Nigeria and Ghana recently took different positions on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) common currency, Eco. Fifteen members of the community, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania (left 2002), Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Burkina Faso (which joined when its name was Upper Volta), planned having a single market, just like Europe.
First, eight among them, the Francophones (Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo), decided to separate their ties with France’s CFA (Communaute Financiere d’Afrique) Franc and adopt Eco as their common currency. Alassane Ouattara, President of the Republic Cote d’Ivoire who, at the 56th Ordinary session of the ECOWAS in Abuja, announced it, revealed that France, their colonial master, was in total support, quoting the French President, Emmanuel Macron, as describing the decision as a “historic reform”.
However, while Ghana, an Anglophone country, hailed the decision, Nigeria still threads with caution, a development that has sparked off debates, even beyond the issue of a common market.
There was a statement signed by Yunusa Abdullahi, the spokesperson to the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Abuja: “Nigeria has received the news of the change of name of the UEMOA currency, the CFA (Communaute Financiere d’Aafrique) to ECO supposedly as the ECOWAS Single currency. Nigeria is studying the situation and would respond in due course.”
However, Ghana received the adoption of Eco with eclat. In a statement, signed by Eugene Arhin, the Director of Communications Ghana’s Communications Directorate, the country said the declaration by the affected countries to discontinue the use of the CFA Franc in favour of the proposed Eco “is a welcome development, which Ghana warmly applauds”, adding that it is a good testimony to the importance that is being attached not only to the establishment of the monetary union but also to the larger agenda of the West African integration.
It went further: “We in Ghana are determined to do whatever we can to enable us join the member states of UEMOA (the West African Economic and Monetary Union) soon in the use of the ECO, as we believe it will help remove trade and monetary barriers, reduce transaction costs, boost economic activity and raise the living standards of our people.” Ghana further urged the other member states of ECOWAS to “work rapidly towards implementing the decisions of the Authorities of ECOWAS”. That is “the adoption of a flexible exchange rate regime, instituting a federal system for the ECOWAS Central Bank and other related agreed convergence criteria, to ensure the region achieves the single currency objectives of ECOWAS as soon as possible for all member states”. Moreover, Ghana submitted: “We have a historic opportunity to create a new reality for the people of ECOWAS, a reality of general prosperity and progress.”
Going over the stand on Nigeria on the matter: “Nigeria has received the news of the change of name of the UEMOA currency, the CFA (Communaute Financiere d’Aafrique) to ECO supposedly as the ECOWAS Single currency. Nigeria is studying the situation and would respond in due course.” There is a red flag in the phrase: “ECO supposedly as the ECOWAS Single currency” Supposedly!
People who see Nigeria’s statement as being terse may have to revisit the matter that the country has taken the Eco with a pinch of salt. What is being said in diplomatic circles is that France, the colonial master of Francophone West Africa, might have hijacked Eco, thereby extending its area of influence to capture the entire region.
Two experts in the area of diplomacy, Professor Ademola Araoye and Rasheed Akinkuolie, analysed the development.
This is a multidimensional issue. Nigeria is directly responsible for this development that has the potential to alter the strategic landscape in West Africa and indeed Africa.
Close observers of Ghana’s President Nana Akufo Addo would not be surprised at this anti-Nigeria foolish policy. Right at the inception of his administration in a speech at Chatham House in London, he betrayed his deep-seated animosity to Nigeria and has subtly reiterated this in many other fora. The instigator of his current policy is the closure of the borders.
We have to understand Ghanaian politics. His party’s perceptions and policy in relation to Nigeria is consistent with the nationalist orientation of the Dankwa/ Abrefa Busia traditions. The other aisle is the Nkrumahist/ Gbedema/Rawlings pan Africanist mould.
Paradoxically Ghanaian nationalism is often measured against how it stands in its competition with Nigeria, the Anglophone giant to the immediate East. So here we are. But the sentiments are not monolithic. I expect a strong pushback from the pan Africanist because apart from the ideological concerns, the last country in West Africa, Guinea Bissau that abandoned the Lusophone peso for the CFA ended up in a civil war directly traceable to the ensuing competition between Portugal and France.
