Africa has lost one of its greatest sons with the passing of J. J. Rawlings, the former President of Ghana, a pan Africanist of the first order. He is on the scale of Patrice Lumumba, Nelson Mandela, Thomas Sankara, Amilcar Cabral, among others, those whose action gave a face and a new foundation to their countries, on the path of emancipation.
I met him on several occasions, during the long Liberian peace negotiations which took us into Ghana at least a dozen of times. I wanted to write something about the role he played during those years. How he skillfully maintained the balance between the two sides that weighed on our peace talks, Ivory Coast/Burkina Faso on the one hand and supporters of Charles Taylor and Guinea/Nigeria on the other, determined to force Taylor out. Or how, although he was a close ally of Libya who provided aid to both Ghana and to Charles Taylor, the Ghanaian troops in ECOMOG always maintained their peacekeeping standing. Or how he always put all Liberian delegations together in secluded areas to force us to talk to each other. Or his belief that peace could only be achieved if warlords begin to trust each other and if Liberians were ready to trade power for peace.
But I remembered something more current. A video he posted a few months ago, when Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara singlehandedly put an end to ECOWAS move towards one currency. While French President Emmanuel Macron was in Ivory Coast – for his birthday and Christmas – Ouattara announced that the francophone countries were going ahead to change the CFA (the colonial money) to the ECO, still pegged like the CFA to the Euro. Buhari of Nigeria thought it was a slap in the face of the subregion.
Jerry Rawlings’ reaction was swift. I culled the following paragraphs from his speech:
“The time has come, and I want to take this opportunity to speak to France. How long have we been working on this currency? And it is at the moment when we are close to the outcome that France undertakes to force the hand (twisting the neck) of the French-speaking countries to steal the name we have chosen for the ECOWAS currency and to set up a fixed parity (the Euro).”
“French-speaking Africa listen to me. Wake up. you cannot keep drinking breast milk, you have teeth; become independent and stop this low-level behavior.”
“Alassane Dramane Ouattara, you must stop it. You have no right to sabotage all West Africa and take over the ECO. You are being disrespectful. If France disrespects you, do not drag ECOWAS into this mess. You are not allowed to do what you are doing. The ECO currency was designed by ECOWAS countries. What right do you have to agree with France to set parity with the Euro? Who will determine monetary policy? Who will oversee printing the banknotes of this currency called ECO?”
“What a shame for the leaders of French-speaking countries! What a shame! What right do you have? Aren’t you old enough to run your own business? Have you seen the countries of the European Union tie the Euro to the US dollar, the Japanese Yen, the Chinese Yuan, or even the English Pound? Where is independence? Are you going to wake up? How long will you keep your umbilical cord attached to France?”
“I speak as an African; I speak as a Ghanaian. It is time for Africa to be independent. This trend (vision) dates to Nkrumah who declared that Ghana’s independence would be irrelevant if it were not linked to the total independence of African nations. In 1885, in Berlin, Otto Von Bismarck cut the continent to pieces. You have come to plunder our mineral resources, to generate suffering (for our people).
“The current generation will not stand idly by, unlike previous generations, which have allowed you to rule by force. We do not accept this ECO that you have hijacked. You were not involved in the discussions. That is enough! That is enough! That is enough! God bless Africa. “
The single currency was meant to be the final step towards regional economic integration. It has been on the books since the mid-1980s. French economic interests channeled through the CFA is the greatest impediment to achieving regional market. Through the CFA, printed and floated by France, the economies of francophone Africa are under the direct control of the French Treasury.
Rawlings said he was a Nkrumah Pan-Africanist while Ouattara is of the Houphouet-Boigny stock. Boigny was one of the architects of the Françafrique, a policy concocted under French President De Gaulle. The concept was to “give” independence to the colonies while maintaining every aspect of the colonization. The countries got their symbols of emancipation: a flag, a national anthem, and a bureaucracy but the economic exploitation continued unabetted. France maintained the control of the former colonies by “managing” their finances, forcing those countries to keep 50 percent of their reserves in the French Treasury.
Houphouet always pushed a narrow nationalistic policy. In 1958, when Leopold S. Senghor of Senegal proposed one independent francophone West Africa, Houphouet retracted and decided to forge a lose alliance with the poorest of the subregion, to set up the Conseil de l’Entente. When Nkrumah and others pushed for a united Africa, Houphouet called for an association of independent countries. To get his support for the African Development Bank, Haile Selassie (Ethiopia) and William Tubman (Liberia) who crafted the idea got Houphouet’s agreement after he was told that it would be headquartered in Abidjan. Houphouet and Nkrumah were world apart on Africa’s emancipation.
The ECO, as envisioned by ECOWAS will never materialize with the current economic divide between the CFA countries and the other member states. Like Houphouet Boigny, Ouattara has become a strategist and lead actor of the Françafrique The CFA allows France to keep tight control of the economies of its 14bformer colonies, who buy and sell everything through France, from arms to yogurt.
Nkrumah died with his vision. Houphouet-Boigny lived on, turned every African issue to the advantage of France and Cote d’Ivoire. Ouattara is here now to carry out that legacy. Like Nkrumah, another voice for pan Africanism has gone silent. And even if he wanted, Ouattara does not the capacity to end the Françafrique and the CFA.
The difference between Ouattara and Rawlings epitomizes the difficulties the sub-region has encountered on its path to integration.
Rest In Peace, Brother JJ. You did your part.