Continuously Colonized by Currency: A Look at the franc CFA
Independence in Africa is an illusion for France’s former colonies. While the post-colonial era has perpetuated a picturesque vision of a , thriving, resource rich and aid-crutched ‘developing’ Africa, the remnants of colonialism are ever-present. The absence of monetary sovereignty in West African countries manifests itself in the form of France’s omnipotent economic authority, ultimately strengthening control over currency, trade, access to natural resources and capital.
The CFA franc, short for Communauté Financière Africaine (African Financial Community) was instated as one of two official currencies used in former French West Africa in a decree by Charles de Gaulle on December 26 1945. At present, 12 Francophone West African countries use the CFA, including Guinea Bissau and Equatorial Guinea, formerly controlled by Portugal and Spain. Using the franc CFA, the French were able to establish a ‘franc’ zone, much like the British sterling zone and Portuguese escudo zones whereby economic homogeneity amongst the colonies allowed for them to be easily manageable. The CFA franc zone is divided into two distinct zones, both operating under the same policies governing the CFA zone. Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo operate under the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), while Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Chad operate under the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CAEMC).
By establishing a franc zone, France was able to facilitate monetary integration amongst former colonies, thus allowing for the unhindered flow of capital at a fixed rate of exchange. Since the introduction of the CFA, the currency has been pegged to the euro at a fixed rate of 1 euro = 655.957 CFA francs. The French Treasury guarantees limitless convertibility of CFA franc into euro, thus maintaining control over all manufacturing and distribution of the franc CFA, which is printed in France prior to being distributed to the respective members of the CFA zone. If that isn’t shocking enough, France also maintains control over central banks of the CFA Franc zone through a board of representatives who reserve the power of a de facto veto. Without the endorsement of French representatives serving on their boards of directors, central African banks are unable to ratify any existing economic policies.
In the absence of monetary sovereignty, members of the franc CFA zone are unable to adequately represent their own economic interests in order to protect themselves against potential economic downfalls, particularly in direct relation to the euro. Following the 1994 devaluation of the euro, the CFA experienced a 50% devaluation in which the value of the CFA was reduced from 500 CFA to the euro to 100 CFA. Figures by the IMF have place African trade with European countries, primarily France, as accounting for approximately 40-50 per cent of total African trade.
This percentage is enormous, making economic growth in the CFA zone highly dependent upon the fluctuating costs of exporting raw commodities, as well as France’s demand for trade. As a result, the 1994 devaluation of the euro proved disastrous for West African economies, which now had to import double the goods in order to break even the profit they had previously enjoyed. The CFA franc zones dependency upon the euro is problematic as it entails complete conformity to any economic reform or policy implemented by France, and should France fall victim to economic crisis, the franc CFA zone will go down with it.
Since De Gaulle’s induction of the CFA into West African economy, French Presidents have been hesitant to address France’s ongoing possessive grip over West African economies. Yet the imperialist paternalistic undertone is ever present in French political rhetoric. French President Jacques Chiraq admitted to France’s dependency upon the African continent during a speech in March 2008, “without Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third [world] power- we have to be honest, and acknowledge that a big part of the money in our banks come precisely from the exploitation of the African continent.” While it is clear that high-ranking French officials and heads of state are aware of France’s neo-imperialist economic policies mandating West African economies, their reluctance to relinquish control is ever blatant.
During his political campaign, incumbent French president Emmanuel Macron expressed interest in renouncing French control over the CFA, claiming that the decision to assert independence from the CFA would be “in the hands of African nations.” While Macron has set a new precedent for Franco-African relations, both monetary and political, it is difficult to ascertain the legitimacy of Macron’s claims and to what extent the current administration will agree to cease their authoritative control over the franc CFA zone, which has persisted for well beyond 70 years.
Macron’s statements breaks the French silence on matters pertaining the CFA, yet many critics are skeptical of this promise, citing the previous forceful removal of African heads of state and political authorities who attempted to reject the CFA zone using military coups or assassination, as evident in the French mandated murders of former Togolese President Sylvanus Olympio, Malian President Modiba Keita and President Thomas Sankara.
Without monetary sovereignty and freedom to exercise economic will, West African nations confined to the French neo-imperialist play-pen that is the franc CFA zone continue to be subjected to the economic interests, socio-political delegation and geo-political governance of France. The colonial standards that France continuously subjects its former colonies to is outdated and based upon the notion that African countries are unable to govern their own economies independent of European support and accountability.
Reactionary anti-CFA movements have begun to outwardly denounce the franc CFA in an effort to spur dialogue regarding the negative impact of the franc CFA and ultimately rid West Africa of French neo-imperial grasp. These movements have gained traction throughout West African nations and in France through the platforms of activists like Kemi Seba, who has been arrested and jailed on numerous occasions for publicly burning CFA bills in a symbolic rejection of the French mandated currency.
Alternatives to the CFA have been proposed and are in the stages of development by members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), an organization made up of many of the CFA zone’s current adherents and whose goals include promoting economic integration among its members and establishing an African economic community.
Forceful deposit of African assets within French reserves presents as an obstacle to the ability of African countries to build upon monetary reserves within Africa that may be then re-invested into self-directed development. African autonomy and absolute independence may only be truly obtained through the rejection and emancipation from the ‘colonial hangover’ that the franc CFA zone represents in favor of a newfound and unifying currency that will foster trade amongst African nations and ground West African economies in African based central reserves and banks. In other words, it is high time we reclaim control over our currency.