The Eco: Francophone spoilers?
THE ECO PROJECT SEEMS more and more an impossible prospect as those promoting it are working at cross purposes. Conceived as a panacea to intra-sub regional trading challenges, the Eco offers a way around the difficulties in payment settlement...
THE ECO PROJECT SEEMS more and more an impossible prospect as those promoting it are working at cross purposes. Conceived as a panacea to intra-sub regional trading challenges, the Eco offers a way around the difficulties in payment settlement among the 16 member-states of the ECOWAS. However, recent developments around the project suggest that some fifth columnists are at work to thwart the common dream from being realised.
The Eco is the proposed name for the common currency that the West African Monetary Zone plans to introduce in the framework of ECOWAS. After its introduction, the goal is to merge the new currency with the West African CFA franc used by most French-speaking members of ECOWAS since 1945. ECOWAS had planned to launch a common currency under the same name in 2020.
Indications of a break up in the ranks of ECOWAS members and possible separation of ways as regards the Eco project first emerged last year when media accounts disclosed that several Francophone speaking countries in the sub region had secretly passed the enabling laws in their respective countries to adopt the Eco among themselves to the exclusion of the Anglo phone countries. The instigator in chief was France, their colonial masters, which proposed the move for the adoption of the Eco as a successor to the CFA Franc used by the french speaking countries. No one really knows what France wanted and still wants in rallying the countries against the collective aspiration of the larger ECOWAS bloc.
In late December 2019, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara announced that the West African CFA franc, used by the former French colonies of Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, as well as by Guinea-Bissau, would be retired sometime in 2020 and replaced with a new currency – called the Eco.
The Francophone Eco, like the outgoing CFA, will be pegged to the euro. It will eliminate the requirement for members to lodge half of their reserves in the French treasury. France will also quit the currency’s managerial institutions.
Ouattara’s announcement came as a surprise to the six mainly Anglophone ECOWAS members who don’t use the CFA franc. This is because back in June 2019, ECOWAS leaders had formally decided at a summit that the region’s planned common currency should be called Eco — the same name as the CFA zone group now plans to adopt.
By implication, the Eco will be use in parts of the sub region much earlier than collectively conceived, and in the process alienating some stakeholders. This has triggered some conversations about the unity of purpose of the project owners.
Against the backdrop of this divide and rule tactics of France and the pliable Franco phone countries, President Muhammadu Buhari recently drew member states’ attention to the faux pax and the need for greater commitment by the stakeholders for the Eco to see the light of day and realisable.
Untill greater commitment is shown, president Buhari said the dream will remain a mirage. President Buhari chose a special event of the virtual meeting of the authority of heads of state and government held two weeks ago.
Buhari expressed concern over the decision of francophone countries that form the West African Economic and Monetary Union to replace the CFA Franc with Eco ahead of the rest of member states. He recalled that member states reverted to a single-track approach, giving up Eco which is the original idea of the WAMZ so the ECOWAS-wide programme could thrive.
Before Buhari’s intervention two weeks ago, the Anglo phone countries had criticized plans by the Frenchspeaking states to change the CFA franc’s name to ‘Eco.’ The English-speaking members of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), plus Guinea, had condemned the announcement that the French-backed CFA franc used in eight West African countries would be renamed as the Eco.
The move “is not in line” with plans by the regional bloc to adopt a single currency also called the Eco, they said in a statement issued after talks.
Contributing to the conversation, a former deputy governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, Obadiah Mailafia, said it was wrong for the francophone countries to unilaterally take the decision to replace the CFA Franc with Eco.
“They have simply gone ahead to create a fait accompli. It is not good for Nigeria. It has taken the leadership process from Nigeria, which accounts for up to 70 per cent of West Africa’s GDP.”
A member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Adeola Adenikinju, said the decision of the francophone countries to adopt the Eco had created mistrust within the region.
As the controversy around the Eco single currency rages, Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigeria’s minister of foreign affairs, said a meeting of the authority of heads of state and government of the region would be held soon to iron out all the grey areas.
Maintaining that the sub regional group was intact, Onyeama said there was no break in the ranks of member states.
Onyeama, while briefing journalists yesterday, after a meeting with Zainab Ahmed, the minister of finance, budget and national planning, and the President of ECOWAS, Jean-Claude Brou, said that there was no division between Anglophone and Francophone countries within ECOWAS over the single currency adoption.
He added that the subregional body would hold a meeting of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States and Governments to ensure that all the member-states were on the same page.
“That is a whole point of organising this meeting very quickly so that we can dispel that notion that there is a division.
The chairman of the ECOWAS, president Isoufou Mohammed of Niger Republic will do well to convene an immediate meeting of the heads of state to know the agenda of the franco phone countries and to know whether the common goal is still alive or busted.
L-R: Charles Olaluwoye, managing director, Core Capital Limited; Ikechukwu Peter, country chief executive, Cititrust Nigeria Operations; Joy Samuel-Ogbogoro, managing director, First Guaranty Healthcare Limited and Jeff Ejemai, managing director, First Options Microfinance Bank, at the launch of the company’s ‘Culture Transformation Journey’, in Lagos, on Friday.