But Nigeria’s strategically uninformed and foolish support for a well known French stooge, Outtara, championed by the likes of Olusegun Obasanjo and Emeka Anyaoku against a pan Africanist and pan regionalism Laurent Gbagbo provided the opportunity for France to consolidate its hold. This Eco will be controlled by France, except the simmering political conflict in Cote d’Ivoire is deftly exploited by Nigeria and South Africa to root out Ouattara from the sub-region. But I doubt if there are well-informed analysts to help Nigeria. Given the failure of the NIA to see this coming, I am not convinced of our capacity to meet this challenge effectively.”
The statement by Ghanaian authorities is so carefully worded as to lose meaning. It can at the same time be interpreted as reminding Ouattara that there already exists an Eco on the table and presumably that is what West Africa is working towards.
By this time Nigeria should have sought clarification on the nature and character of the proposed France driven Eco and begun consulting its anglophone colleagues and Togo and Benin on the implications of this development for the original regional Eco currency. The challenge is knowing definitively the place and role of France, but the continued link of this Eco to the Euro suggests France is the puppeteer pulling the strings.”
Ademola Araoye is a former Nigerian diplomat and a retired official of the United Nations. Currently, a Visiting Professor associated with the SARCHi chair on African Diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg, Araoye is author of critically acclaimed books including Cote d’Ivoire: The Conundrum of a Still Wretched of the Earth and Sources of Conflict in the Post-Colonial African State. He is a regular contributor to TheNEWS magazine.
Ghana intends to join the CFA now ECO. The allegiance and solidarity with Nigeria based on common colonial heritage is over and does not count much anymore, mainly because of the border closure, which has affected Ghana, despite the fact that it shares no boundary with Nigeria. Moreover, it is in Ghana’s national interest.
The Francophone countries ab initio wanted to get France off their backs by supporting a regional currency backed by Nigeria’s economic strength. This was during the era of General Yakubu Gowon when the naira was very strong and the exchange rate was 0.75 kobo to $1. It was stronger than both the CFA and the French Francs.
Nigeria’s economy had since collapsed with the exchange rate at 360 naira to 1USD. The economic policies of an open market, a market economy, dilapidated infrastructure, collapsed educational system, high level of insecurity and an uncertain future have vaporized this dream.
The Francophone countries, despite the shortcomings of the arrangement with France, are still better off, than taking the risk of total economic independence.
France manages efficiently the electricity, water, transportation, educational system of the colonies. For example, power outage for a day in any of Francophone countries is almost inconceivable. And this had been so for decades. The educational system in France and the Francophone countries is the same. And it is fraud-free. The certificates are recognized worldwide. The medical services are about the same as France. The national security, internal and external are guaranteed by France, but France will only intervene as a last resort if the local security system fails.
Nigeria is waiting to respond to the plan to replace the CFA with the ECO as the regional currency. The problem is that the administration in Nigeria has the penchant for appointing cronies into sensitive positions, rather than competent technocrats who will give credible guidance before taking critical decisions.
Can Nigeria join the CFA / ECO zone? It will be difficult because of the controls and restrictions that will be imposed, especially on the utilization and access to foreign exchange for frivolous purchases such as private aircraft, Rolls Royces. Oil importation which is benefiting vested interests will be forced to stop.
Nigeria may also join, if it is able to sort out her numerous internal problems. Will Nigeria benefit? Yes, it will involve giving up some of its sovereignty. France may reorganize the Central Bank, which is riddled with corruption. It will assist to sort out the problems of electricity, railways system, security, education, and health.
Akinkuolie joined Nigeria’s diplomatic service in 1980. He served in Guinea Conakry, Nigeria High Commission in London as Deputy Chief of Protocol. He was also the political officer in Yaoundé and the desk officer in charge of the Bakassi peninsular border crisis between Nigeria and Cameroon, among other postings. He retired from the service in 2010 but was appointed to set up a Language Bureau for the Ministry of International Affairs and he is an occasional instructor at the Nigerian Foreign Service Academy.
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