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Italy's new PM Giorgia Meloni once said France is still exploiting its African colonies. How right is she?

Shaurya Thapa
Shaurya ThapaNov 23, 2022 | 13:57

Italy's new PM Giorgia Meloni once said France is still exploiting its African colonies. How right is she?

Italian PM Giorgia Meloni's old video from 2019 has resurfaced where she claims that France continues to exploit its former African colonies through a currency called CFA franc (photo-DailyO)

Assuming office this October, Italy's new firebrand right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is as fiery as expected; her enemy being France this time. 

Trolled as a new-age Mussolini by some on the Internet, the 45-year-old self-proclaimed Christian and Conservative leader has already had her fair share of controversies even before winning the national elections. Just Google her name next to issues like abortion, euthanasia, LGBTQIA+ rights, Islamophobia, xenophobia, same-sex marriage, and you will know. 

Meloni is Italian's first right wing leader after the infamous dictator Mussolini with most of the satirical jabs on her comparing her with the  Hitler ally (photo-Twitter)
Meloni is Italian's first right-wing leader after the infamous dictator Mussolini, with most of the satirical jabs on her comparing her with the Hitler ally (Tweet by Ida Clemens on Twitter)

On the issue of the European migrant crisis, Meloni has often pointed her finger at neo-colonialism. Now, with a video from 2019 circulating again on the Internet, Meloni’s rhetoric is back in discussion. 

What happens in this video? In an interview broadcast by the Italian channel La7, Meloni showed the interviewer a currency note: the CFA Franc

As Meloni herself explains in the interview, 

“This is the CFA franc. It is the colonial currency that France prints for 14 African nations to which it applies seigniorage (profit made by a government by issuing currency) and by virtue of it exploits the resources of these nations.”

She then proceeds to show an image of a child working in a gold mine in Burkina Faso (which attained independence from France in 1960) and talks about how it is one of the poorest countries in the world. 

“France prints colonial money for Burkina Faso, which has gold. In return, they demand that 50% of everything that Burkina Faso exports end up in the coffers of the French treasury. The gold that this child goes down a tunnel to extract mostly ends in the coffers of the French state.”

And on the basis of this example, Meloni suggests her answer for the migrant crisis, 

“The solution is not to take Africans and bring them to Europe. The solution is to free Africa from certain Europeans who exploit it.”

Is Meloni right about the CFA franc? Well, partially. In theory at least, Meloni’s claims seem to be true. The CFA franc is indeed still in circulation. The currency can be divided into two variants for the West African and Central African countries respectively.

So,

  • while the West African CFA franc is applicable in eight countries,
  • the Central African franc is used in six. 
(Green-West African CFA franc, Red- Central African CFA franc)
(Green-West African CFA franc, Red- Central African CFA franc)

This collective of 14 countries not only includes former French colonies like Burkina Faso, but also a former Portuguese colony (Guinea-Bissau) and a former Spanish colony (Equatorial Guinea). 

But it must be noted, as opposed to Meloni's claim, Burkina Faso exports 90% of its gold to Switzerland (according to data procured by World Bank). The data also suggests that even though the CFA franc is in usage, France doesn't even count among the top five export destinations for the African nation. 

So, what’s the future of the CFA franc? What has changed since the 2019 video? With Meloni’s old video being constantly retweeted, netizens are waiting for a face-off between the Italian PM and French President Emmanuel Macron. 

There has already been pressure on Macron to reduce the dependency of these former colonies on France. A major change in this regard happened in 2020 when the French National Assembly agreed to end the French involvement (but only in the case of the West African CFA franc).

  • Officially, this meant that countries using this currency wouldn’t have to deposit their foreign exchange reserves to the French Treasury like before.
Emmanuel Macron, left, meets his Ivorian counterpart Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan (photo-GETTY Images)
French President Emmanuel Macron, left, meets his Ivorian counterpart Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan (photo-GETTY Images)

The background of this reform can be linked to Ivory Coast’s then-President Alassane Outtara’s initiative to replace the West African CFA franc with a new currency called Eco, which he announced with Macron back in 2019. Now, with the French parliament’s decision, the West African CFA franc is to be officially renamed to the Eco in the future. 

On December 21, 2019, Ouattara and Macron of France announced an initiative to replace the West African CFA Franc with the Eco.

CFA franc notes (photo-LeftOverCurrency)
CFA franc notes (photo-LeftOverCurrency)

Still, the fate of the Central African CFA franc remains unchanged. Will Macron’s government find an answer (or just let go of the question leaving it up for the African countries to arrive at a solution)? 

How does the CFA franc work though? When the French franc started weakening in the aftermath of the Second World War, France created the CFA franc in 1945. The French franc was devalued so as to set a fixed exchange rate with the US dollar. And as for their African colonies, they created new currencies so that the French franc could prevent even stronger devaluation. 

The economics got more interesting as this move basically made the import of goods from France to colonies much easier. Conversely, this made it harder for colonies to export goods to France. Practically, this model has been the same for the 14 countries that still use the CFA franc as their primary currency.

What’s ironic is that French officials introduced its imposition as “an act of generosity” to the colonies!

Protests against CFA franc (photo-GETTY Images)
Protests against CFA franc (photo-Getty Images)

Obviously, several African nations and other global players have criticised its present usage, given that it is the French treasury that controls the printing and circulation of this currency. This financial pressure, many believe, continues to impoverish African nations. 

This also means that the countries involved will have to deposit half of their foreign exchange reserves to the French treasury (a rule that changed with the aforementioned 2020 decision by the French National Assembly). 

So, why don’t African countries print their own money? This is a common question that arises out of any discussion on CFA franc. The truth of the matter is that countries do try to gain monetary independence in such matters but the First World countries are alleged to have engineered crisis and uproar in such countries as a distraction. 

A popular conspiracy theory is that Libya's Gaddafi was purposely murdered to avoid his plans for creating a pan-African currency. (photo-Risen Africa on YouTube)
A popular conspiracy theory is that Libya's Gaddafi was purposely murdered to avoid his plans for creating a pan-African currency. (photo-Risen Africa on YouTube)

Even though slain Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi died as a result of the actions of Libyan rebels and other local enemies, a conspiracy theory suggests that the reasons behind his death might also include his monetary ideas.

  • In 2009, the then-de facto leader of Libya urged other African nations (especially the oil-supplying/purchasing ones) to switch to the gold dinar, a proposed common African currency that is independent of the US dollar. 

According to a claim by the numismatics (coin collection) website Millenium State Luxembourg

“The objective of this new currency was to divert oil revenues towards state-controlled funds rather than American banks. In other words, to stop using the dollar for oil transactions.”

Nigeria, Egypt, Angola, and Tunisia were some of the countries ready to comply with Gaddafi’s suggestion even though the theorists claim that the NATO-led European coalition instituted “military intervention in Libya in the name of freedom” in the following years. 

The bigger picture: While these might still be exaggerated claims and the truth can be debated, it is worth noting how the US and its European allies have brewed chaos in the name of peace in countries like Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, and so on. So, these new forms of monetary neo-colonialism are worth looking further into.

Last updated: November 23, 2022 | 13:57
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