This simple sentence is the very quintessence of the book. Fanny Pigeaud and Ndongo Samba Sylla explain the history, the functioning, and the consequences of the last remaining colonial currency: the CFA Franc. Africa’s Last Colonial Currency. The CFA Franc Story allows us – Africans and Europeans – to understand the immense importance of the CFA Franc for the democratic debates of our time.
Sylla and Pigeaud begin with a historical recapitulation. Like any other colonial power in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, France was eager to establish – or impose – its own currency in the conquered territories of Africa in order to drive the colonies into political and economic dependence. And, as the book demonstrates, France is trying to maintain its economic and political influence down to the present day – even though African countries have reclaimed their official independence.
Before the Franc was introduced, some African areas used their own currencies – such as the cowry, which was widely used in West Africa – and some areas were still not monetized. At the end of the 19th century France began to create local markets in their colonies where the only legal currency was the Franc – they also prohibitted the use of other currencies like the manilla in the ivory coast. In 1907, the colonial authorities forbade the payment of colonial taxes in cowries. Clearly, colonial taxes were an instrument of oppression and helped the French establish their currency in the colonies – which, however, didn’t succeed overnight but took more than 50 years.
In 1936, France abandoned the gold standard, which had been revived in the 1920s, and established a Franc-Zone based on the British model, which included Metropolitan France and all its colonies. Free trade was only possible within the franc zone, while protectionist measures were applied to the outside world. This meant: exchange rate policy and the approval of imports for the entire Franc-Zone were henceforth decided by Paris. Due to the massive devaluation of the franc after the Second World War, De Gaulle issued a decree on 25th of December in 1945 to reorganize the monetary situation in France and the colonies. The CFA Franc was born. However, the introduction of the CFA franc was by no means out of pure magnanimity, but rather to strengthen France’s own influence in these territories after the USA and the Soviet Union urged France to loosen its grip on its colonies following the Second World War.
The CFA Franc was established with a fixed exchange rate to the Franc and was designed to be overvalued from the very beginning. This was a major problem for the African colonies, the AOF (Afrique-Occidentale française) and AEF (Afrique-Équatoriale française), but clearly to the advantage of metropolitan France. […]