DRC – Keep Your Francs Clean

The BBC ran an interesting story yesterday about a new Kinshasa campaign to clean up the country’s dirty cash and restore faith in the Congolese Franc currency (CDF). According to the article,

“The authorities think that if people can learn to love their francs, they will also have more respect for the national economy.”

This seems like an obvious idea. I remember once receiving change in a large bundle of 50 Congolese Franc notes (worth about 5 cents) that were damp, faded, and reeking of fish.

Even going out to eat in D.R. Congo can be an interesting adventure into currency quandaries. When the check arrives at your table after several minutes of deliberation and calculation between the wait-staff and the management, you won’t be surprised to actually have two bills. One for the drinks will be in Congolese Francs. The other for the food will be in United States dollars. It’s the same when shopping. Small ticket items are sold in the Congolese Franc (which fluctuates between 800 and 900 to $1 USD). The more expensive items (generally anything over $10 USD) are sold in dollars.

The BBC article also sites that over 90 percent of savings in the country are currently held in US dollars.

“The Congolese franc is relatively young, so many people prefer the older, more established US dollar. On pay day, they rush to change their francs into dollars.”

This all of course makes for an accounting nightmare. Keeping track of expenses on a multimillion dollar development project was an outright headache over the summer, when petty cash is frequently traded between two currencies multiple times a day and then accounted for in both currencies on official reports. Supervisors back stateside had trouble comprehending the system – why are you using US dollars? But in D.R. Congo, somehow the system works and makes sense…for the moment.


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