Understanding the CFA franc

By Observatoire Centrafricain Economique Et Social

*THE REGULAR WEAPON OF COLONISATION

Just after the World War II, France was a down country. And soon on December 1945, the CFA franc was created, along with the CFP franc.

The true reason for their creation was the weakness of the French franc when France ratified the Bretton Woods Agreement in December 1945, and it was devalued in order to set a fixed exchange rate with the US dollar.

New currencies were created in the French colonies to spare them the strong devaluation, thereby facilitating exports to France – theorically.

French officials presented the decision as an act of generosity. René Pleven, the French minister of finance, was quoted as saying:

“In a show of her generosity and selflessness, metropolitan France, wishing not to impose on her far-away daughters the consequences of her own poverty, is setting different exchange rates for their currency.” – A big joke !

Gal De Gaulle French former president said: “Why being generous with these niggers, without rewards back to us?”

In fact, the CFA franc was created with a fixed exchange rate versus the French franc. This exchange rate was changed only twice: in 1948 and in 1994.

*DEFINITION

The CFA franc, Franc CFA in french means: French colonies of Africa. Since independence, CFA is taken to mean Communauté Financière Africaine.

It is the name of two separated currencies.

The West African CFA franc and the Central African CFA franc, and both are guaranteed by the French treasury, anyway, each country must deposit their money in the French central bank, at a level between 40 to 60 %.

Each of these two groups issues its own CFA franc. The WAEMU CFA franc is issued by the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) and the CEMAC CFA franc is issued by the Bank of Central African States (BEAC).

Since 1994, both currencies were pegged at 100 CFA to the French franc but, after France joined the Euro at a fixed rate of 6.65957 French francs to one Euro, the CFA rate to the Euro was fixed at CFA 665.957 to the Euro. The current plan is to peg the rate at CFA 1,000 to 1 Euro – a devaluation of about 35%.

Both CFA Francs currently have a fixed exchange rate to the euro: 100 CFA francs = 1 former French (nouveau) franc = 0.152449 euro; or 1 euro = 655.957 CFA francs.

Although Central African CFA francs and West African CFA francs have always been at parity and have therefore always had the same monetary value against other currencies, they are in principle separate currencies.

They could theoretically have different values from any moment if one of the two CFA monetary authorities, or France, decided it. Therefore West African CFA coins and banknotes are theoretically not accepted in countries using Central African CFA francs, and vice versa. However in practice the permanent parity of the two CFA franc currencies is widely assumed.

 CFA Francs are used in fourteen countries: twelve formerly French-ruled African countries, as well as in Guinea-Bissau (a former Portuguese colony) and in Equatorial Guinea (a former Spanish colony). The ISO currency codes are XAF for the Central African CFA franc and XOF for the West African CFA franc.

*REAL MONEY OR COLONIAL RELIC? THE CFA FRANC AND THE TRAP OF CONVERTIBILITY

The monetary policy governing such a diverse aggregation of countries is uncomplicated because it is, in fact, operated by the French Treasury ONLY, without reference to the central fiscal authorities of any of the WAEMU or the CEMAC states.

Under the terms of the agreement which set up these banks and the CFA, the Central Bank of each African country is obliged to keep at least 65% of its foreign exchange reserves in an “operations account” held at the French Treasury, as well as another 20% to cover financial liabilities.

The CFA central banks also impose a cap on credit extended to each member country equivalent to 20% of that country’s public revenue in the preceding year.

Even though the BEAC and the BCEAO have an overdraft facility with the French Treasury, the drawdowns on those overdraft facilities are subject to the consent of the French Treasury.

The final say is that of the French Treasury which has invested the foreign reserves of the African countries in its own name on the Paris Bourse.

In short, more than 85% of the foreign reserves of these African countries are deposited in the “operations accounts” controlled by the French Treasury.

The two CFA banks are African only in name, but have no monetary policies of their own.

The countries themselves do not know, nor are they told, how much of the pool of foreign reserves held by the French Treasury belongs to them as a group or individually.

The earnings of the investment of these funds in the French Treasury pool are supposed to be added to the pool but no accounting is given to either the banks or the countries of the details of any such changes.

The limited group of high officials in the French Treasury who know the amounts in the “operations accounts”, where these funds are invested and whether there is a profit on these investments are prohibited from disclosing any of this information to the CFA banks or the central banks of the African states.

This makes it impossible for African members to regulate their own monetary policies.

Three basic mechanisms have traditionally been used to control monetary growth in the CFA Franc Zone by the two banks operating under the instructions of the French Treasury:

· In the central banks’ operations accounts, interest is charged on overdrafts, and conversely, interest is paid on credit balances.

When the balance in a central bank’s operations account falls below an agreed target level, it is required to restrict credit expansion, generally by increasing the cost to member countries of rediscounting paper with the central bank or by restricting member-countries’ access to rediscounting facilities.

· Credit provided by the central banks to the government sector of each of their member countries can be no larger than 20% of its fiscal revenue in the previous year.

However, this tight control by France of the cash and reserves of the francophone African states is only one aspect of the problem. The creation and maintenance of the French domination of the francophone African economies is the product of a long period of French colonialism and learned dependence by African states. For most of francophone Africa, central banks are given limited power.

These are economies whose vulnerability to an increasingly globalised economy is increasing daily.

There can be no trade policy without reference to currency; there can be no investment without reference to reserves.

The politicians and parties elected to promote growth, reform, changes in trade and fiscal policies are made irrelevant except with the consent of the French Treasury which rations their funds.

There are many who object to the continuation of this system.

President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal has stated very clearly: “The African people’s money stacked in France must be returned to Africa in order to benefit the economies of the BCEAO member states. One cannot have billions and billions placed on foreign stock markets and at the same time say that one is poor, and then go beg for money.”

*IN CONCLUSION

France use of the CFA Pact which is designed to prevent these former colonies from developing themselves with their own resources is as inhumane as any condition being inflicted by any other nation.

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