ECOWAS Common Currency: How France punished Guinea’s Sekou Toure, Olympio…

Sekou Toure

Ademola Adegbamigbe

In West Africa, the talk is now about the proposed common currency, Eco, about which Nigeria and Ghana recently took different positions. Out of the 15 members of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), eight among them, especially former French colonies (Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo), decided to adopt Eco and dump CFA (Communaute Financiere d’Afrique) Franc. The French President, Emmanuel Macron, according to Alassane Ouattara, President of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, described it a “historic reform”. That France accepted this easily sent a red signal.

Not a few analysist are saying that the voice is that of Esau, but the hairy hand belongs to Jacob! In other words, they are ready to swear by the coffins of all late African anti-colonial fighters that France has a hand in the Eco. Only Ghana, an Anglophone country, has hailed the decision, while Nigeria is cautious, given the above stated suspicion.

Emmanuel Macron: President of France

Ademola Araoye, a former Nigerian diplomat and a retired official of the United Nations who is currently a Visiting Professor associated with the SARCHi chair on African Diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg, said this about the role of France in this matter:

 “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. Read his article here.

The question is why did all the Francophone countries rush to accept this? First, the big puppeteer is France. Two, which is the theme of this story, is that France, in the past, punished countries that wanted to go against its (France’s) interest.

Sylvanus Olympio of Togo

There are examples. One of these was Prsident Sékou Touré of Guinea who, in 1958, wanted full independence for his country. In an article, entitled, “14 African Countries Forced by France to Pay Colonial Tax For the Benefits of Slavery and Colonization”, published in, Mawuna Remarque Koutonin, wrote that when Sékou Touré of Guinea decided in 1958 to get out of french colonial empire, and opted for the country independence, the French colonial elite in Paris “got so furious, and in a historic act of fury the french administration in Guinea destroyed everything in the country which represented what they called the benefits from french colonization.”

Three thousand French, according to the writer, left the country, “taking all their property and destroying anything that which could not be moved: schools, nurseries, public administration buildings were crumbled; cars, books, medicine, research institute instruments, tractors were crushed and sabotaged; horses, cows in the farms were killed, and food in warehouses were burned or poisoned.”

The purpose of this outrageous act was, as the writer put it, to send a clear message to all other colonies that the consequences for rejecting France would be very high.

“Slowly fear spread trough the african elite, and none after the Guinea events ever found the courage to follow the example of Sékou Touré, whose slogan was ‘We prefer freedom in poverty to opulence in slavery.”’

Koutonin revealed further: “Sylvanus Olympio, the first president of the Republic of Togo, a tiny country in west Africa, found a middle ground solution with the French.He didn’t want his country to continue to be a french dominion, therefore he refused to sign the colonisation continuation pact De Gaule proposed, but agree to pay an annual debt to France for the so called benefits Togo got from french colonization.It was the only conditions for the French not to destroy the country before leaving. However, the amount estimated by France was so big that the reimbursement of the so called “colonial debt” was close to 40% of the country budget in 1963.

“The financial situation of the newly independent Togo was very unstable, so in order to get out the situation, Olympio decided to get out the french colonial money FCFA (the franc for french african colonies), and issue the county own currency.

“On January 13, 1963, three days after he started printing his country own currency, a squad of illiterate soldiers backed by France killed the first elected president of newly independent Africa. Olympio was killed by an ex French Foreign Legionnaire army sergeant called Etienne Gnassingbe who supposedly received a bounty of $612 from the local French embassy for the hit man job. Olympio’s dream was to build an independent and self-sufficient and self-reliant country. But the French didn’t like the idea.”

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