The origins of the term Franc, unsurprisingly, date back to medieval France.
The Franc was historically used as a term to denote various monetary amounts in France. Following the French Revolution, a decimalised Franc was introduced as the national currency.
The Franc was exported around the world in the 1800s and many countries which were previously colonised by France now use this name for their own independent currencies.
There are currently ten different currencies (listed below) that share the name, the most famous of which is the Swiss Franc used in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Burundian Franc (BIF)
Burundi is a tiny landlocked African nation that is situated between two huge neighbours: the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania.
The area had been passed around by the European powers in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Post WW1 it became a Belgian colony. From its occupation by the Belgians in 1916 until 1960 it used the ‘Belgian Congo Franc.’ Upon independence, it was in a short-lived union with Rwanda and shared a Franc named currency. In 1964 the currency as we know it today was introduced into circulation.
Burundi is part of the East African Community, an intergovernmental organisation with aspirations to form a political union similar to the EU. The member states have plans to introduce a common currency, the East African Shilling, in the near future.
Comoros Franc (KMF)
Comoros is made up of three islands in SE Africa close to both Tanzania and Madagascar. It is one of Africa’s smallest countries.
In 1887 it became a French colony and the French Franc was formerly used for over 50 years. Following a territorial reorganisation in the 1920’s, the country was placed under the jurisdiction of French Madagascar and the Madagascar Franc (a currency with parity to the French Franc) was introduced.
After the Second World War, another territorial reorganisation took place. Comoros became an overseas territory of mainland France and the French Franc was re-introduced.
Following the country’s independence, the Comorian Franc as we know it today was introduced. Until 1994 it was pegged to the French Franc at 50 to 1. Today the currency is pegged to the Euro at a rate of 491.9 to 1.
Congolese Franc (CDF)
The DR Congo first used a Congolese Franc in 1887 when the country infamously became a personal fief of the Belgian King.
In 1908, the Belgian state formally took control and the Congolese Franc was placed at parity with the Belgian Franc.
Upon independence in 1964, the country chose to continue using the CDF until 1967 when Dictator Mobutu Sese Seko replaced it with the Zaïre.
After his overthrow in 1997, the country went back to using the Congolese Franc.
Djiboutian Franc (DJF)
Djibouti is a small country situated on the Horn of Africa. It neighbours Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea and is just across the water from Yemen.
The country was a French colony in various guises from 1883 until it gained independence in 1977.
The currency was introduced in 1949 and was pegged not to the French Franc, but to the US Dollar. This peg, whilst being changed several times, is still in place today.
French communities of the Pacific Franc (CFP)
The CFP Franc is the currency of French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Wallis & Futuna. These are all semi-autonomous territories of France and not actually independent nations.
The issuing authority the ‘Institut d’émission d’outre-mer’ is actually based in a prime location in Paris’s first arrondissement!
The CFP Franc was introduced to France’s Pacific Colonies in 1945 at the same time as the CFA Franc was introduced to French Africa. It has had various names over the years, however since Jan 2022 it has been legally called the ‘Franc of the French communities of the Pacific.’
The CFP Franc was pegged to the French Franc and is now subsequently pegged to the Euro at a rate of 119.3 to 1.
Guinean Franc (GNF)
Like many of its neighbours, Guinea is a former colony of France. Upon gaining independence in 1958, the country chose to cease using the CFA Franc. The independent Guinean Franc went into circulation in 1959. It was replaced by the ‘Syli’ in 1971.
The present-day Guinean Franc was introduced in 1985, at a par with the Syli. The currency is subdivided into 100 centimes, however these have never been used due to the low value of the currency.
At present, the lowest denomination banknote is the 500 FG and the highest is the 20,000 FG.
Rwandan Franc (RWF)
Rwanda has a similar modern history to Burundi (see above) when it comes to currency. It used the Congolese Franc for many years, replacing it with its own Franc (RWF) in 1964.
Like Burundi, Rwanda is part of the East African Community and is therefore involved in plans to create a monetary union that would see the RWF replaced with the East African Shilling.
Swiss Franc (CHF)
In 1798 Switzerland became the Helvetic Republic and adopted the Franc as the official currency. The centralised republic was short-lived but the impact of the centrally produced currency would last to the present day.
In the early 1800s, following the downfall of the Helvetic Republic, each of the Swiss cantons used the Franc as the model of their own currencies and incorporated it into the way they managed their currencies.
Despite multiple government changes, the Franc remained a base unit. In 1848 Switzerland became the federal country that we know today and the formal adoption of today’s Swiss Franc began.
Between 1866 and 1927 the Latin Monetary Union was in place making the Swiss, Belgian and French Francs as well as the Italian Lira worth the same.
It introduced paper banknotes in 1907 and was pegged in part to the price of gold until as late as the year 2000!
Today the Swiss Franc is legal tender in both Switzerland and the tiny principality of Liechtenstein. It is one of the world’s most widely circulated currencies.
The Central African Franc and the West African Franc
If you head to Western or Central Africa, chances are you’ll be paying for goods and services with some CFA francs. This currency is used in 14 countries who have a combined population of around 150 million people.
Now it can get a bit confusing with this currency. Technically there are two CFA Francs, the Western CFA Franc (XOF) and the Central CFA franc (XAF). These currencies whilst technically independent are used interchangeably, and can be pretty much exchanged at parity.
The CFA franc was originally introduced in 1945 by France as the Franc des colonies françaises d’Afrique (Franc of the French Colonies in Africa.) This was a colonial currency to be used in the colonies of France. After the countries who used it gained their independence, the currency was renamed ‘the Franc of the Financial Community of Africa’. It was originally pegged to the French Franc and after that currency was replaced, it became pegged to the Euro at 655.957 CFA franc to 1 Euro.
The Western CFA franc (XOF) is managed by a Central Bank in Dakar, Senegal. Its constituent countries are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.
The Central CFA franc (XAF) is managed by a Central Bank in Yaounde, Cameroon. Its constituent countries are: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Republic of the Congo.
Because the CFA franc is pegged to the Euro, it has actually been a strong and stable currency. However this has had several negative side effects for its users, making exports expensive and imports cheap. The currency also still has fundamental financial links with France and the French Central Bank causing some difficulties for the African states when it comes to domestic economic policy making.
Plans are afoot in western Africa to replace the Western CFA Franc (XOF) with a new currency: the Eco.