France has no hold over its former colonies

The former French colonies in Africa did not gain independence with a “colonial debt”.

Tuesday February 23 2016

Ambassador of France to Kenya Rémi Maréchaux at a past event. FILE PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By RÉMI MARÉCHAUX

Reading a commentary by Rasna Warah published on February 8 in the columns of the Daily Nation, most people must have been shocked to learn that 14 African countries were still “enslaved” by their former colonial master.

They were probably outraged to read that these countries were still forced to repay an imposed colonial debt under an unfair monetary union.

They must have been even more shocked to learn that they had to give priority to their former colonial master in the exploitation of their natural resources or that they had to purchase defence equipment from France because they feared that their leaders would be assassinated or overthrown.

I was shocked by the serious allegations brought against my country (slavery and murder). I was even more shocked that these serious accusations based on an opinion on the Internet were simply reproduced without any effort at verification, fact-checking, or analysis.

These defamatory and insulting accusations do not stand up to the examination of facts and history.

The former French colonies in Africa did not gain independence with a “colonial debt”. This can easily be verified from the International Monetary Fund, the AfDB, or the African Union.

France has no priority or monopoly in the exploitation of the natural resources of these countries. This is easy to verify — a simple Internet search on Gabon’s iron, Mali’s gold, phosphate from Togo, or manganese from Burkina Faso.

France no longer has the right to either military intervention or exclusive supply of military equipment. Agreements signed in 1960 with the newly independent countries had, indeed, featured such commitments.

These have all since been denounced. In any case, most francophone countries in the 1970s were “popular democracies” whose main military partner was the Soviet Union. Others had chosen to terminate these agreements.

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France took the initiative to renegotiate military agreements with African countries between 2008 and 2012. These were discussed by the national Parliament before being ratified and officially gazetted. They are accessible on the Internet.

They do not provide for the right of intervention or exclusivity in the supply of military equipment.

The Franc Zone accounts for 15 (not 14) African states and not all of them are former French colonies (Equatorial Guinea joined it in 1985 and Guinea-Bissau in 1997).

Membership is free and voluntary. Several countries left the monetary union and their leaders were not assassinated or overthrown (Madagascar and Mauritania in 1973).

The Franc Zone is structured in three regional entities that are sovereign and independent and whose monetary policy is defined by three issuing institutions: the Central Bank of West African States, the Bank of Central African States, and the Central Bank of the Comoros. France is neither represented in the banks’ boards of governors nor their internal or international auditing. It does, however, have a representative sitting on the banks’ boards of directors and national monetary committees in an advisory capacity.

The Franc Zone is subject to four principles: fixed parity with the euro, unlimited convertibility from the French treasury, unrestricted transferability, and the centralisation of 50 per cent of foreign reserves (these reserves are allocated on an interest-bearing account and are entirely and freely accessible).

These mechanisms ensure that member states benefit from greater monetary stability and increase investors’ and business partners’ confidence by eliminating foreign currency risk.

Inflation is better contained within the Franc Zone than in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa (2 per cent in 2014, compared with 8 per cent for the rest of the continent). In addition, the volatility of the real effective exchange rate has been about three times less than in the rest of the continent over the past 10 years.

Last but not least, the common currency adds to the strengthening of regional integration, particularly in trade.

As outlined by President Hollande in 2013 in Addis Ababa, on the occasion of the African Union’s 50th anniversary, the CFA franc is an African currency. Decisions are made by Africans.

It is a shame that Ms Warah’s commentary was limited to compiling post-colonial ready-made thinking instead of engaging in genuine debate about the Franc Zone.

Mr Maréchaux is the French ambassador to Kenya.

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