France and Africa: a matter of money

The recent hush-hush between Italy and France about immigration from Africa stirred many discussions in the ‘net, with a whole lot of rage and indignation for the harsh words used by the French President and other people related to the French authorities against Italy.

When it comes to Africa and to the complex history between African countries and the former European powers the name of France stands out for a decision made in 1945, right after the Bretton Woods Agreements. They created two brand new currencies, named CFA Franc and CFP Franc, for their colonies with a fixed exchange with the French Franc. The former was created for the African colonies, the latter for the overseas territories (French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna). To add a layer of bureaucratic redundancy, CFA Franc was split in West African Franc and Central African Franc.

The post-WWII French economy was a wreck in 1945, add the massive devaluation of the national currency due to the aforementioned international agreements and you get the picture. France used the economies of its colonies to uphold its own. At the same time, they anchored any possible future outcome of their colonies to the motherland, tying the import and the export of that countries to the French economy.  The links forged between 1945 and 1960 were so strong to survive to the decolonization of Africa and to many leadership changes in the former colonies. When France entered the Eurozone, dropping the French Franc as a currency, the CFA Franc was tied to a fixed exchange with the Euro currency.

Today the CFA Franc is used in Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo (West African Franc area), Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon (Central African Franc area). As you may see, it’s quite a big chunk of the African continent. Many of the aforementioned countries are highly dependent on the economic exchange with France and it’s not a surprise that the European country got the upper hand.

Each African country got important resources such as cotton (Benin), minerals including gold (Burkina Faso), transit trade (Guinea-Bissau), cocoa and coffee (Ivory Coast),  minerals including gold (Mali), minerals including uranium and coal (Niger), oil (Niger), chemicals and minerals (Senegal), minerals including phosphate (Togo), coffee and tobacco (Cameroon), diamonds (Central African Republic), oil (Chad), oil and diamonds (Republic of the Congo), oil (Equatorial Guinea) and oil again (Gabon).  Said countries are also preferred export markets for the French defense industries, not to mention the fact that they are precious allies in the African-based organizations.

It’s easy to say that having a currency pegged to the Eurozone could not be the best choice for developing countries, even in the best conditions. The dominating presence of French state-backed industries such Areva is also a strong factor in such countries, not to mention the political influence (maybe a better definition could be “strong arm policy”?) exerted from France.

The most evident consequence of this strategy is that France gets a net profit each year from its former colonies (plus Guinea Bissau, that was a former Spanish colony), this is hardly fair for a country that posed itself as a champion of the African causes.

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