November 21, 2022 - 11:49am

A video has recently been making the rounds on social media in which Giorgia Meloni, the Italian Prime Minister, accuses France of using the CFA franc to pursue a neo-colonialist policy toward Africa. More specifically, she claims that France prints what she calls “colonial money” for 14 African nations, in return for which they are forced to pay 50% of the proceeds of their exports to France. 

Dutch commentator Eva Vlaardingerbroek suggested that Meloni was responding to Emmanuel Macron’s criticisms during the recent spat between France and Italy about immigration. This interpretation was lapped up entirely uncritically by a MailOnline article yesterday, which did not provide a date for the interview. The video was actually recorded in 2019. Regardless of the context, however, what Meloni says is mostly nonsense.

The CFA franc is a currency — technically two different currencies, but let’s not split hairs — used by 14 African countries. While most of them used to be French colonies, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau were not, so even the claim that it’s a colonial legacy, while largely true, is somewhat misleading. 

Members of the CFA franc zone are required to deposit at least 50% of their foreign reserves in a current account at the French Treasury, which in exchange guarantees the unlimited convertibility of the CFA franc to the euro at a fixed parity. However, this doesn’t mean that France gets 50% of their export revenues, any more than your bank owns the money you deposit in your account. 

Not only does France not own those reserves, it pays interests on them. If the participating central banks didn’t have to deposit their foreign reserves at the French Treasury, they would have to be placed in safe assets. The returns from this would be just as low or even lower than what they currently earn at the French Treasury. What’s more, on top of unlimited convertibility at a fixed parity, African central banks can get advances from the French Treasury.

There are serious arguments against the CFA franc, which has both advantages and disadvantages, but the claims Meloni makes in the video have no merit whatsoever. She just repeats the myth that France imposes a currency on African countries and enriches itself in the process by making them pay a “colonial tax”.

The notion that France is rich because it plunders the CFA franc zone, while a common trope in some circles, is misleading even at surface level. The 14 countries in the zone have a combined GDP that is less than 10% of that of France, and the zone accounts for about 4% of France’s international trade. There are plenty of things to criticise about Françafrique, as the French zone of influence in Africa is often called, but these falsehoods about the region’s currency are not among them.

Philippe Lemoine is a philosopher and writes at CSPI.