African common market: Some threats from within
The Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning in Nigeria on December 30, 2019 issued a press release, saying: “Nigeria has received the news of the change of name of the UEMOA Currency, the CFA (Communaute Fananciered’Afrique) to Eco supposedly as the ECOWAS Single Currency. Nigeria is studying the situation and would respond in due course”. The statement was signed by YunusaTankoAbdullahi, Special Adviser, Media and Communication to the Minister. Simple and innocuous as the above statement appears, it sums up Nigeria’s immediate reaction to a high-wire ‘econo-diplomatic’ initiative of some member-countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that has the potential to dismember the sub-regional body. Seven Francophone members of the ECOWAS plus Guinea-Bissau, with the full backing of France, had, on December 21, 2019, announced the change of the name of their ‘common currency’, CFA to ‘Eco’, effective, 2020. Indeed, it was at a joint press conference by Alassane Ouattara, President of Ivory Coast and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron at Abidjan that the ‘factional initiative’ was announced. The ‘factional Eco’, just like the CFA, is to be moored to the Euro—the common currency of the European Union.
Surprisingly, few days after the ‘coup’ was announced, the Government of Ghana, Nigeria’s nearest Anglophone neighbour (westwards), indicated interest in joining the ‘new Eco’ gang-up, bringing the emerging monetary union ‘members’ to nine. They include Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo plus Ghana. This leaves only six (including Nigeria) out of the fifteen ECOWAS members. But in point of fact, the fifteen members of the ECOWAS have, in the past two decades or so, been working together to achieve a monetary union. Part of the outcome of their effort had been the selection and acceptance of Eco as the name of the ECOWAS Common Currency. Each member has been working presumably assiduously to achieve the Convergence Criteria set for the adoption of the Eco. The West African Monetary Institute (WAMI) has been coordinating the efforts to see the birth of the Eco. Some of the convergence criteria each country must meet are: a single-digit inflation rate at the end of each year; fiscal deficit of no more than 4% of GDP; a central bank deficit-financing of no more than 10% of the previous year’s tax revenues; and gross external reserves that can give import cover for a minimum of three months. Others include: prohibition of new domestic default payments and liquidation of existing ones; tax revenue to be equal to or greater than 20% of the GDP; wage bill to tax revenue equal to or less than 35%; public investment to tax revenue equal to or greater than 20%, among others. The pursuit and, indeed, the attainment of these criteria have been so crucial to the realization of the Eco that they (criteria) were about the only ‘outstanding’ milestone on the journey to the sub-regional monetary union. Yet, for the past two decades or so, hardly had any member-country attained these criteria. Only a few had met some, episodically. Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed, indicated this much when she said “there’s still more work that we need to do individually to meet the convergence criteria,” in response to a question by the AFP during ECOWAS leaders’ meeting in Abuja, just about the time the ‘renegades’ announced stealing the ‘Eco’ in Abidjan. In the face of all these, some pertinent questions are really imperative: what are France and its ‘vassals’ up to, by hijacking the Eco? Could it be colonialism by other means? Why would they choose 2020 as the year for adopting the Eco, just the year ECOWAS members had agreed? Could the ‘collusion’ be a reprisal move against Nigeria for unilaterally closing its land borders (since August 2019)? What are the implications of the Eco imbroglio on the continued existence of the ECOWAS? How will all these impact the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) that is already attaining a feverish crescendo? I choose to take on the last question because West Africa (ECOWAS) is a perfect microcosm of the entire African continent. The proponents of AfCFTA have so packaged and marketed the initiative that it is already being perceived in several quarters as the magic wand for Africa’s economic development. Yet, a myriad of centrifugal forces are at play, both at the sub-regional and continental levels to render the AfCFTA a mere pipedream, or at best, an ‘effigy’ of the original plan. In the West African sub-region, for instance, had ECOWAS (set up since 1975) been functioning as intended ab initio, would Nigeria have closed its land borders unilaterally? Or, would Ghana and Ghanaians have resorted to the looting and destruction of businesses owned by Nigerians in Ghana?
