Currencies as Totem of (In)dependence – Review by Seyi Lasisi

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Money, Freedom: A Story of the CFA Franc Review

My encounter with the Katy Léna N’diaye-directed feature-length documentary, Money, Freedom: A Story of the CFA Franc triggered a stroll down memory lane. What was my first encounter with money? What moment did the importance of some decorated piece of paper or coin impress itself on my childhood mind? Unlike the narrator in this film, my attempts at revisiting this childhood history proved futile. 

N’diaye’s subtle pairing of autobiographical details with national history raises some pertinent questions- and answers. What significance does money —a country’s currency hold? What are the  psychological, spiritual or even political attachments to currencies?

In the opening scenes, the camera movement, at first, seems to rove around. In its snail-like movement, the camera, in bits, introduces minimal details. A man holding onto a rope at the sea, a hand tracing what will later emerge as a map, a billowing white cloth, the exchange of money between people. The film’s cinematography slowly entrusts the audience to unravel the significance of these motion pictures. When not ogling the faces of the experts in close-up shots, the camera is recasting the gaze to abandoned landscapes holding fragments of colonial and post-colonial legacy. 

Ndiaye’s assembled experts often prefer to speak in economics-related jargon, a development that might distance audiences who have limited understanding of the terms. She dissipates this challenge however by weaving her personal story into the narrative. This lends the film a sense of familiarity. Thus, as flickers of understanding emerge, a sense of grief is likely to etch itself in the minds of audiences.

The film’s concerns are urgent; the gradual and structured shredding of Africa into oblivion even as the debt profiles of African countries keep rising. Contrary to expectations, these loans which the politicians are quick to amass do not appear to be making much difference. And this is when they aren’t stolen or muffled down the drain in the form of projects with little real-time value. As Kako Nubukpo, one of the film’s experts, says, “IMF has become an acronym for ” Instant Misery Fund.” 

Where is the lie? 

The colonial empire may have crumbled but there are still policies and politics that remain vestiges of colonial rule. As the film demonstrates, the noose of colonialism is still fastened on Africa. The CFA franc remains currency of exchange in six independent states in Central Africa- Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Through archival footage and the exposition of experts, the documentary speaks to how the currency of a country could hint at geographical and political sovereignty. 

The extinction of colonialism in Africa gives prominence to the idea of freedom from an intruding power. However, the constant lapping unto foreign aid and investment subtly blurs this definition of freedom and sovereignty for African countries. 

In lumping her personal story with national history, the documentary affirms this point: currencies are totems of a country’s dependence or independence. They are the economic metric of a country’s growth. And as Walter Rodney declared in his famous tome, Europe did underdevelop Africa. Katy Léna N’diaye’s documentary is a motion picture that bears testament to this assertion. 

Encounters South African International Documentary Festival

Catch the film at the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival:


This story emanates from the Talent Press, an initiative of Talents Durban in collaboration with the Durban FilmMart. The views of this article reflect the opinions of the film critic Seyi Lasisi .

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