Decolonizing the Franc Zone

The former French colonies that make up Africa's franc zone owe it to themselves to overhaul their relationship with France. Unless they do, they will almost certainly never attain the level of economic success of their sub-Saharan neighbors.

DAKAR – France is wrestling with a burden of debts and public deficits that led Standard & Poor’s recently to downgrade its credit rating. Even as the risk of recession looms, the country has been forced to implement a drastic austerity program. But France’s woes are also being felt far beyond its borders, sparking rumors of a possible devaluation of the CFA franc, the common currency of the franc zone, which comprises 14 African countries and the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean.

The franc zone is, in fact, an appendage of the French economy. The CFA franc& is convertible in& euros and freely transferable to France, whose companies control the lion’s share of the franc zone’s private sector and receive most of its public contracts. In effect, this is a formula for perpetual mass capital flight.

The& CFA& franc’s& fixed exchange rate is pegged to the& euro and& overvalued in order to shield French companies from euro& depreciation. But the currency’s overvaluation also underlies the lack of competitiveness that curbs franc-zone countries’ capacity to diversify their economies, create added value, and develop. Scandalously, they still have to surrender 50% of their foreign-exchange reserves to the French Treasury as a guarantee of the CFA franc’s limited convertibility and free transfer to France.

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