Is Emmanuel Macron’s role in overseeing the ‘renaming’ of the CFA as ‘Eco’ not another demonstration of France’s hegemonic grip on its former colonies in Africa? Is the umbilical cord of France’s “assimilation” policy not waxing longer and stronger? Is this renewed attachment to the French metropole (or colonial overlord) by a growing number of West African states not deepening the perceived gulf between the Francophone and Anglophone ECOWAS members? Will this gulf ever get narrow enough or closed up to make for the smooth sub-regional or continental common market as envisaged by the authors of the AfCFTA? Apparently, France is leading a diplomatic ‘offensive’ to gnaw at the Anglophone advantage: Ghana to join the CFA-turned-Eco union. And further to this, “Ivory Coast and Ghana Join Forces to Form a Cocoa Cartel to Control Output and Prices”, according to reports by Proshare (Nigeria). All these, apparently to ‘deal with’ Nigeria. In some other parts of the continent, China’s ‘debt trap diplomacy’ seems to have ‘enslaved’ many countries. Zambia and others that enjoyed huge loans from China have today, practically lost ownership and management of their strategic assets (infrastructure) to China due to their indebtedness. The worry is already gaining ground whether China wants to recolonize the continent. Nigeria and a few others may soon enter the ‘trap’ too. In recent times, a new hue of ‘racism’called xenophobia has begun to pose the greatest threat to intra-African trade and diplomatic relations. In my piece on the ugly trend titled: ‘African Common Market, Nationalism and Xenophobia’ (The Guardian, Nigeria, April 30, 2019), I said, inter alia “already, the rising wave of nationalism and separatism across the African continent is manifesting in widespread xenophobic attacks, killings and looting of properties belonging to fellow Africans. Black Africans no longer want blacks from African countries on their soil.
In South Africa, blacks from other countries of the continent are being killed in large numbers or pursued out of the country by ‘indigenous blacks’. In Ghana, on several occasions, Nigerians have been chased out of the country, and their businesses destroyed by indigenous Ghanaians. In other countries such as Libya, Morocco, Sudan, etc., nationals of other African countries are being ‘bought and sold’ as slaves. Hardly is there a week that hordes of these Nigerian ‘slaves’ will not be repatriated and dumped at our major airports.” Despite a number of diplomatic initiatives to deal with the recrudescent xenophobic attacks, the deadly orgy keeps lingering. Early this January 2020, “some indigenes of Keimoes and Upington areas in Northern Cape Province in South Africa, gave Nigerians and other foreign nationals a 12-hour ultimatum to vacate their communities.” According to the Daily Independent (Nigeria) report on January 10, 2020, “…the community members went on rampage, burning and destroying properties belonging to foreign nationals, Nigerians in particular,” adding that “these attacks spread to Upington and Nigerians and other foreign nationals were also expelled from Upington.” This scenario plays out very often in various parts of the continent: Sudan, South Sudan, Libya, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Niger, Morocco, Tunisia, etc. To the dangers of these xenophobic attacks will be added insecurity in the entire continent as evidenced by widespread terrorism, insurgency, banditry, brigandage, piracy, and so on. Writing on this worrisome situation, the ‘West African Insight’journal (Vol 6. No 5, 2019) says: “the crisis in the central Sahel—particularly where Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger meet—dramatically escalated in 2019, while the crisis in the Lake Chad Basin continues to threaten the lives of millions in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The fragility of the current circumstances and their highly combustible potential pose a serious threat not only to Sahelian governments, but also to their West African neighbours. The transnational nature of these crises point to an increasing need for regional security cooperation; but so far, efforts aimed at precisely that have been stymied by a lack of resources and political will.” This treatise is titled: “Grappling with Sahelian Insecurity—All Eyes on the Central Sahel.”
In all, while the pressure to inaugurate AfCFTA is getting more intense by the day, the leadership of the African Union (AU) must be priming their strategies to effectively tackle the internecine hatred and deadly rivalry among African states. Indeed, the‘soul and spirit’ of virtually all African countries are still tied to their colonial masters. The unfolding chicanery around the ‘Eco’ perfectly exemplifies these primordial separatist tendencies.
Okeke wrote from Lagos.