The CFA franc has for long been a tool used by France, a former colonial master, to cement its colonia ties with former colonies. There has been a resistance to this common currency, and not a group of young African rappers is challenging the existence and use of the CFA franc, arguing that it is still a remnant of colonialism and stifling the growth of West African and Central African nations which use the currency. Members of the African elite do not want to see the disappearance of the CFA franc.
A group of young African rappers released a song titled "7 minutes contre le CFA" ("7 minutes against the CFA franc") which is a total resistance to the CFA franc. It was released in Dakar, Senegal by ten African musicians from seven African countries. The main theme in such opposition to the currency used by 14 countries in West and Central Africa is simple: the currency is a remnant of the French colonial era and is an affront to the sovereignty of African states.
Part of the lyrics to the song goes like this, "Put a stop to the blah-blah. Away with the CFA. History goes on…A loud cry on our streets…" To the artists and their scores of followers, enough is enough and it is time for a change now, time to abandon the CFA franc. Their commanding young audience is resonating well with such a clear message of unwavering protest.
"We decided to write this song against the CFA franc because we want the general public to know about this issue," says Togolese rapper Elom Vince, also known as Elom 20ce, one of the initiators of the project. "The CFA franc will die and we will dance at its funeral."
The CFA franc is a currency used by the African Financial Community, divided into West Africa and Central Africa. For West Africa (West African CFA franc), it is used by a total of eight countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. The central bank is located in Dakar, Senegal. For Central Africa (Central African CFA franc), six countries use the common currency: Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, Chad and the Central African Republic.
Both currencies have been in existence since 1945, when they were both linked to the French franc. At present, the French central bank guarantees the value of both currencies and in return the African countries are required to deposit 50% of their currency reserves in France. Africans are not even in control of this common currency. Right now, one euro is worth approximately 656 CFA francs.
Armin Osmanovic, who heads the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Dakar, says that the CFA franc is undeniably a colonial-era currency which was created by France for its former overseas territories in Africa. "More than 50 years after formal independence, the CFA franc is a historical anachronism," he revealed to Deutsche-Welle (DW). He also added that the was an instrument of the so-called "Francafrique" policy of continuous French influence on the African continent.
This is what the young and rebellious generation is protesting against; a clear reminder of the grip that France had over African colonies and which it is still further perpetuating, dictating terms of finance for these African countries. Osmanovic argues that the currency is too inflexible and that it is being chronically overvalued. "That's why it's too strong and exports are being weakened because export goods are too expensive," Osmanovic said. Investment is resultantly stalled because of this.
To the elite, it is a different story altogether. They treasure the CFA. They love it. They will hold on dear to it. This is due to the fact that to them, it offers stability. They are drawn to its stability. Togolese economist Thomas Koumou argues that the fixed exchange rate of the two CFA currencies against the euro promotes stability, which is important for foreign trade in an increasingly globalized world. "The CFA franc gives us a degree of currency security, as well as protection against external shocks," Thomas Koumou said.
This stability comes at a price though. African countries are paying for their currency reserves to be in Paris, France. The loss is for African countries. The obligatory reserve assets held in Paris currently amount to approximately 20 billion US dollars (17 billion euros). "20 billion dollars represent a large sum of money for the countries involved, and the amount exceeds the gross domestic product of many member states," said Osmanociv.
With unending crises affecting African countries, money is missing. Recently, Chad's president Idriss Deby called for fewer CFA francs to be held in reserve. According to Deby, the money which is currently stored in Paris would be better off in Africa.
The question which will need to be answered is what is the next solution should the CFA franc get abandoned? What will replace the franc? It is a question which goes unanswered in the song by the young African rappers. The way forward still isn't there. This is a conversation economists, politicians, policy makers and the civil society should start having.
You can listen to the song "7 minutes contre le CFA" ("7 minutes against the CFA franc") via this link.
Header Image credit: Deutsche-Welle (DW)