The CFA franc (in French: franc CFA [fʁɑ̃ seɛfɑ], or colloquially franc) is the name of two currencies used in parts of West and Central African countries which are guaranteed by the French treasury. The two CFA franc currencies are the West African CFA franc and the Central African CFA franc. Although theoretically separate, the two CFA franc currencies are effectively interchangeable. The ISO currency codes are XAF for the Central African CFA franc, whereas XOF for the West African CFA franc.
Although Central African CFA francs and West African CFA francs have always been at parity and have therefore always had the same monetary value against other currencies, they are in principle separate currencies. They could theoretically have different values from any moment if one of the two CFA monetary authorities, or France, decided it. Therefore, West African CFA coins and banknotes are theoretically not accepted in countries using Central African CFA francs, and vice versa. However, in practice, the permanent parity of the two CFA franc currencies is widely assumed.
CFA francs are used in fourteen countries: twelve formerly French-ruled nations in West and Central Africa, Guinea-Bissau (a former Portuguese colony), and Equatorial Guinea (a former Spanish colony). These fourteen countries have a combined population of 147.5 million people (as of 2013), and a combined GDP of US$166.6 billion (as of 2012). The ISO currency codes are XAF for the Central African CFA franc and XOF for the West African CFA franc.
The currency has been criticized for making economic planning for the developing countries of French West Africa all but impossible since the CFA's value is pegged to the euro (whose monetary policy is set by the European Central Bank). Others disagree and argue that the CFA "helps stabilize the national currencies of Franc Zone member-countries and greatly facilitates the flow of exports and imports between France and the member-countries." The European Union's own assessment of the CFA's link to the euro, carried out in 2008, noted that "benefits from economic integration within each of the two monetary unions of the CFA franc zone, and even more so between them, remained remarkably low" but that "the peg to the French franc and, since 1999, to the euro as exchange rate anchor is usually found to have had favourable effects in the region in terms of macroeconomic stability.
Between 1945 and 1958, CFA stood for Colonies françaises d'Afrique ("French colonies of Africa"); then for Communauté française d'Afrique ("French Community of Africa") between 1958 (establishment of the French Fifth Republic) and the independence of these African countries at the beginning of the 1960s. Since independence, CFA is taken to mean Communauté Financière Africaine (African Financial Community), but in actual use, the term can have two meanings (see Institutions below).
The CFA franc was created on 26 December 1945, along with the CFP franc. The reason for their creation was the weakness of the French franc immediately after World War II. When France ratified the Bretton Woods Agreement in December 1945, the French franc was devalued in order to set a fixed exchange rate with the US dollar. New currencies were created in the French colonies to spare them the strong devaluation, thereby facilitating exports to France. French officials presented the decision as an act of generosity. René Pleven, the French minister of finance, was quoted as saying:
The CFA franc was created with a fixed exchange rate versus the French franc. This exchange rate was changed only twice: in 1948 and in 1994.
The 1960 and 1999 events were merely changes in the currency in use in France: the relative value of the CFA franc versus the French franc/euro changed only in 1948 and 1994.
The value of the CFA franc has been widely criticized as being too high, which many economists believe favours the urban elite of the African countries, who can buy imported manufactured goods cheaply at the expense of farmers who cannot easily export agricultural products. The devaluation of 1994 was an attempt to reduce these imbalances.
Over time, the number of countries and territories using the CFA franc has changed as some countries began introducing their own separate currencies. A couple of nations in West Africa have also chosen to adopt the CFA franc since its introduction, despite the fact that they were never French colonies.
In 1998, in anticipation of Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union, the Council of the European Union addressed the monetary agreements France has with the CFA Zone and Comoros and ruled that:
There are two different currencies called the CFA franc: the West African CFA franc (ISO 4217 currency code XOF), and the Central Africa CFA franc (ISO 4217 currency code XAF). They are distinguished in French by the meaning of the abbreviation CFA. These two CFA francs have the same exchange rate with the euro (1 euro = 655.957 XOF = 655.957 XAF), and they are both guaranteed by the French treasury (Trésor public), but the West African CFA franc cannot be used in Central African countries, and the Central Africa CFA franc cannot be used in West African countries.
The West African CFA franc (XOF) is known in French as the Franc CFA, where CFA stands for Communauté financière d'Afrique ("Financial Community of Africa") or Communauté Financière Africaine ("African Financial Community"). It is issued by the BCEAO (Banque Centrale des États de l'Afrique de l'Ouest, i.e., "Central Bank of the West African States"), located in Dakar, Senegal, for the eight countries of the UEMOA (Union Économique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine, i.e., "West African Economic and Monetary Union"):
The Central Africa CFA franc (XAF) is known in French as the Franc CFA, where CFA stands for Coopération financière en Afrique centrale ("Financial Cooperation in Central Africa"). It is issued by the BEAC (Banque des États de l'Afrique Centrale, i.e., "Bank of the Central African States"), located in Yaoundé, Cameroon, for the six countries of the CEMAC (Communauté Économique et Monétaire de l'Afrique Centrale, i.e., "Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa"):
In 1975, Central African CFA banknotes were issued with an obverse unique to each participating country, and common reverse, in a fashion similar to euro coins.
Equatorial Guinea, the only former Spanish colony in the zone, adopted the CFA in 1984.
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