Political pan-Africanism has been an important pillar in achieving political independence of the continent in the last 50 years but this will be given a full meaning if Africa will be able to achieve economic pan-Africanism, through expansion and amalgamation of free trade areas across the continent as well as harmonization of trade, customs and fiscal policies, amongst each other.
To effect economic pan-Africanism, ‘independent’ African states will have to think beyond the traditional ‘comfort’ of political sovereignty by enhancing trade amongst each other and review their approach towards bilateral and multilateral engagement in the global economic environment.
In the recent past, many French-speaking African countries (African francophones) have started breaking the taboo by evaluating their partnership with France, operating under the auspices of ‘Françafrique,’ the post-colonial French foreign policy towards Africa, accused by many for economic impoverishment and political instability in its former colonies, allegedly through protection of autocratic regimes in exchange for business deals.
In August 2019, the Union of Comoros participated in SADC summit in Tanzania for the first time, following successful admission in 2018, following the footsteps of Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles. Earlier in the year, two other francophones, Burundi and the DRC, sought to join the SADC and EAC regional economic blocs respectively.
In the same spirit, many francophones in West Africa have recently started engaging in open discussions about giving up the CFA franc currency union for own ECOWAS currency, the ‘ECO’ at least from 2020.
Back in France, a movement to reform ‘Françafrique’ has gained enough political correctness that former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande were once reported to vowed to end the ‘old-fashioned’ Françafrique policy during their campaigns for office.
Looming demise of CFA franc currency
In 1945, France reportedly agreed to eventually grant independence to its African colonies, provided they accept to use the CFA franc currency, pegged into French franc while France retained a monopoly on their raw materials. In 1999, the CFA franc was pegged into euro, with the financial backing of the French treasury which prints and regulates the currency.
Italian deputy prime minister once blamed France for impoverishing Africa and encouraging migration to Europe, by printing money for 14 African states and pegging their currencies to the French franc. CFA franc requires countries to store up to 50% of foreign exchange reserves with the French treasury, in something called an “operational account” – In doing so, African countries reportedly channel more money to France than they receive in aid.
Proponents of CFA Franc argue the currency helps stabilize national currencies of the currency community and greatly facilitates the flow of exports and imports between France and member countries.
Francophones in the EAC
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a former strategic partner of France during Zaire days, eventually applied to join the EAC in 2019 to enjoy economies of scale, doing away with the traditional lopsided partnership with France, that Mobutu helped supervise.
With its only chief sea port Matadi located further away to the Atlantic side of the continent, the East African Indian ocean coast obviously provides an alternative shorter sea route for imports to the Eastern, central and Southern parts of the vast central African country.
Rising from the bottom of ethnic and civil strife partly blamed on France, landlocked-Rwanda and Burundi resolved to join the East African Community a decade ago, to enhance stability, reconstruction and development.
In 2008, Rwanda abandoned French as a medium of instruction in all public schools at all levels for English, Kinyarwanda and Kiswahili as lingua franca. She further joined the Commonwealth in 2009, to enhance Rwanda’s participation in regional and global economic development on own terms.
Geographical proximity and historical ties
Tanzania, a SADC pioneer and EAC powerhouse, is renowned for its stabilizing role in the East African great lakes and Southern Africa, thanks to her active role in liberating, rebuilding, brokering peace deals and solving conflicts as well as resettling refugees and asylum seekers from conflict-prone neighbours.
For the Comorians (alias ‘ngazidjas’ in Tanzania), a shared historical heritage with East Africa has proved to be of socio-economic, political and strategic importance. Besides Tanzanians making up one of the ethnic groups in the Comoros, the Comorian lingua franca is a cocktail of Kiswahili, Arabic, Comorien and French.
Comoros’ bilateral cooperation with Tanzania is symbiotic – Most of foodstuff, livestock and basic goods to the Comoros are imported from the East African country, 1096 km (681 milles) off the Eastern coast of Africa. With the Air-Tanzania flying to the Comoros three times a week, an average of 600 Comorians reportedly visit Tanzania for business and medical tourism per month.
Through “operation restore democracy,” Tanzania once led an AU military intervention to restore civilian rule and stabilize the Indian Ocean islands in 2006.
A legend in the Comoros suggests the archipelago was eager to join Zanzibar’s union with Tanganyika in the 1970s to form what would have been Tanzacom – The hope for this union is still alive in many ngazidjas today.
Mayotte - An incomplete independence?
The continued occupation of Mayotte by the French, is perhaps the most unreported burning questions missing from mainstream media headlines inside and outside the continent. To date, Mayotte, a sister island of the Union of the Comoros, is still under French occupation and has remained a bone of contention between the Union of the Comoros and France since independence of the former in 1975.
With the three remaining constituent islands of the Union of Comoros archipelago now joining the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to become its 16th member, it is natural that material and moral support in stabilizing the coup-prone archipelago but also liberating Mayotte, the ‘French-dominated’ sister island, may be expected.
The Comorian Foreign minister Souef Mohamed El Amine once said the decision to join SADC is not related to Mayotte, but its membership could certainly bring it stronger allies and more influence in its dispute with France.
Initially formed by frontline states, SADC evolved into a regional economic bloc in 1980 with the Pan-Africanist zeal to liberate and rebuild the economies of southern Africa nations.
Famous for exporting cloves; ylang ylang, the most coveted flower in perfumery; vanilla; essential oils and scrap aluminum, the Comoros will now have a direct free access of its produce into the European Union market, should they wish to join the EU-SADC Economic Partnership Agreement which came into effect in 2016.
However, to realize genuine economic pan-Africanism, regional blocs should not be used as mere instruments for regime protection, rather member countries will have to revitalize their commitment to democracy and enhance economic integration by removing trade and non-trade barriers; integrating markets; allowing free movement of labour, goods and services and moving towards currency union(s), to counter global monetary and economic hegemony.
By Victor Mlunde
The author is a Dar es salaam-based independent political analyst with experience in international development and governance work.
He can be reached for comments through firstname.lastname@example.org