France, the Eco and West Africa


Ademola Araoye

Ademola Araoye

The joint announcement of the transformation of the controversial France imposed currency union on its West African colonies since 1945 Colonies Francaises d’ Afrique (CFA) into the ECO by President Macron of France and Allasane Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire has generated intense and cacophonous conversation. The thrust of the din has been regarding the implication of the hijacking by the duo of the initiative of West African leaders for a common currency to be christened the Eco . These interactions have taken on greater urgency and salience given the almost instinctive qualified welcome to the usurpation of the ECO offered by the Nana Akuffo Addo’s administration in Accra. 

The rapid and confusing qualified reaction of the Government of Ghana to the birth of the France inspired ECO has been contrasted with the studied reticence of Abuja on the subject. Ab initio, let me say that on the basis of its thorough handling of the contentious Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AFCTA) and now the intervention of France in the birth of the sub-regional currency union, it is clear that some serious thinking is now going into policy formulation and capacity to meet our treaty engagements and obligations in Abuja. This is a departure from the culture of knee jerk frivolous treaty formulations and accessions that characterize intra- African treaty making and implementation. The maxim is well understood and digested in serious polities. Treaties are not signed to demonstrate good intentions or gain goodwill. A state must anticipate being held accountable for what it undertakes to live up to. The capacity of a state to effectively negotiate and thereafter  execute its treaty obligations is a direct measure of the integrity of its sovereignty. 

Ghana’s response

Nigeria’s reaction


As Nigeria is confronted with the challenge of the ECO with its potential seismic impact on the wellbeing of its 180 million people, the consolidation of political control of the sub region as well as the safeguarding of the cultural integrity of the peoples of the sub region, it is imperative that we examine the facts in relation to the yet unknown terms of the deal between Allasane Ouattara and his handlers at the Elysee that they are scheming to impose on West Africa. Meanwhile, the whole saga is directly traceable to Nigeria’s unmitigated strategic policy failure in the Ivorian crisis barely a decade ago. The lesson to be adduced is that there are indeed consequences for policy preferences pursued by a state. There is always a price to pay for ill thought policy options that almost always come back to haunt. Let’s start with France’s latest gambit in West Africa.

The challenge of the attempt of France to deepen its engagement in Africa is consistent with its self acknowledged long term strategic interests to secure its beefsteak in Africa. With its role as the central bank of 15 plus states in Africa under the CFA imposition, France is the world’s 7th largest economy. The Italian Foreign Minister has suggested that without the historic and continued plundering of Africa France would be about the 18th largest economy in the world. This imperative of losing its African cheap cash mines has been compounded by threatening and emerged global challenges, especially posed by new powerful forces and,in particular, in the economic realm. This daunting reality is captured in the policy outcome of a recent review of France’s African policy. The review concluded that any initiative by Africa’s 54 fictive sovereign states and economies to integrate themselves in any new configurations poses a threat to France’s national interest, including its international standing. The implication is that any structural consolidation that enhances the viability or global competitiveness of Africa or any of its collective sub units is unacceptable. Any move in that direction must be sabotaged or out rightly compromised.

Accordingly, France has been in the forefront of sabotaging the effectiveness of Africa’s apex multilateral institutions. Informed analysts perceive the compromise of the integrity of Africa’s apex bodies through infiltration of their hierarchies with certified proxies of  France and plain spies taking directives from Paris. A significant number of Africa’s leadership report to the Elysee.

These proxies, in turn, ensure that African nominees to international organizations and pivotal African institutions toe the French line. This hegemonic intrusion is not limited to the francophone universe in Africa. Since Nigeria does not have a history of thorough scrutiny of the motives of its leaders in their policy preferences, Nigeria may have been a victim of this pervasive clandestine influence at some point. In relation to the ECO, questions may be raised as to the level and degree of the involvement of other leaders of francophone West Africa in the decision to appropriate the ECO as the new name of the CFA. And what was role of Allasane Outtara in this matter? Where id th originql mandate to negotiate on behalf of UMOEWA  emanate from and when?. What was the timeframe for the negotiation?

The role of Ouattara directly leads to issues around Nigeria’s poor strategic handling of the Ivorian crisis that led to emergence of a stooge of France in the neighborhood. Nigeria’s controversial policy posture’ rationalized in the role of the ill conceived gendarmes  of democracy in the sub region,  frustrated the progressive states in Africa by facilitating France’s desperation to correct its policy errors in post Houphouet Boigny Cote d’ Ivoire. France instigated the Forces Nouvelle rebellion. The endgame was to install its proxy Alassane Ouattara. With the recent unraveling of the coalition that brought Ouattara into office and suspicions that former ally Guillaume Soro, Secretary General of the rebel group, is preparing to unleash another war to oust OUQTTARA, France has unlimited leverage to get its nervous stooge to play ball to advance Frances strategic  interests in West AFRICA. The quid pro qUo is to assure Ouattara’s continued stay in office for an unconstitutional third term. Usurping the role of the leaders of West Africa on the Eco falls squarely as a strategic interest of France. Given the character of the agreement between Macron and Ouattara, it is surprising that the details of the deal still remain sketchy. But the touted link of the ECO to the Euro indicates that France is the puppeteer pulling the strings.

