The Kwacha is the official currency of the country of Zambia with currency code ZMK. It is further divided into 100 Ngwee. Kwacha means “dawn” in Bemba and Nyanja languages while ngwee means “bright”. These word meanings allude to the slogan “new dawn of freedom.”
The Zambian kwacha was introduced in 1968 and was a replacement to the pound. The rate is at 2 kwacha to a pound (or a kwacha to 10 shillings) after Zambia gained independence from British rule. The kwacha value was at 1.2 US dollars when it started out in 1968 but it suffered from high inflation rates thereafter. In 2006, a dollar was valued at 4,800 kwacha. Since 2006 until present, the kwacha remains at relatively the same value.
Kwacha coins are available in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 25, 50 ngwee; as well as 1, 5 and 10 kwacha. All these are legal tender, but, because their value has diminished as a result of high inflation they are now not used in normal trading. One will only see kwacha coins given as souvenirs or keepsakes to tourists.
Kwacha banknotes are available in 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000, 5000, 10000, 20000 and 50000 kwacha denominations. Throughout the kwacha’s unstable and high inflation history, the Zambian government is forced to continually issue new and larger note denominations. Up until the year 1991, the banknotes featured a representation of President Kenneth Kaunda on their facade.
And since 1992, a new series was introduced that featured on the obverse an African Fish Eagle. And in 1989, all notes featured the Chain breaker statue on the reverse side. Zambia was the 1st African country to come up with polymer notes. Both 500 and 1000 kwacha are polymer-printed. Even though the 20 kwacha is still in use, its value is greatly diminished that most establishments will not accept it and round off their product prices to the nearest 50 kwacha.
For visitors to Zambia, it may be wise to limit your currency exchange to kwacha or to not change your money at all. Exchange only when necessary for your basic expenses since there is a strong possibility that you will take a loss when you change it back again to your home currency. Plus, many establishments do accept strong currencies like the US dollar. Therefore, it’s wiser to pay for your expenses using a more stable currency as much as you’re able.