The decision to call the CFA franc replacement currency the 'Eco' has caused a major rift in the region - and underlines the struggle between Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire for regional influence.
In the rarified realm of currency negotiations, the year had started on a positive note.
Some eight Francophone West African states, lead by Côte d’Ivoire, decided in December 2019 to move towards a new currency, the Eco, away from the CFA franc.
Critics called this a whitewash – despite the new name, it will still be pegged to the euro and still be backed by the Banque de France, leaving it open to old criticisms.
Backers called the important first step in a process. France, for example, will no longer sit on the management committee of the currency.
And even the wider West African community seemed to be behind it. Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo called for his country to join.
That moment of pan-African unity was shattered yesterday, when a communiqué out of Abuja from a 16 January meeting of the Anglophone finance ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Guinea criticised the move.
A key compliant: that they had taken the name – ‘Eco’ – of a mooted joint currency that would have covered all the countries of the West African region.
Certainly, a beehive has been kicked.
A source familiar with government deliberations in Ghana and other West African countries says: “The Anglophones were blindsided.” Another adds: “France is trying to subtly arm-twist the sub-continent into kowtowing to it’s terms.”
For Nigeria’s finance minister Zeinab Ahmed, it was “inconsistent with the decision of the Authority of the Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS for the adoption of the eco as the name of an independent ECOWAS single currency”.
The question is legitimate. If ECOWAS had decided on the Eco as the name of their currency last year, why did the Francophone grouping take the name