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West African nations sever French ties to currency

December 22, 2019

Emmanuel Macron has met with West African leaders to revamp the regional currency. The CFA Franc has been criticized as a relic of French colonialism, which Macron called a "grave mistake."

French President Emmanuel Macron and Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara shake hands
Image: picture-alliance/Anadolu Agency/C. Bah

French President Emmanuel Macron visited Ivory Coast on Saturday, where he joined eight West African countries in announcing major changes to the regional common currency, including severing its links with France.

In Abidjan, Ivory Coast's largest city, Macron said that colonialism in Africa had been "a grave mistake and a fault of the republic." He called for "turning the page" on the past.

"The African continent is a young continent," Macron said. "Three-quarters of your country never knew colonialism," he added, calling on young people to "build a new partnership of friendship with France."

It was not the first time that Macron expressed remorse on behalf of France over its colonial past. During his campaign for the presidency, he made headlines by referring to France's colonization of Algeria as a "crime against humanity."

Macron's trip to the Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer and France's former main colony in West Africa, came as regional leaders gathered to announce the renaming of the CFA franc currency.

Read more: Africa's CFA franc – colonial relic or stabilizing force?

Region cuts currency ties

The CFA franc was established in 1945, known as "Colonies Francaises d'Afrique" (French Colonies in Africa). It was later changed to "Communaute Financiere Africaine" (African Financial Community) in West Africa and "Cooperation Financiere en Afrique Centrale" (Financial Cooperation in Central Africa) in Central Africa.

The CFA franc, which was initially pegged to the French franc and has been linked to the euro for nearly two decades, will now formally be known as the Eco.

Read more: Common currency divides West African nations 

Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo currently use the currency. All the countries are former French colonies with the exception of Guinea-Bissau.

Macron hailed it as a "historic reform," adding "the Eco will see the light of day in 2020."

Additionally, African countries in the Eco's economic bloc won't have to keep 50% of their reserves in the French Treasury and there will no longer be a French representative on the currency union's board.

"Yes, it's the end of certain relics of the past. Yes, it's progress ... I do not want influence through guardianship; I do not want influence through intrusion," said Macron. "That's not the century that's being built today."

Read more: Anti-French sentiment on the rise in West Africa as security situation deteriorates

France to keep fighting extremists

Macron also touched on security issues while in the Ivory Coast, which shares a long border with volatile Mali and Burkina Faso. He vowed to boost the fight against Islamic extremism in West Africa and touted a French operation in which 33 Islamic extremists were killed in central Mali.

"We must remain determined and united to face that threat," the French president said. "We will continue the fight.''

Macron met with French military personnel stationed in Ivory Coast and highlighted new training efforts, aimed at deepening the security cooperation of both countries.

jcg/aw (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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