While most English speaking countries on the continent including Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Rwanda gained financial autonomy after ‘’practically’’ attaining political independence some decades back, French speaking nations of West and Central Africa continue to use the colonial currency, the CFA Franc, which many people, including political leaders, civil society, activists have tagged as a tool for enslavement, alienation and the instrument by which France controls its former colonies. The CFA franc defined as “Financial Community of Africa”, came to existence around 1945 after the Second World War. It has served as a legal tender to some 14 countries in francophone Africa still to this day. However, in recent times, various debates have emerged from different school of thoughts relating to the slow economic transformation and France’s dominance of some West and Central African states due to the continuous use of the inconsequential currencies, namely; the West African CFA franc and the Central African CFA franc respectively.
President Patrice Talon speaks out
Dismayed by the ongoing border war with the Federal Republic of Nigeria that has brought nothing but misery and poverty to the people of Benin, President Patrice Talon has stood out strongly to decry the economic misery of his country and other French speaking African nations to the persistent use of the low valued CFA franc. For the first time in the contemporary world, an active African head of state has openly decried the fact that French African nations have their reserve banks in a foreign land.
In a recent interview with RFI and France 24, President Talon outrightly announced that West African countries using the West African CFA franc as their legal tender want to be at the commanding end and decide what to do with their money stocked in France in a supposed reserves bank. These leaders under the banner of West African Economic and Monetary Union demand autonomy over the management of their legal tender. As per president Talon, he and his counterparts are at the point of withdrawing part of their money from France. In a statement Talon said; ‘’The eight-member nations of the West African Monetary Union “unanimously agree” on ending the decades-old model whereby their foreign-exchange accumulation is kept at the French Treasury’’.
Responding to France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, while elucidating more on how member states will manage its reserves, President Talon revealed that they plan to cooperate and disburse the money to partners in Japan, Europe, China, and North America. Even though it is not certain when the leaders will execute this deal, anti CFA Franc advocates have characterized this as a new beginning for states tied to the colonial currency.
As it stands, it remains uncertain how these countries will go about, given that they have a legal correlation with France, where countries are obliged to raise 50% of reserves meant for the French treasury. However, actors including economists and politicians need to come to the negotiation table to discuss the modalities in which the withdrawal process will take place. But can West African leaders raise the stakes to ensure they make their dream a reality? Doubt regarding this can only be answered with confidence if the leaders effect the partial withdrawal of the cash stocked in France.
West African Countries tied to the Financial Community of Africa (CFA).
Among the 15 member states of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, about eight use French as their first language, consequentially using CFA franc as their legal tender. As it stands, these eight-member countries operating under the West African Monetary Union, WAMU include, Togo, Benin, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Niger and Guinea-Bissau. Statistics have proven that these nations still lag behind in terms of economic development as compared to the English speaking member states of ECOWAS that gained financial autonomy years back. This is actually a worrisome situation. Money that does not help a country to grow is considered archaic and toxic, hence the need for both political and economic actors to replace it with a more stable and sovereign currency. This is actually the case with the CFA Franc that has done nothing but tied the economic prosperity of French speaking African states, according to economists and pundits to that of France resulting in the current economic stagnation.
President Idris Deby Speaks again
Africa’s leadership has gained boldness. After President Talon, the leadership of Chad made a clarion call on the need to relook or renegotiate the monetary agreements the West African nations entered with France under General Charles de Gaulle decades ago, which do not seem right in present day Africa. Sometime in 2015, President Idris deby declared that it was high time Africa eradicates those bad omens retarding its economic growth. He was quoted as saying: ‘We must have the courage to say there is a cord preventing development in Africa that must be severed.’ In 2019, during an interview with a pan African television, Afrique Media, President Deby reiterated the need to revise the monetary engagements linking France to its former colonies. Deby said: “It is a conviction for me the question of the CFA Franc. It is a conviction that is clear. Now, the problem is: is it the CFA Franc as such that poses a problem, or is it the monetary agreements that poses a problem? I think we have to look at both things. What binds us to France today are the monetary agreements that were shaped in the 1960s.’’ The Chadian leader echoed the need to tackle the weaknesses of CFA franc, the umbilical cord linking Paris and fourteen African states. He underlined; “May this currency become our own currency by destroying the agreements. We are wondering today whether it is our currency or France’s currency. And the operating account doesn’t make any sense. We need to remove this operating account. Here, I think that France is a democratic country with a tradition of justice. Injustice has lasted too long, it is time for dialogue to begin with France to clarify things, to allow us to have our monetary sovereignty. We don’t have it today.”
There is still much ambiguity if all the leaders under the West African Monetary Union will comply with the recent call to engage into new negotiations regarding the controversial CFA franc. The doubts come as a result of an earlier public utterance made by the leader of Cote d’Ivoire Allasane Ouatara branding CFA as a ‘’solid and well-managed currency.” President Ouatarra in a meeting with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, called for the end to all negative debates about CFA franc. Public opinion has revealed that differences in ideologies have always impeded the unanimous execution of projects in Africa by African leaders.
Many people both within and beyond Africa have expressed concerned over the continuous use of the colonial money that does not ensure the emancipation of countries in the CFA Franc zone. Activists, Musicians, and even political actors have stood out against the CFA Franc, branding it as a tool for modern slavery. In January 2019, the Italian government through its deputy Prime Minister blamed France for being the reason young Africans continue to embark on perilous journeys in search of greener pasture in Europe. Luigi Di Maio opined that the use of the CFA franc has slowed down the economic growth of some 14 African countries.
He said “France is one of those countries that by printing money for 14 African states prevents their economic development and contributes to the fact that the refugees leave and then die in the sea or arrive on our coasts.” People like Kemi Seba from Benin and an Ivorian politician Nathalie Yamp have stood against the use of cfa franc in recent times. Kemi Seba sees the currency as a remnant of France’s dominance ad colonialism. Yamp was quoted as saying recently in Sochi while speaking at the Russia-Africa Summit: “it is clear that after slavery, colonization, and pseudo-independence, we have only been granted the right to be free, but only within the French pen. Francophone Africa is still under the control of France. “
The debates against the CFA franc are inexhaustible as many school of thoughts continue to slam the currency, which favours capital flight and leave millions of citizens in French speaking African states in abject poverty.
Time to rethink monetary agreements
Time to act is now. During the second edition of the Africa Investment Forum in South Africa, the President of the African Development Bank, AfDB, Akinwumi Adesina said: ‘’Africa’s time is now’’. Of course it is now that French speaking nations, whose sovereignty has been ‘raped’ through financial dominance from France, have to act to stay off the web inhibiting economic transformation due to unfavourable monetary policies. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame recently said: “I have always thought it is Africa’s time, we Africans, we have let ourselves down. We are now realizing it is Africa’s time and we need to seize every opportunity to be where we should be. The main difference will come when in one place or another they are actually doing what they know they ought to, it is not just knowing what you ought to do or even what you are capable of doing, it’s another in actual fact doing it.” The entire continent awaits with enthusiasm the full execution of the plans put forward by the West African Leaders to bring back some of their reserves stocked in France to Africa. This will in return face-lift the economic trajectory of these states, indeed a great milestone and the drive for Africa beyond aid.
Article from AFRIC Editorial
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