France’s Shadow Hovers Over the West African Eco Currency
The announcement by the Ivorian president - Alassane Ouattara - to discontinue the use of the CFA Franc by the eight out of the 15 member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and adopt the West African single currency - Eco - on December 21, 2019 was greeted by applause especially among Africans and Africans in the diaspora. To pundits, this was a move that could shake off the last vestiges of colonial era, and similarly touch off the African awakening. On the contrary, this may only perpetuate France’s influence on its former colonies in the West African sub-region. The CFA Franc - which represented an economic ecosystem for former French colonies in Africa - has had a stranglehold on Francophone countries in Africa, because of its harsh conditionality imposed by France.
For instance, in order to have a seamless convertibility and fixed exchange rate among former African French colonies, the monetary reserves were pooled. By this, France guaranteed the value of the CFA Franc in relations with the then French Franc. The corollary of this was the establishing of an “operations account" by the French Treasury. This account holds about 50% of the Francophone countries' foreign assets.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was founded primarily to enhance economic integration in 1975. This organisation came barely two decades after most West African countries had gotten their independence. But military interventions in politics in the West African sub-region made the organisation to veer off into a full blown peace and stabilising force across the sub-region, especially with the emergence of the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) – this became the defining raison d'être, unfortunately. Nigeria has played the big brother role in ensuring resources were available to the ECOMOG, though the role played by the Nigerian troops in both Liberia and Sierra Leone has come under serious scrutiny and condemnation amidst human rights concerns.
Another robust security initiative – Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) - was introduced in 1994 by the Nigerian government to curb banditry and cross-border crimes along its northern flank. The MNJTF soon drew and got the support of neighbouring countries of Benin, Cameroun, Chad and Niger. The MNJTF is headquartered in N’Djamena – the capital of Chad Republic. MNJTF remains active till today with its leadership taking a rotational fashion among member countries. While these arrangements were put in place by the countries in the West African sub-region, France gave its full support to the formation of the G5 Sahel which deliberately alienated Nigeria – a country that borders Chad, Niger, Cameroun and Benin republics. The G5 Sahel has 5 members – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The G5 Sahel is entirely an assemblage of former French colonies unlike its ECOMOG and MNJTF counterparts.
The hasty nature in which Alassane Ouattara announced the adoption of the Eco on behalf of the other seven Francophone countries in the sub-region only lends credence to France’s unwillingness to allow its former colonies determine their fate, economically and otherwise. It is noteworthy to state that the announcement by the Ivorian president was done with France’s Emmanuel Macron by his side on a widely press-covered briefing. Clearly, France has never been comfortable with Nigeria's influence in the sub-region, hence its support to the Francophone countries’ adoption of Eco without due consultation with other member countries of the ECOWAS. Considering the fact that the Eco was hastily pegged to the Euro reminiscent of the way the CFA Franc was pegged to the French Franc. This simply implies that any other ECOWAS member thereafter will have to queue up behind the 8 Francophone countries, and get by with whatever conditionality set by France.
The Nigerian government played into the hands of France when it closed its borders. This has brought untold hardship to countries in the sub-region - and almost put paid the realisation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) - especially Benin, Togo, Ghana and Niger. Most of Nigeria's neighbouring countries have abused one of the articles of ECOWAS – free movement of goods among member nations – as conduit for dumping goods from mostly Asia into Nigeria thereby killing Nigeria’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors. In addition to smuggling activities on Nigeria’s porous borders. However, the Nigerian government’s unyielding posture especially despite calls by leaders of these countries served as a perfect launching pad for the Eco with or without Nigeria.
The hasty adoption of the Eco by the eight Francophone countries has a lot of wide ranging implications. First, the economic dynamics and prerogative of the ECOWAS member states are at variance. For instance, when oil prices shoot up, Nigeria smiles to the bank. However, for member countries without oil deposits, this sort of news is quite destabilising to them – both at microeconomic and macroeconomic levels. Two, negotiating with member countries that act either as vassals or satrapies when the Eco is fully launched will likely suffer setbacks as member countries may have to seek clearance from their former colonial masters before taking decisions. And three, the expanding activities of the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) in the sub-region calls for more military cohesion and intelligence-sharing among member countries more than ever before.
Obviously, no country with a colonial past – be it Great Britain, France, Portugal, Spain, etc. – should be allowed to superintend, remotely or otherwise, over regional trade or single currency agreement. Interference by former colonial masters will undoubtedly breed unhealthy nationalistic fervour and ideologues across former colonies.