Nigeria is speaking at last on what leading West African intellectuals believe to be French scripting of the region’s currency economics but which Ghana has somehow bought into. Dr Yusuf Bangura from Sierra Leone, Prof Jibrin Ibrahim and Dr. Obadiah Mailafia from Nigeria and Mister Ndongo Samba Sylla from Senegal are nearly of the same opinion on the matter.
Nigeria’s Minister for Finance, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed said in a statement by Mallam Yunusa Abdullahi, her Media aide, that Nigeria is still studying the situation and would respond in due course. The situation in question is what the Minister’s statement calls “the news of the change of name of UEMO currency – CFA Franc – to Eco supposedly as the ECOWAS single currency”.
There is no knowing for now how Nigeria intends to move even as Ghana is on the move, applauding tying the Eco to the French Euro and calling it a welcome decision. A December 28th, 2019 statement by the Director of Communications of the Presidential residence calls the decision a good testimony to the importance that is being attached not only to the establishment of a monetary union but also to the larger agenda of the West African integration.
“We in Ghana are determined to do whatever we can to enable us join the member states of UEMO soon in the use of the Eco, including adopting a flexible exchange rate regime”, the statement signed by Eugene Arhin said.
But, according to Prof Jibrin Ibrahim, the Abuja based Nigerian activist scholar of the West African region, the idea of a flexible exchange rate regime is where the problem lies. He echoes the views of Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, another Economist and a former Deputy-Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria on this. In an opinion piece in the Lagos based daily, Punch December 30th, 2019, Mailafia had called the politics around the Eco France’s currency war against West Africa, a part of which is to isolate Nigeria. Mailafia argues in the piece that renaming the CFA as Eco was nothing but upstaging Nigeria, a view Prof Ibrahim shares, hence his concern that he doesn’t see Nigeria coordinating things with Ghana, for instance. He wonders whether the fact of Nigeria having 65 % of the West Africa region’s GDP might have infused in the Nigerian leaders a feeling of what can the others do anyway. Nigeria’s 65 % of the GDP of the ECOWAS region, was advanced by another intellectual, Dr. Yusuf Bangura who though did not see how Nigeria which has such percentage of the region’s GDP could be isolated as Mailafia suggested in his own piece.
Dr. Bangura who used to teach Political Economy at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and has worked with the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, (UNRSID) agrees with Mailafia’s piece, calling it a clearly argued standpoint. He subscribes to much of what is happening in terms of France and the CFA countries passing the adoption of the Eco by the Francophone countries as a path to ECOWAS monetary integration “with the knowledge that the Anglophone African countries will not get their act together to meet the convergence criteria laid down by ECOWAS’s West African Monetary Institute”
But he doubts that the people in the CFA countries who have been clamouring for an end to the CFA neocolonial system will buy these reforms, deeply suspecting Alssane Ouattara and the CFA leaders of preferring French protection to independent African arrangements and are, therefore, a clog in the wheel of ECOWAS integration.
The Francophone elites are, in his view, not hostile to the CFA Franc ties because it’s an arrangement that he says works for them in terms of easy access to foreign exchange and price stability (which also benefits the masses) but stifles growth and may explain why most of these countries are at the bottom of the UNDP’s Human Development Index.
He sees a legal problem in the UEMO’s adoption of the Eco if ECOWAS registered it as an intellectual property because, “After all, the term Eco is an ECOWAS term”. The question would then be if it is legal for the CFA countries to use the name of a currency, Eco, that has already been adopted by ECOWAS?
His views which were expressed earlier than Mailafia’s, however, agrees with Mailafia’s framing of the on-going tussle as currency war against West Africa as he says that the CFA countries which already enjoy monetary union would take the lead as the Anglophone countries would have to work towards economic convergence to enable them converge with the 8 CFA countries to realise the goal of full monetary union through the Eco. Given Prof Ibrahim’s similar views in an earlier interview with Intervention on the matter, (Nigeria is Unacceptably Quiet on French Exertions in West Africa – Prof Jibrin Ibrahim), it means all the three intellectuals hold the same position on that aspect as distantly located from each other as they are.
In what completes the story of convergence of position among the more outspoken intellectuals on the issue so far, Dr Ndongo Samba Sylla, introduced in a widely published piece much, much earlier as a Senegalese development Economist argues it would be what he calls an analytical error to read President Macron’s current manoeuvres as anything but short-circuiting the monetary integration project as it has hitherto been conceived within the framework of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
Macron’s reforms are not exclusively populist, he says, pointing at how Macron and the WAEMU countries, with Alssane Ouattara at their head, were making fun of monetary integration as envisaged within the framework of ECOWAS by appropriating the name ECO without fulfilling the entry criteria for the eponymous area.
He is also a believer in the analysis of French manoeuvres as hemming in Nigeria, recalling how President Macron on December 21st in Abidjan called by name almost all West African countries not using the CFA franc to join the WAEMU, with the exception of Nigeria and Ghana. For him, the message is clear: it’s about isolating the Nigerian giant and even Ghana.
He sees nothing new in that, noting how a report on the franc zone of the former French minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, published in 2018 showed how Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal allied with France to collapse a monetary reform project led by Hamani Diori of the Republic of Niger aimed at strengthening monetary cooperation between the countries of West Africa. “Almost fifty years later, nothing has visibly changed”, Sylla recalls in the piece.
He is only optimistic that “The “kidnapping” of the ECO by France and the WAEMU countries has at least one “merit”: that of having put an end to the recurring postponement of the launch of the ECOWAS single currency”.
Ghana might end up providing the right expression for the eventual outcome of what is unfolding when it says in her statement “We have a historic responsibility to create a new reality for the peoples of ECOWAS” but how it moves may also decide what the new reality turns out to be. But Nigeria is still the big masquerade being awaited in the village square. How soon it emerges and what it says thereafter is the issue of concern now.
The consensus of leading West African intellectuals is a vital resource for how Nigeria dances soon, especially if it does her homework with other players such as Ghana.