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Two things...
All about this Economic and Monetary Community
A Few Notable Coins of the West African States

All about this Economic and Monetary Community

The current coins of the West Afrcian States are those issued by the Central Bank of the West African States (Banque Centrale des Etats de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (BCEAO)) and circulated in the member countries of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU). The BCEAO is the bank of this monetary union. The current members are Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. Most of these eight nations have all, at some time, had their own coins. For a number of years now though, the only coins issued in these countries for circulation have been those of the West African States. Member countries of WAEMU only ever use coins that are denominated in CFA Francs, the CFA Franc West to be more precise. The CFA Franc West and the CFA Franc Central (the Franc of the denomination of the Central African States’ coins) are both backed by the French Treasury and fixed to the French Franc at a rate of 100 CFA Francs = 1 French Franc, with therefore, a fixed rate 665.957 CFA Francs to 1 Euro. The CFA Franc Central and the CFA Franc West are equal in value to the French Franc but, the coins and papermoney of these two varieties of the CFA Franc are only legal tender in their respective regions.

CFA Franc is from “Franc de la Communauté Financière d'Afrique” in French, which translates into English as “Franc of the African Financial Community”. It has its roots in the Franc as used in the French colonies in Africa and gained its own identity in December 1945, when CFA Franc meant “Franc des Colonies Françaises d'Afrique” ( or “Franc of the French Colonies of Africa”). The intial parity of the CFA Franc to the French French was 1 CFA Franc to 1.70 French Francs, the devaluation of the French Franc saw this change to 1 CFA Franc to 2.00 French Francs in 1948. In 1958, with the coming of the Fifth Republic in France and the creation of the French Community, the CFA Franc became the “Franc de la Communauté Française d'Afrique” (or “Franc of the French Community of Africa”). Also around this time came the re-valuation of the French Franc (100 old French Francs = 1 new French Franc) , so the parity then became 1 CFA Franc = 0.02 French Francs. The next change to this parity was actioned on the 12th January 1994, when the CFA Franc was devalued and became equal to 0.01 French Francs i.e. the 100 CFA Franc per French Franc that still stands to this day. All circulation coins using CFA Francs are produced by the Paris mint and the privy marks of the Paris mint can be found on them.

During this lifetime of the CFA Franc, the West African Economic and Monetary Community (WAEMU) has slowly developed into the organisation it is today.

France’s colonies in West Africa were group togther in 1895 for administrative purposes into French West Africa. These colonies were Dahomey (now called Benin), French Guinea (now called just Guinea), French Sudan (now called Mali), Ivory
Coast, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Upper Volta (now called Burkina Faso). The administrative centre of French West Africa was Dakar in Senegal, the city of Dakar has been the home of the headquarters of the BCEAO since July 1st 1978. Also in this part of Africa, the French gained control (through a mandate) of part of Togoland, which for many years up until the start of the first world war had been a German colony. The French had separate coinages made for French West Africa and for Togo of all these coins though there are very few types that lasted more than a couple of dates. The 1957 dated coins of French West Africa include “TOGO” in the legends to point out that these coins were actually for use in Togo as well as French West Africa. Similar coins just for Togo had been struck in 1956, this was a 5 Franc coin and it was the tenth and last circulation coin issued specifically for Togo by the French.

The 1957 coins of French West Africa were the last before the establishment of the new French Community which saw an end to French West Africa. French Guinea declined to become a member of the French Community when, in September 1958, it decided against approving the constitution of France’s Fifth Republic. At this time though the other former members of French West Africa did join the French Community and in 1960 these states (except for Mali, which at this time severed all ties with France) and the once French controlled part of Togo each attained independence . These countries continued to work together and subsequently the Banque Centrale des Etats de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (BCEAO) of the present day was set up on November 1st 1962. This is the common central bank of these countries. The CFA Franc West has always been the unit of currency of this bank.

So the original members of the BCEAO were the countries now known as Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Togo. Just three changes have ever been made to this membership:- Mauritania left on 28th June 1973, Mali joined on 1st June 1984 (having had occasional French administerial “help” over the 20 years prior to this), Guinea-Bissau joined on 2nd May 1997 (oddly a former Portuguese colony). Hence today’s membership of Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

A Few Notable Coins of the West African States

West African States 250 Francs 1996
The 1996 250 Francs of the West African States - a ringed bi-metallic.

This is a 1996 dated 250 Francs coin for the West African States. As yet there are three dates of this type:- 1992, 1993 and 1996. Further dates are quite unlikely as this type never really gained public acceptance and so is no longer used. These coins are still the only 250 Franc coin and were the very first bi-metallic coins to ever be used in either of the CFA Franc zones.

West African States 5 Francs with horseshoe privy mark
The "horseshoe" privy mark on the obverse of a West African States 5 Francs of 2000. (Image from Vasily Vasilenko)

Around March 2002 I got a pair of 2000 dated coins of the West African States, they were a 25 Francs and a 100 Francs. These two coins have on them the “horseshoe” privy mark as replacement for the “bee” privy mark. The "horseshoe" privy mark is that of Gérard Buquoy who, on 20th April 2000, suceeded Pierre Rodier (who had used the "bee" privy mark) as Chief Engraver. The “horseshoe” did not appear on the coins of France (neither Franc coinage nor Euro coinage) until 2001 dated pieces were produced. More recently I came across someone with a 2000 dated 5 Francs of West African States - it too has the “horseshoe” privy mark and it is illustrated above.

In 2003 I got a few more coins of West African States, including 2002 dated pieces of 5, 10, 25, 50 and 100 Francs. These 2002 dated pieces all include the horseshoe privy mark as per the 5 Francs 2002 shown above.

West African States 1 Franc 2001 - dated side only
My West African States 1 Franc with date "2001" - dated side only, scanned at 600dpi.

The most recent 1 Franc coins of West African States in the "Standard Catalog of World Coins" (31st edition = SCWC2004) is with date 1996. I acquired this 2001 dated piece in January 2004, during the same month I saw a 1999 dated piece of this type offered on Ebay by a seller based in France. This suggests that the legal tender worth of these pieces (less than a fiftth of a U.S. Cent) has meant that, in recent years, these coins have not been of much use in circulation. However it is quite possibly that minting of the 1 Franc has continued more or less every year as that is generally the case for the denominations 5 Francs through 100 Francs - so I expect to come across some more, as yet unlisted, 1 Franc dates before long.

Links to individual pages for the countries that make up the West African States.


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The background image is of a fish styled Ashantee gold weight as pictured on the coins of the West African States.


Updated with info on new dates including the 1 Franc at February 2004.