Several African countries use the CFA. Photo: Reuters

By Niying Roger Mbihbiih

In December 2022, type "2020" banknotes of the CFA franc were introduced into the economies of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community by the Bank of Central African States, coinciding with soaring anti-French sentiments in the region and other areas of Africa.

A lot of frustration is attached to the continuous existence of this currency, seen as the source of economic control, exploitation and tension between France and the people of former colonial territories.

The currency was created on December 26, 1945, and literally stands for “franc of French colonies of Africa”.

Despite the end of colonialism, the currency is being persisted with and is currently used in 14 countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Central Africa, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Chad – and two more — Equatorial Guinea and Guinea Bissau — that were not colonised by France.

The currency has been viewed by many Afro-centric political scientists and economists as a carryover from colonialism, a reminder of the absence of economic sovereignty and a neo-imperial tool used by the French to asphyxiate the socio-economic progress and development of its former colonies.

A woman hands over a CFA note to pay for food during a fish festival in Abidjan in 2016. Photo: Reuters

Efforts by many to change this currency have failed, including the Economic Community of West African States' decision to adopt a sub-regional currency – the Eco – in 2020.

Root of all troubles

Parallels between the deplorable economic indicators of most of the countries that use the Franc CFA have been drawn, and the consensus is that this currency is at the heart of their economic woes and downturns.

When juxtaposed with other countries in the region after accounting for other factors, non-Franc CFA economies surpass those running the latter currency by a wide margin.

For instance, in various and consistent classifications of the richest and fastest growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa by the World Bank, only Cote D’Ivoire and Benin among the economies that use the Franc CFA reveal impressive economic indicators and robust growth projections.

The structure of the Franc CFA is perhaps at the root of the controversy and tension which surround its continuous usage.

Firstly, the currency is printed in France and exported to the countries concerned; secondly, monetary sovereignty is compromised; and thirdly, the stability of the currency is guaranteed by the Euro via the French.

While the French government has consistently denied these accusations and noted that the currency's continuous usage is entirely dependent on the will of African leaders, the emergence of strong anti-French sentiments on the continent due to this currency as well as other factors has persisted and grown.

Anti-French sentiments

The existence of the Franc CFA has been used as fodder by an increasingly conscious and Pan-African activist youth to fuel and justify anti-French sentiments in many former French colonies in Africa.

Anti-France views have been growing in recent years. Photo: Reuters

Political and human rights activists such as Kemi Seba and Nathalie Yamb have drawn attention to what can be referred to as the neo-colonial links that are perpetuated by the continuous use of this currency and demonstrate that the currency can be significantly linked to the stagnated development of former French colonies as well as a constant reminder of French hegemony and control over its former colonies.

The pot has been kept boiling by mistreatment of economic migrants in European Union countries such as France, French military intervention in Mali, Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic, and the unpalatable French colonial history in the continent.

In fact, the spike in anti-French sentiments can be directly linked to the recent wave of military coups that have swept across West Africa, especially Mali, Guinea Bissau and Burkina Faso.

During a public lecture to France's national assembly, a French parliamentarian observed that Malian coup leaders received more support from their people and despised continuous French presence in their country.

Indeed, tensions between France and the West African nation of Mali boiled over when French troops were asked to leave Malian territory, while diplomatic relations between Paris and Bamako were severed with the expulsion of the French ambassador to Mali in late 2022.

France's peril

Another scenario which revealed France’s dwindling influence in Africa occurred on 4th March 2023 when during a stop in the Democratic Republic of Congo his guest President Felix Tshisekedi politely but firmly reminded President Macron of the necessity for France and other Western powers to change their paternalist mindset when dealing with Africa.

Protests against presence of French military taken place in several countries in recent years. Photo Reuters

This rebuke which resonated across Africa and has emerged as an indication that paternalism from France and Europe will no longer be tolerated by the majority of African leaders.

Macron’s recent Africa trip- a trip which was aimed at launching Frances’ new economic, military and environmental policy as well as rescuing Frances’ battered reputation and loss of influence has been viewed by many political scientists as a flop for it once again revealed how desperate France needs to control Africa to maintain global relevance.

Russia and China have emerged as potential alternatives to French presence in the continent.

With France and Russia embroiled in the Ukraine war, it is believed that Moscow views anti-French sentiments in Africa as an opportunity to discredit France diplomatically and implant its military presence through the Wagner group already active in Mali, and the Central African Republic providing military and security services.

The spokesperson for the transition government of Mali declared in an interview with RFI that Russia had provided the country with important military hardware such as helicopters and arsenal to combat insurgents in Northern Mali.

Similarly, the incumbent president of the Central African Republic observed that Russia improved his country's military infrastructure with a consignment of weapons since those that the French had promised were never delivered.

It would seem France, at its own peril, continues to implement a colonialist approach in relations with sub-Saharan African countries despite the end of colonialism in the early 1960s.

The author, Niying Roger Mbihbiih, is an assistant lecturer at the Department of Women and Gender Studies, University of Buea, Cameroon.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT Afrika.

TRT Afrika