Nigeria is the economic and demographic powerhouse of West Africa, which means it can sometimes dominate the news coming out of the region. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of West Africa is resting on their laurels, far from it.
Francophone West Africa is growing by leaps and bounds, with billions of dollars worth of investment, particularly in infrastructure.
With a few exceptions, historically former French colonies had much sparser infrastructure in general than former British colonies in Africa, but now many are investing heavily in roads, railways and power plants.
The Ivory Coast government, for example, recently announced a planned $25 billion of investments in 94 infrastructure projects from 2016 to 2020, news website Abidjan.net reported. Half of these projects will be public-private partnerships, including highways, hydroelectric dams, bridges and industrial parks.
The country is targeting economic growth of 10% this year, having made a major turnaround from conflict five years ago.
Another big West African economy, Senegal, is preparing to break ground for a new city near the town of Diamniadio to ease congestion in the capital Dakar. With plans for a new airport nearby, a university, and a 50-hectare (123-acre) industrial park funded by China, it’s the most ambitious infrastructure project yet of President Macky Sall, who’s pledged to double growth by 2020.
Sall, in office since 2012, uses the slogan “Emerging Senegal” to define his policy of attracting foreign investment to reduce the country’s dependence on fishing, agriculture and tourism, and make Senegal a hub for French-speaking West Africa.
The Diamniadio project has attracted “hundreds of bids” from local and international companies since the plan was approved in 2013.
Across the border in Guinea, last month, president Alpha Conde inaugurated the $526 million Kaleta hydroelectric project, a 240-megawatt plant located north out of the capital Conakry and which has tripled energy supply. Francophone Africa also has an advantage in that it has largely been insulated from the currency volatility that has plagued African economies in the past year, as the region’s currency – the CFA feanc – is pegged to the Euro.
Used by 14 African countries, the CFA franc’s stability has been reassuring to investors this year, avoiding the sell-off in emerging market assets sparked by the surprise decision by China to devalue its yuan in August. The CFA franc has depreciated 8% against the dollar this year, compared with the 24% decline in the Ugandan shilling and 29% plunge in the Zambian kwacha, Africa’s worst-performers.
The CFA franc, created in 1945 by former colonial master France has been credited with retaining macroeconomic stability in its member countries, but also criticised for being too dependent on the euro zone with little flexibility of its own. But for now few member countries are complaining.
And Francophone Africa has another trump card up its sleeve – it will probably be the survival of the French language.
As a result of population growth, the number of French speakers globally will rise to over 700 million by 2050, 80% of whom will be in Africa, according to the International Office of La Francophonie (OIF), the official organisation that promotes the French language globally.
French is one of the very few languages spoken all over the world, ranked the sixth most widely spoken language after Mandarin Chinese (over a billion speakers), English, Hindi, Spanish and Arabic. There are currently over 220 million French speakers worldwide. Europe accounts for 39.87% of the French-speaking population, and sub-Saharan Africa is second at 36.03%.
North Africa and the Middle East accounts for 15.28%, and the remainder is in North and South America, and Asia.