).
Law enforcement are authorized to engage in asset forfeiture of illegal currency.
Citizens, including domestic workers are encouraged to report stashed currency.
Bank boards, CEOs and tellers shall be held to account for illegal currency transactions in their banks.
Ethiopia’s sovereign debt has been reduced from 35 percent to 25 percent of GDP.
Sleepless nights for crooks — “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
A couple of days ago, PM Abiy noted tongue-in-cheek the price of sleeping aids in Addis Ababa has skyrocketed.
The fact of the matter is EVIL NEVER SLEEPS!
Albert Einstein observed, “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
Ethiopia is undergoing economic hardship not only because the Forces of Evil are working day and night to undermine the economy and politically destabilize the country but equally because those of us who can do something about it are indifferent or do not care.
My reply to PM Abiy is this: When one wears a crown of thorns adorned by stolen loot, filthy lucre and suddenly finds the gravy train has derailed and come to a screeching halt, there is no sleep.
There is no peace of mind.
There is anxiety. Sturm und Drang, fear and loathing, panic and fear, restlessness, shakes and shivers.
There is only nail biting and pins and needles.
There is only waking up in the middle of the night in cold sweat only to be paralyzed by a monumental headache.
Or in the words of the Bard of Avon:
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude;
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. ― William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2