West African nations rename common currency, sever its links to France

The CFA franc was initially pegged to the French franc and has been linked to the euro for about two decades. (File/AFP)
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Updated 22 December 2019

West African nations rename common currency, sever its links to France

  • Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo currently use the CFA franc
  • The Bank of France holds half of the currency’s total reserves

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast: Eight West African countries Saturday agreed to change the name of their common currency to Eco and severed the CFA franc’s links to former colonial ruler France.
The CFA franc was initially pegged to the French franc and has been linked to the euro for about two decades.
Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo currently use the currency. All the countries are former French colonies with the exception of Guinea-Bissau.
The announcement was made Saturday during a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer and France’s former main colony in West Africa.
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, speaking in the country’s economic capital Abidjan, announced “three major changes.”
These included “a change of name” of the currency, he said, adding that the others would be “stopping holding 50 percent of the reserves in the French Treasury” and the “withdrawal of French governance” in any aspect related to the currency.
Macron hailed it as a “historic reform,” adding: “The Eco will see the light of day in 2020.”
The deal took six months in the making, a French source said.
The CFA franc’s value was moored to the euro after its introduction two decades ago, at a fixed rate of 655.96 CFA francs to one euro.
The Bank of France holds half of the currency’s total reserves, but France does not make money on its deposits stewardship, annually paying a ceiling interest rate of 0.75 percent to member states.
The arrangement guarantees unlimited convertibility of CFA francs into euros and facilitates inter-zone transfers.
CFA notes and coins are printed and minted at a Bank of France facility in the southern town of Chamalieres.
The CFA franc, created in 1945, was seen by many as a sign of French interference in its former African colonies even after the countries became independent.
The Economic Community of West African States regional bloc, known as ECOWAS, earlier Saturday urged members to push on with efforts to establish a common currency, optimistically slated to launch next year.
The bloc insists it is aiming to have the Eco in place in 2020, but almost none of the 15 countries in the group currently meet criteria to join.
ECOWAS “urges member states to continue efforts to meet the convergence criteria,” commission chief Jean-Claude Kassi Brou said after a summit of regional leaders in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
The key demands for entry are to have a deficit of less than 3 percent of gross domestic product, inflation of 10 percent or under and debts worth less than 70 percent of GDP.
Economists say they understand the thinking behind the currency plan but believe it is unrealistic and could even be dangerous for the region’s economies which are dominated by one single country, Nigeria, which accounts for two-thirds of the region’s economic output.
Nigeria’s Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed told AFP “there’s still more work that we need to do individually to meet the convergence criteria.”
ECOWAS was set up in 1975 and comprises Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo — representing a total population of around 385 million.
Eight of them currently use the CFA franc, moored to the single European currency and gathered in an organization called the West African Monetary Union, or WAMU.
But the seven other ECOWAS countries have their own currencies, none of them freely convertible.


Saudi and Egyptian firms sign $450m hotel deal

Updated 2 min 47 sec ago

Saudi and Egyptian firms sign $450m hotel deal

  • Total Saudi investments in Egypt have reached $54 billion

CAIRO: Egypt’s Tharawat International Investment Corp. has signed a $450 million deal with the Saudi Hospitality Development Group (HDG) to manage Swiss International.

HDG owns and represents the Swiss hotel and resort brand with its three brands: Swiss Spirit, Swiss International and Royal Swiss.

“Many of our investors are interested in investing in Egypt and we have started tourist projects mainly in Hurghada, Sharm El-Shiekh and Cairo,” Jamal Al-Hamed, chief development officer of Swiss International Hotels and Resorts, told Arab News.

Ahmed Awad, who is chairman of the board at Tharawat, said the company aimed to build eight hotels for the Swiss chain in two years with investments worth $450 million in Cairo, Hurghada, Sharm El-Sheikh and Marsa Alam on the northern coast, as well as Luxor and Aswan.

Awad said the company intended to invest in the management and operation of hotels in the administrative capital and the new city of El-Alamein.

Swiss International Group CEO, Nagy Al-Shiha, confirmed that the group aimed to reach 30 hotels by the end of 2020.

Al-Shiha said the group planned to build and manage 20 hotels in Egypt in addition to tourist resorts during the next five years.

“We started our long-term strategy to expand in Arab countries which includes Jordan and Egypt,” Al-Hamed said. “We are already present in all Gulf countries and, in the next period, our focus will be on north African countries. We aim for Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco but we will start first with Egypt.”

Economic and commercial relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia have experienced continuous growth since the 1980s. Saudi investments in Egypt rank first among Arab countries and second globally.

Total Saudi investments in Egypt have reached $54 billion, including $44 billion in investments for Saudi companies or their Saudi partners in Egypt and $10 billion in investments from the Saudi government through the public investment fund.

According to the vice-chairman of the Saudi-Egyptian Business Council, Abdullah bin Mahfouz, the top sectors for Saudi investments are services, followed by industry, construction, real estate development, agriculture, communications, IT, tourism and banking.