A divisive decision by an activist to set a CFA note on fire in Senegal has reignited a debate on the common currency and the influence France still holds over francophone Africa. Fresh protest against the CFA France has erupted in west Africa after Kemi Seba was arrested for setting fire to a 5,000 CFA note (equivalent to $9.20) on Aug. 19, in protest over “Francafrique”—France’s continued political and economic influence over its former African colonies.
Seba was arrested after a complaint by the Central Bank of West African States, which prints the notes. The West African CFA is the currency of Senegal and seven of other nations.
Kemi Seba The currency remains pegged to the euro and governed by treaties with France. The currency is managed by two regional bodies (pdf), the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU).
The Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), manages the Central African CFA for currencies of oil producers like Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and three other central African nations. In the Comoros, the CFA is known as the Comorian Franc.
Burning the CFA is a criminal offense, and Seba stood trial along with the man who handed him the lighter. But the court acquitted him on Aug. 31, reportedly on technicality—Senegal’s law punishes the destruction of multiple CFA notes, but not one.
Still, Senegal’s interior ministry deemed Seba’s presence in the country “a serious threat to public order” and expelled him on Sept. 7. Back in Paris and undeterred, Seba is planning (link in French) an anti-CFA rally in Paris on September 16. Senegal’s response has raised questions about freedom of expression in the country, nearly as many as Seba’s own political motivation.
Born in France to Beninese parents, 35-year-old Stellio Gilles Robert Capo Chichi has made a life of opposing France’s neo colonial ambitions. Dubbed the French Farrakhan (link in French), Seba founded the Kemite party, based on Black Nationalism and ideas of ancient Egypt but overshadowed by anti-Semitism, which eventually led to the “tribe’s” banning. Seba has since reinvented himself as a Pan-African activist and anti-colonialist.
Irrespective of his political background, setting fire to a single note worth about 7 euros, or $9, has forced many to question the colonial roots of the shared currency. One protestor compared seeing the note go up in flames to the moment when Nelson Mandela set is apartheid-era passbook on fire in 1960. On social media, some have hailed Seba while others have questioned his political motivations.