W. Africa’s colonial-era currency dead—Long live ‘the eco’
(GIN) | 12/26/2019, 11:25 a.m.
(GIN)––A decades-long reminder of the years of captivity under colonial French rule was ended this month with the renaming of the colonial era currency––the CFA franc––to a name of independence– the Eco.
The announcement was made in Cote d’Ivoire by Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara. It was seen as an effort by France to reshape its relations with its former African colonies.
“The CFA franc is dead,” declared the French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.
The new Eco, to be launched in 2020, will be used initially only in the eight West African nations. The CFA (“Colonies Francaises d’Afrique”/French colonies in Africa) will remain in use for now by the six Central Africa nations, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
The new currency will still be pegged to the euro and guaranteed by France. However, countries using the currency will no longer have to keep half of their reserves at the French treasury, nor will there be a French representative on the currency union’s board.
The French-backed currency was established in 1945.
Speaking in Abidjan, the economic hub of the Ivory Coast, Macron acknowledged that colonialism had been “a grave mistake,” but he also criticized “the youth” for calling out the French for a backwards economic and monetary relationship with Africa. “They judge it to be, and I quote them, postcolonial,” he said, sounding a note of disbelief.
“I belong to a generation which was not that of colonization,” he added.
“The African continent is a young continent,” he said. “Three-fourths of your country never knew colonialism,” he continued, and called on African youth to “build a new partnership of friendship with France.”
“The question of the CFA franc crystallizes numerous debates and criticisms of the supposed role of France in Africa,” Macron said skeptically.
Macron has said he wants to dismantle the “Françafrique” sphere of influence with former African colonies in favor of more normal, business-oriented relations free of any colonial taint.
“France is leaving the governance of the whole system in west Africa,” a French finance ministry official told the Financial Times. “It’s a significant move as through our presence in institutions we had an influence on the decisions taken by the currency union.”
Opponents of the old currency say it prevented countries from devaluing to counter external shocks and has hampered industrialization by keeping the exchange rate artificially high. Some regard it as a useful arrangement—to the detriment of the poor—between France and the moneyed elites of francophone Africa, whose spending power is inflated.