Moving From The CFA Franc To A Common Currency In West Africa: Challenges And Opportunities

Translated by Nana BRUCE-AMANQUAH from Maïlys D.’ s French version

🇫🇷 (Du Franc CFA à une monnaie unique en Afrique de l’Ouest? Enjeux et perspectives)

Rebecca Enonchong, Lionel Zinsou and Kako Nubukpo. 


In partnership with the Conseil Présidentiel pour l’Afrique [Presidential Council for Africa], l’Association de Sciences Po pour l’Afrique (ASPA) [Sciences Po African Association] held its first conference of the school year on the highly contentious topic of the CFA franc on Monday 14 October 2019. 

Besides stirring up arguments between economists, this topic is of great symbolic importance after more than 60 years after independence for West African countries. This conference was an opportunity to hear from three different speakers in regards to this topic: Cameroonian entrepreneur Rebecca Enonchong, economist and Togo’s former Minister of Forecasting and Policy Assessment Kako Nubukpo, and finally economist and former Beninese premier Lionel Zinzou. 

The debate including interacting with the audience watching in Jacques Chapsal Amphitheatre along with those watching on social media through Facebook Live. After outlining arguments for and against this currency, the audience wasn’t afraid to ask heated questions. Major questions included and were centered around these two: Is the CFA franc a currency that has helped Africans? And to what extent will the eco be a viable alternative to the CFA franc? 


What are the differences between the CFA franc and the eco?

The CFA franc is the name encompassing two currencies inherited from French colonization that are used in 14 countries in West and Central Africa. Together, these countries form the Franc Zone. This article focuses on the West African CFA franc that is used in the eight member states of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU): Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire / Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo. The eco on the other hand is an upcoming project that aims to create a common currency for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and combine all the monetary zones in the region to create a single, stable currency that all of West Africa can use. 


Lionel Zinzou’s position

The CFA franc doesn’t have to perpetuate the process of underdevelopment in Africa 

Lionel Zinsou very much affirmed this topic. He argued that the CFA franc doesn’t have to a be a springboard towards under-development. He also highlighted that the fight against underdevelopment isn’t a question about currency but the economy. Regarding that, he suggested realistic economic policy for Africa and attacked the overly weak tax increases in Africa. 

Rebecca Enonchong’s position

Done with the myth of economic patronage surrounding the CFA franc

Rebecca Enonchong spoke in very concrete terms which was especially appealing to some of the audience members that were less informed on this issue. She started with asking a thought-provoking question: why are reserves of an African currency being deposited at the Bank of France? It’s necessary to end the myth of patronage: African countries that continue to use the CFA franc do not need French expertise. Furthermore, Rebecca isn’t convinced by the argument of this currency being stable because it is fixed to the euro. She also attacked the well-meaning French idea that countries using the CFA franc have the choice of backing out of the currency. The importance of words doesn’t escape her. For her, when French leaders say over and over again that “we’re open to discussion”, that has to mean that “we’re going to listen to you, we’re going to consult you, and at the end of the day the final decision isn’t up to us”. 

Kako Nubukpo’s position

The CFA franc: the risk-free insurance France has given to African heads of state against their bad governance

Kako Nubukop defended a position that was similar to Rebecca Enonchong’s. Nevertheless, in addition to thinking solely about French responsibility, he invited the audience to reflect on the responsibility of African leaders. The economist explained that between institutions and how well they perform are the incentives to perform in a certain way. For him, the CFA franc is risk-free insurance that France has given to African heads of state against their own bad governance. Besides that he warned that the 2020 arrival of the eco would only mask a transfer of leadership from Paris to Abuja. 

After everything was covered, the speakers seemed to be in consensus with a firm opposition against the CFA franc. One question that received a lot of applause was directed at Mr. Zinzou: “Why aren’t you angry [about this currency]?” The question was quickly completed by Rebecca Enonchong? Or someone else asking a question?: “Mr. Zinzou, when you talk about the eco I have doubts. We all remember Charles de Gaulle’s famously saying I have heard you. Isn’t the eco an illusion?” 

The conference closed after this question received mass applause, with all of us remaining skeptical about what the 2020 arrival of the eco means for West Africa. 

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