The currency here in Burkina and in half a dozen neighbouring states is the West African CFA (Communauté Financière Africaine) Franc. It is pegged at 656 (655.96 for pedants) to the Euro – and so fluctuates against the pound, currently in the region of 755.
The smallest coin in regular use is 25 francs, so that’s between 3p and 4p. Coins of 5 francs have pretty much disappeared; coins of 10 francs turn up from time to time, usually used in multiples. 25 francs is what children solicit to buy sweets (not that I give it to them); it is the standard cost for pumping up bike tyres; it can also be the cost of a small quantity of vegetables in season, or a few cloves of garlic. A loaf of bread (baguette) costs 125, so just over 15p. A ride in a shared taxi anywhere within central Bobo in the day time is 300 per person (40p). At night it goes up to 500cfa.
The largest note in regular use is for 10,000 francs, so that’s about £13. This is what the bank machines usually give out. All transactions are in cash. I have a cheque book with my Burkina bank account (in to which my living allowance is paid); so far I have used cheques to pay the electricity bill and the monthly charge for my internet dongle, but nothing else. My use of plastic has been solely to get cash from the bank machines.
But there is a further complication when shopping by the roadside or in local markets. In Dioula, the local language, they count money differently – they count by the coins. When the cfa was introduced, the smallest coin was 5 francs, and so 5 francs became 1 – ‘kelen’ in Dioula. Although a few things, such as potatoes, are sold by weight using scales, most items are presented for sale in little piles or packets at a given price – for example 4 small onions or 3 larger ones, a small (really small) bag of salt or sugar, a dab of tomato paste in a twist of paper. So if you ask the price of a little pile of vegetables, and the answer which comes back is the Dioula word for ten, that means that each little pile costs 50cfa! It took me a while to work this one out – as I learned the Dioula numbers, they never seemed to match the prices in the market… anyway, a bit of mental arithmetic keeps the brain cells active!