If you are traveling to Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea or Gabon, you will need to familiarize yourself with the local currency, the Central African franc, or CFA [listed on exchanges as XAF]. The acronym “CFA” stands for Coopération financière en Afrique centrale [“Financial Cooperation in Central Africa”]. It’s twin, the West African CFA franc, which is of equal value, is used in Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Cote D’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Sénégal and Togo.
The CFA is used by the members of the UEMOA [Union Économique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine] or West African Economic and Monetary Union. It was introduced to the French colonies in West Africa at the end of the second world war, thus replacing the French West African franc. The currency continued in use when the former colonies of French West Africa gained their independence.
In the process of planning an upcoming trip to Gabon, it became clear that many hotels and businesses in Gabon are cash only, and that I would have to acquire a good amount CFAs to pay for everything. After having looked at the exchange rate USD/XAF, I realized if I wanted to bring US$700, I would need CFA 402,833.65 at the current exchange rate [May 2016]. Given that the highest denomination bill is CFA10,000 that would mean I would have to carry a stack of 40 bills with me [best case scenario] or more if I couldn’t get my hands on the larger bills, which is likely. This is the moment that I had a flashback – to memories of the bags of cash I had to carry around Uzbekistan [see related post below].
After this I relaxed a bit, as I remember paying for lunch in Bukhara, Uzbekistan with a stack of more than sixty bills – so this would not be as bad, at least in terms of currency.
I’ll keep you posted on this, but suffice it to say, if you are planning a trip to Gabon, you may need a bigger wallet.
Africa Map Image Credit: Modification of original by Jarry1250 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.