Sometime in the 1940s, a French Foreign Minister, Rene Pleven was recorded as saying, “In a show of her generosity and selflessness, metropolitan France, wishing not to impose on her faraway daughters the consequences of her own poverty, is setting different exchange rates for their currency.”
The faraway daughters were African colonies and this came after proposals to introduce a common currency (CFA Franc) for a union of these territories. Though Minister Pleven, may have claimed this system was for the benefit of the foreign territories, one needs to understand that Europeans have always harboured delusions of a “mutually beneficial colonialism” for a long time. Colonialism was looked at as a manner to help the “savages” of Africa achieve some degree of civilisation and that thinking is still prevalent. Jalata Asafa in the research paper, The triple causes of African underdevelopment: Colonial capitalism, state terrorism and racism says, “These countries used the discourses of the superiority of their race, culture, civilization and Christian religion to promote and justify destructive and exploitative policies such as terrorism, genocide, and economic exploitation.”
The CFA franc is the legacy of colonialism and no matter how anyone may spin the story, it remains more beneficial to the French than the Africans: a perpetuation of modern-day colonialism.
The Politics of the CFA Franc Zone: Financial Anachronism and Monetary Nazism
According to Bloomberg, no less than $20 billion in African foreign reserves is held in trust by the French government earning 0.75% interest. The deposits started more than fifty years ago when the then colonies had to send their reserves to the French treasury. Now, 14 African countries are giving the French 50% of their reserves “to ensure the CFA Franc in the countries remains convertible into Euros”. 12 of the countries are former French colonies and Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony joined in 1985 while Guinea Bissau, a former Portuguese territory joined in 1997. The Western African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and the Central African Monetary Union (CAMU) use the CFA Franc and policies set by the European Central Bank end up being implemented by both the Central Bank of West African States and the Bank of Central African States. The structure is so designed to make sure France and her European sisters have a decisive say in the affairs of the 14 states. As Julie Owono says, “…no decision can be taken today by central banks of the CFA Franc zone without the endorsement of French representatives serving on their boards of directors. This is financial anachronism. Healthy countries continue to be baby-sitted monetarily by their former colonial power. Fifty years after African countries’ independence, the monetary policy of the CFA Franc zone remains decided by France, depending on its own interests.”
Professor Nicolas Agbohou is also known to have called the whole system “monetary Nazism” in his book “The CFA Franc and the Euro against Africa”.
The fallacy of beneficial oppression
The sad part is Europe seems to have convinced herself that this situation is fair to both sides or even more beneficial to Africa. This is not surprising as the same Europeans believed every other manner of colonial exploitation to be a blessing for Africans. The IMF’s Anne-Marie Gulde says, “It is not that France is necessarily wanting these funds. It’s a necessary evil for them, in order to backstop the (fixed exchange rate) of the CFA Franc.” Using Gulde’s thinking, the CFA system which is an imposition of French monetary policy and French economic control is a blessing for the 14 African countries. A condescending Europe that assumes the big brother or big father role (since Peven called African states daughters of France) is not a new phenomenon at all. Oppression has always been justified as a necessary institution for the development of the oppressed. This is the fallacy of all ages.
Since the 12 former colonies have remained in this union for so long, they may have also started to believe that they have no future without France, a lie the West will keep peddling. The truth is Europe needs Africa more than Africa needs Europe but Africa simply does not realise her importance in the global economy. Africa should not be a charity case! Dr Charles Mubita, a PhD holder in International Relations from the University of Southern California quoting from former French President Jacques Chirac said, “Without Africa, France will smoothly go down to the rank of a third (world) power.” Many Western powers were built on the sweat and resources of Africa and her children. Denial of that simple fact is denial of Western privilege at the detriment of Africans. Denial is insulting the African’s age-old struggle against exploitation and unwittingly supporting colonialist tendencies.
Why should Africa care about the CFA Franc zone and its politics? Mubita establishes a damning connection, “Whether French, English, Portuguese, Spanish, Arab or German, colonialism bites with the same fangs and remorselessly sucks the nationl resources of former colonies. All former subjects are united by one fact: that we have no (or very little) control over our national resources and economy.”
Sadly, younger Africans have been made to believe neo-colonialism is simply an excuse by failed African leaders. Neo-colonialism is real and the 14 CFA Franc zone countries are the perfect case study. Equally sad is that some of the older leaders (the Presidents of the 14 countries, for example) continue to secretly worship the colonial master, plunging their nations squarely into the hands of the modern day economic imperialists. The pomp and fanfare of Independence Day celebrations is nothing if colonialists continue to hold the wealth while Africans suffer. There is no independence without economic self-determination. Africa should not should not play into Europe’s piece-meal approach to independence.