Francophone West Africa is one of the most diverse regions of Middle Africa, stretching from Senegal and Cape Verde in the West to Niger 2,000 miles away in the East. The region is part of the CFA Franc Zone, which is split between the Union économique et monétaire ouest-africaine (UEMOA), focused on the French-speaking countries of West Africa, and the Communauté économique et monétaire d’Afrique Centrale (CEMAC), focused on the French-speaking countries of Central Africa.
UEMOA is made up of eight countries, dominated by Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, which account for over half of the block’s GDP and trade flows. This reflects both countries’ importance as regional trade & business hubs, transiting goods and services to the landlocked Sahelian members of UEMOA: Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. UEMOA also includes Benin & Togo, which operate as trade hubs for industrial and consumer goods going into their Anglophone neighbours, Nigeria and Ghana, often via informal channels. French-speaking Guinea is not a member of UEMOA, reflecting the country’s history under the regime of Ahmed Sékou Touré who opposed French colonial rule and did not join UEMOA when it was created. Portuguese-speaking Guinea-Bissau joined UEMOA inn 1997, and although the archipelago of Cape Verde is not a member, its currency’s peg to the euro makes it a likely future member of the block.
Despite the many geographic differences between its members, UEMOA is one of the best integrated regional zones in Middle Africa, held together by the shared currency (the CFA Franc), the common legal system (OHADA) and the French language, and underpinned by the stability provided by the currency peg to the euro. The region’s strong integration has helped support economic development and a regular stream of bond issuances that are listed on the regional BRVM stock exchange in Abidjan, the block’s financial hub.
Economic activity is diverse, driven by agriculture, mining, hydrocarbons, trade, logistics and financial services. UEMOA is home to the world’s largest producer of cocoa, cashew nuts and natural rubber (NR), Côte d’Ivoire, and is Africa’s largest producing region of cotton and palm oil. The region is also an important mineral producer, and is a leading exporter of gold, uranium ore and zinc to world markets. The region is a modest producer of crude oil and petroleum products, and has developed a number of niche industrial sectors (e.g. cement and phosphoric acid).