Emmanuel Macron: President of France

As is well known, France is a master in cosmetic policy transformations for the more things change the more they remain the same. For a start, France will be the printer of the currency. This offers it the keys to a lot of mischief including the sabotage of the economy of the region if it serves its interests. The arrangement with France would elicit uncertain political complications in the transactions of the respective members of the currency union with other traditional international partners. It would also alter balances of power, influence and entrenched sociological affinities in the sub- region.

France as the potential international guarantor of the West African Eco that includes Nigeria is bad news for other European states with historic and significant economic interests in the sub-region. The strategic calculus of post Brexit Great Britain would be significantly impacted by radical structural transformations that enhance the status and role of France vis-a- vis Great Britain and Portugal in West Africa and Africa as a whole. It is established that in restructuring its economy in post Brexit, London looks forward to reinvigorating its economic relations with old colonies globally. In West Africa Nigeria would acquire enhanced salience in its economic relations with Great Britain. The potential disruptive presence of France in the economy of Nigeria by virtue of its membership of a currency zone directed by an entrenched France can have significant political costs. This is not to be taken lightly. The experience of Guinea Bissau is indicative of the grave implications of switching control and degrading of historic primary partnerships, even if neo-colonial in character. Bissau learnt the hard way. The decision of embattled President Bernandino Viera to abandon the Portuguese backed Peso for the CFA, and by implication joining the orbit of French influence led to the rise, with the support of Portugal, of General Ansumane Mane and his cohorts in the revolutionary Military Junta. The France inspired invasion of Guinea Bissau by Senegalese forces to quell the rebellion ended tragically for the Senegalese forces.  Both the Gambia, allied to the MFDC, and Guinea Conakry jumped into the fray. In effect the civil war instigated by the change in the neo colonial orbit of influence continues to impact the instability in that today. Also, European states have an enhanced appreciation of the value of their old colonies in very difficult times. 

At the height of the fiscal challenges that threatened the integrity of the European currency union in the EURO, while Ireland was left in the lurch ruing a lack of neo-colonial allies, Portugal officially advised its teeming youth to go to Angola and Brazil. Angola bought up most of the ailing Portuguese parastatals thereby injecting significant investments into the fragile Portuguese economy that contributed to the re-equilibration of the Portuguese economy. These considerations must be factored in fashioning a response to the opaque Macron/ Ouattara currency deal for West Africa.

In the mean time, Nana Akuffo Addo’s  Ghana response to this development presents a paradox. A well informed leader, Akufo Addo comes from the nationalist J B Danquah/ Abrefa Busia traditions. Arrayed against this tradition is the pan Africanist mold of the Kwame Nkrumah/ Gbedemah/ JJ Rawlings political aisles. It is instrucitive that in the immediacy of inter-state relations, Ghanaian nationalism is often measured by its often rabid antagonism to Nigeria, the obviously big brother to the immediate East. In managing tensions that often arise in thee pursuit of national interests there have been slips on both sides. Yet bigger Nigeria would seem to have been the more accommodating side, in coping with breaches o f its interests by West African states. The recent change of course in a prolonged border closure by Nigeria is unusual and neighboring states unused to this may be overreacting. If the qualified approval of the France driven ECO by Ghana is a reaction to this border closure as is being speculated is correct, it would reflect a short sightedness that should come back to haunt the country in the near future. Meanwhile, Ghana has a strong national propensity for cerebral interrogations of public policy. In the fullness of time and as the details of the French trickery emerge, there will be a rebalancing of policy as all major political orientations in that country join in the important debate.

Presidents Nana Akufo Addo of Ghana and Muhammadu Buharin of Nigeria

As for Nigeria, its reaction to the usurpation of the West African Eco by France aided by a self serving Ouattara should be measured. Nigeria first must get its house in order. If it does it would be in a position to determine what is right for it and the sub-region as a whole in the longue duree. If need be, with its control of 66 per cent of the sub regional economy engaging 180 million people it can go it alone. The bottom line is the size of the market and the purchasing power of the population. Nigeria’s policies have far reaching implications for other states that look up to it, warts and all, as the natural and incontestable leader of the sub region. It cannot fail. Let Macron and his genuflecting handmaidens keep their ECO.

-Ademola Araoye is a former Nigerian diplomat and a retired official of the United Nations. Currently a Visiting Professor associated with the SARCHi chair on African Diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg, Araoye is author of critically acclaimed books including Cote d’Ivoire: The Conundrum of a Still Wretched of the Earth and Sources of Conflict in the Post-Colonial African State. He is a regular contributor to TheNEWS magazine.