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Playing neo-colonial games with African money

By Jehron Muhammad | Last updated: Dec 31, 2019 - 9:13:49 AM

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Right before the Xmas holidays, French President Emmanuel Macron held a joint press conference with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara announcing the “end” of the CFA franc.

According to President Ouattara, the currency’s name would change to “Eco.”

France would no longer govern or manage the common currency of the Ivory Coast and seven other so-called Francophone or West African states, and France would “stop holding 50 percent of the reserves in the French treasury,” said President Ouattara.

Nothing during the press conference was mentioned concerning the Central African countries still chained to the CFA franc.

Ndongo Samba Sylla
During a phone interview with Africa Watch from his home in Senegal, Dr. Ndongo Samba Sylla said Macron and Ouattara were getting in front of ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West Africa States. ECOWAS was scheduled to meet in Abuja, Nigeria at the same time as the joint press conference in the Ivory Coast to introduce a new currency arrangement, called Eco, an abbreviation of ECOWAS.

Despite the announcement, Dr. Sylla argues there has been little change when it comes to French control of the currencies of its Central and West African former colonies. “I think this colonial relationship still continues,” said Dr. Sylla, a development economist and research and program manager at the West Africa office of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. He is co-author of the book, “The Invisible Weapon of Franco-African Imperialism.” In the book, Sylla and coauthor Fanny Pigeaud lay out a comprehensive case against the CFA franc, a French-dominated currency union that presently constrains the social, political, and economic prospects of its African member states.

“You have to remember that the Eco was initially the name chosen by ECOWAS. It includes the 15 countries of West Africa. This economic community had a plan of a single currency for the 15 African countries. And, in June (2019) they decided that this single currency would be named Eco, short for ECOWAS. And they decided that they would no longer be connected to the Euro, but would be a flexible exchange rate. It would be connected to a basket of currencies, but not to the Euro.”

According to Dr. Sylla, French-Ivory Coast activity began to unfold “two or three days after (ECOWAS’) decision.” President Ouattara flew to France and met with President Macron. “And they made this agreement in a very particular context, the same day when (ECOWAS) made their announcement, exactly at the same hour they were having their meeting in Abuja, where the heads of states of ECOWAS was meeting,” observed Dr. Sylla. “They (ECOWAS nations) were supposed to give an announcement about the future of their planned single currency.”

In addition, Dr. Sylla shared that this was a two way deal between Macron and Ouattara.

CFA franc

While Macron gets to “highjack” or delay the members of ECOWAS from tearing up the substance of the agreement with France and its CFA franc, Ouattara gets the support of the French president in his bid to change his country’s constitution and run for a third term.

Dr. Sylla, who will be traveling to the U.S. in the spring to announce publication of the English translation of “The Invisible Weapon of Franco-African Imperialism,” said, “This was a surprise because nobody expected that Macron and Ouattara would announce that this is the (new) CFA franc (arrangement). They were rather expecting that the ECOWAS head of states would say to us we would launch the Eco next year or maybe postpone its implementation for five years.”

If you do a Google search, you’ll discover many stories concerning the press conference between Macron and Ouattara.

You’d be hard pressed to find anything published concerning the ECOWAS meeting or the introduction of their Eco.

Why the Western media pretty much choose to bury this obvious discrepancy between the introduction of the two Eco currency arrangements is interesting. That this obvious duplicity by France and the Ivory Coast is not being covered in the world’s financial pages suggests the world of capitalism protects its own.

During his U.S. book tour, Dr. Sylla plans to shed light on the discrepancy between the Eco currency arrangements.

Dr. Sylla said the Eco announced by the presidents of the Ivory Coast and France will keep the “CFA franc pegged to the Euro.”

“France being the guarantor of the CFA franc will remain as it was. It means that the French government, the French treasury, is playing the role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the countries using the CFA franc. That means whenever their central bank no longer has foreign reserves (the) French treasury will step in and lend them the desired amounts in Euros,” he explained.

This works on paper, but, the economist said, “From history this guarantee has seldom been used. Because every time there is an issue France comes with the IMF to lend money to African countries and imposes (an) austerity policy. So that guarantee doesn’t exist … but saying that France is guaranteeing the CFA franc is a way for France to maintain control for this currency and economic system.”

It is also a way “for France to guarantee economic interest of the French enterprises operating in the countries utilizing the CFA franc,” Dr. Sylla said.

During a March interview on the podcast, “Money on the Left,” Dr. Sylla shared how the CFA franc histaorically used by West and Central African countries has never been recognized by international markets.

“Every time the CFA franc is exchanged against the Euro this has to pass through the French treasury. That means that the French treasury is the official exchange office of African countries because the CFA franc is unknown in international markets. So every time there is a conversion it is through the French treasury.”

CFA originally stood for “French Colonies in Africa.” By whatever name it’s being called, the neocolonial link still exists. And even though Macron has highjacked the name Eco, the printing of the currency by France, for the near future, will continue.

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