End of the CFA franc: A possible turning point in Francafrique?

End of the CFA franc: A possible turning point in Francafrique?

The CFA franc has long been cited as the representation of France’s economic “grip” on Africa and forms a central pillar of Françafrique – France’s relationship with its former African colonies. However, in an effort to move away from the controversial aspects of the region’s common currency, France and the CFA countries have initiated a number of reforms – with the former also pushing for the adoption of the “Eco” by the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA). This move would help remove the most visible elements of French influence; however, it is unlikely to assuage the allegations of French neo-colonialism that hamper Paris’ foreign policy objectives. 

Reform or Renewal

Anti-CFA advocates were able to score a victory in December 2019, when reforms of the West African CFA franc were initiated after decades of criticism. Key reforms addressing the most criticised aspects of the monetary arrangement included France agreeing to cancel the requirement that 50% of the reserves were to be kept in French Treasury and the withdrawing of the French representative from the board of the UEMOA central bank. Furthermore, the West African CFA franc is expected to be renamed to the Eco which had previously been frequently pitched as a common currency for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a political and economic union of 15 West African countries. Despite these notable changes, there is little to suggest the potential for significant change in France’s relationship with the continent. The currency will keep its fixed parity rate to the euro, guaranteed by France. Furthermore, the adoption of the Eco continues to be dead in the water. In September 2020, at the 57th ECOWAS Heads of State summit, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara announced that further economic integration was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The colonial legacy

The CFA franc zone is a direct legacy of French colonial Africa. It was established in 1945 in response to France’s ratification of the Bretton Woods Agreement that led to the devaluation French franc. It nominally refers to two separate but interchangeable currency unions, the West African CFA franc, and the Central African CFA franc. Despite their independence in the 1960-70s, many of the Francophone African countries chose to preserve close ties to France and preserved the usage of the CFA franc as a common currency – the pretence being the stability offered by the currency and a close relationship with France. Nevertheless, the arrangement has been a target of anti-French sentiment. A particularly high source of discontent comes from the African youth, many of whom are increasingly critical of African-French relations, seeing institutional ties such as the CFA franc as a literal example of their dependence on France and a legacy of colonialism. Criticism has also been found amongst fellow EU members, with allegations by then-Italian deputy PM Luigi Di Maio in January 2019 generating significant buzz.

Shifting ties

Considering the public criticism both at home and abroad, it is no surprise that President Macron has made major attempts to remedy the controversial aspects of France’s relationship with Africa. These reforms were clearly an effort to provide the most visible distancing of France from West Africa’s economic and monetary policy. Although it is an attempt to challenge the reservations to his France-Africa relations, they do not alter the realities of France’s position in Africa. Since the Cold War, the economic ties between France and its former African colonies have been greatly reduced, having been upstaged by other actors intervening today in Africa, namely the US and China. Macron has made no attempts to hide his desire to have Africa as a central part to France’s and by extension – the European Union’s – foreign policy.

To analyse France’s foreign policy in Africa, it must be understood that the CFA is the most “symbolic” aspect of France’s commitment to the continent and only presents a facet of the actual geopolitical basis of Françafrique. The major sources of France’s standing in the region lay in the linguistic soft power presented by Francophone Africa., and its military and security engagements in the continent. Almost half of all French speakers are African, comprising a population of over 212 million. The ongoing French-led Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region is France’s largest overseas operation, with approximately 4,500 troops deployed and represents the considerable French military presence in Africa. Compared to the multitude of ties France has to the region, a move away from the CFA franc would mean little in the overall relationship, but may serve as a significant symbolic change.

Going forward

Despite recent reforms by both France and members of the West African Economic and Monetary Union, the adoption of the ‘Eco’ fails to take root as the replacement of the controversial CFA franc. After various setbacks and roadblocks such as legislature proceedings in the African and French parliaments, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it appears the implementation of the Eco has been pushed back to be “within three to five years.” Although the Eco remains a possibility for a more “African”-led and focused economical arrangement for the UEMOA, the current peg to the Euro means that France would remain tied to the currency. This continuation of this policy has resulted in additional challenges to further economic integration between the Francophone UEMOA and Anglophone West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) in the ECOWAS.

Categories: Africa, Economics

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