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Can these West African nations decolonise their currency?

  • 18 Nov 2019

The CFA Franc has always seen as a vestige of colonialism, but now eight West African countries are aiming to decolonise and start their own currency.

The anti-CFA currency protests in 2017 ( AFP )

Eight West African countries have proposed to withdraw their currency reserves from the French central bank.

The proposal would look to replace the euro-linked CFA franc with a new common West African currency: eco. The French-regulated CFA franc is currently used by 155 million people across the African continent in 14 West and Central African countries.

The CFA franc is currently used by eight West African nations, but its days could be numbered(Reuters)

The CFA was specially created in 1945, after the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement, which saw the world usher in a new global monetary system with the US dollar replacing the gold standard. The French-regulated CFA franc was for the French colonies of Africa, it is linked to the euro and its convertibility is guaranteed by France. According to the arrangement, described by analysts as a colonial relic, these African countries had to deposit half of their foreign currency reserves in the French central bank.

Benin’s President Patrice Talon announced last Thursday that the West African Monetary Union wants to take back control of its currency. Eight African countries including Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Niger and Guinea Bissau have reached an agreement to pull the reserves from France. 

"We all agree on this, unanimously, to end this model," Talon told French media last Thursday.

The move, if it happens, could also have serious implications for the French economy.

Decolonisation?

The CFA franc has been the currency used by French colonies since 1945, and despite the subsequent independence of several African nations, it is still in use. The system is seen as one of the last vestiges of colonialism and the CFA franc has always been a target of criticism. 

Talon said that the decision may take time, but it has been adopted at the meeting of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

"The injustice has gone for too long. It is time to discuss issues with France to clarify many things, to allow us to have our monetary sovereignty. We do not have it today,” Chadian President Idris Debby said during a media briefing last Monday.

An agreement was made to introduce a single currency, eco, for the entire region by 2020. 

According to the plan, as a first phase, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, which currently have their own currencies, will launch the eco. Then in the second phase, the eight countries which use the CFA franc will replace their currencies.

The eco first came to the fore in 2003, however, it has been delayed several times. 

Will it be any different this time? 

Nassir M A Doutoum, an Africa Researcher at the Association of Researchers on Africa (AFAM) told TRT World that as part of a decolonisation process, most leaders of African countries have attempted to realise moves like this in the past. Leaders like Sekou Toure, Modibo Keita, Sylvanus Olympio and Thomas Sankara criticised the colonial policy of the CFA, and some of them even stopped using it. 

Doutoum Said: “But somehow, the leaders who tried to give on up on CFA were eliminated or killed. In the past, African countries were not ready to realise it, however, today’s circumstances are different. As of today, the struggle against CFA is not just based on leaders and intellectuals, also most of the African public supports the idea.”

According to Doutoum, France has tried to prevent several NGOs in various African countries that have been protesting CFA and trying to raise awareness about the damage it does to Africans. 

There have already been protests in the past to say no to the CFA and the issue may be gaining even more momentum among the public. Doutoum sees that the developments as a whole may allow this attempt to succeed.

AFAM Researcher Kaan Devecioglu described Talon’s statement during an interview with TRT World as both courageous and divorced from reality as he believes that the statement was mainly political. 

He says that whoever criticises the CFA in the continent gains sympathy and support, but it is just rhetoric. He says every country has to form a consensus, which is no easy task.

How will France’s future in Africa be shaped?

Professor Ahmet Kavas, an African expert, Turkey’s former ambassador to Chad and founder of the Association of Researchers on Africa (AFAM), said: “Even France recognises the independence of the African countries which it colonised in the past, but France still keeps deep political, cultural, economic, and social ties with these countries.” 

In this context, Kavas stated that for Africa’s natural resources to reach markets, France stipulates the CFA (also known as west-middle African franc) be used as the mandatory currency in its previous colonies. He adds that to maintain competitiveness in the international arena and to sustain its current position, France doesn’t want to abandon opportunities provided by its colonies.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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