By Sofia Christensen
Protesters gathered in several West African capitals over the weekend to demand their countries abandon the CFA franc in favour of a common African currency. Passions over the issue have been reignited since Senegal arrested and expelled an activist for burning a CFA bill at a rally last month.
The Pan-African Emergencies group called for the protest. Senegal recently expelled the movement’s founder, French-Beninese activist Kemi Seba, after he burned a 5,000 CFA note during a rally in Dakar in August.
France created the CFA in the 1940s for its African colonies. The CFA is pegged to the euro and guaranteed by national currency reserves deposited with the French treasury. Senegal is one of 14 countries in West and Central Africa’s two monetary unions still using the CFA.
At Dakar’s bustling Marche Tilene, many traders are interested in the debate, though the arguments remain more emotional than economic.
“It is not an African currency, so we consider it a Nazi currency imposed by our coloniser,” said trader Adama Badiane.
Shop owner Mariama Seydi also favours a new currency. “I would like Senegal to have its own currency,” she said. “In the same way as we used to talk about the French franc, I would like us to say the Senegalese franc.”
Moudou Gaye, the head of Marche Tilene, agrees. “We are Africans. We need to get organized and mobilised for a single currency,” Gaye said.
Advocates of the CFA say it has prevented inflation and instability. They point to the experiences of neighbors like Guinea and Nigeria as cautionary tales of going it alone. But critics argue the currency is too strong and stifles economic growth. Regional trade has expanded outside the eurozone to partners like China and the United States.
“When you have a currency fixed to a strong currency like the euro, it is easy to import. But when you want to export, your products cannot compete with other foreign countries,” said Ndongo Samab Sylla, an economist at Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.
Countries using the CFA are free to abandon it, but none of the 14 governments has announced any such intention. And for onlookers at this latest anti-CFA protest, this may be for the best.
“I do not blame them. Everyone has their way of thinking. But we will go nowhere if Senegal creates its own currency and leaves the CFA,” said Ahmadou Bamba Badiane, while watching the protest.
For now, the debate continues. But in the past year, the presidents of Senegal and Ivory Coast have publicly reaffirmed their support for the CFA, making it unlikely it will disappear any time soon.