Posts Tagged ‘small change’

Abidjan miniatures 4

December 27, 2020

Ya pas monnaie.”

There is no small change. Sigh. The eternal problem here and it’s almost everywhere. Supermarkets, fancy shops in the big shopping malls…they all have problems finding the right change. The chains of boulangeries are among the worst: if you want a simple baguette and nothing else do not enter the shop if you don’t have a single silvery 100 franc (15 eurocents) in your hand. You will not be served. I once did go into a boulangerie when I wanted something more wholesome than the bland French staple. And ordered what’s called a pain complet but the very nice lady behind the counter made a face when I handed her a 500 franc note. There was no way I was going to get the 200 francs change she now owed me. After some reflection I ordered another smaller pain complet and left with no change, two loafs and I left behind a very happy shop assistant.

Whether it is a red 1,000 franc note or a blue 2,000 franc note let alone a green 5,000 franc note let entirely alone a purple 10,000 franc note (at €15 the highest denomination available), the reaction is universal: copious amounts of huffing and puffing, dramatic searches through pockets, purses and drawers, frequently ending with the utter failure to come up with the required coins. Sometimes this is theatre: they don’t want to part with their own small change. Supermarkets and the shops that are attached to petrol stations tend to offer you a little thing to compensate for the change not given: some sweets, chewing gum or a tiny package of biscuits, that sort of thing. Another solution is to look at the client very sweetly and ask in a coy voice: is there nothing worth 200, 250, 300 francs you want to buy?

In any case, don’t make a scene – these are always counter-productive – and understand that the reason your caissière has no change is that her clients ALL tend to pay with banknotes and expect change back, which means she is almost always short of coins.

But why are these coveted coins of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 200 and 250 francs all in short supply? For some it will forever be linked to the traumatic unilateral devaluation of the CFA franc, by France, in January 1994. Goods imported from France became more expensive requiring more coins as a result. This may perhaps offer a partial explanation. This problem has indeed been around since the 1990s and is unlikely to go away any time soon. Even the changeover from the Franc CFA into the doomed* new currency ECO will change nothing.

*doomed because (1) the initiative to convert the Franc CFA into the regional ECO comes from the wrong country, i.e. France and (2) the utterly dominant economy in the region, Nigeria, took one look at the planned new currency and binned it. This means the ECO is either dead or simply the continuation of the CFA franc under a different name.

pic: Eburnietoday

There’s a few urban legends about the coin shortage. Accusing whispers do the rounds about wily street vendors supposedly hoarding tonnes of coins; some reports mention a lively underground coin circuit only they have access to, with scores of secretive exchanges across the city. Hmmmm, not convinced? Neither am I. Fingers point at beggars, too. Yes, they receive a few coins if they’re lucky, which they then spend on food, one would think. But no, says the rumour mill, they hoard those coins so they can pay for trips back home to their families…beggars apparently are non-Ivorians. Yep, sure.

The most plausible reason is a lot more boring: cost. Coins are notoriously expensive to mint. Any banker will tell you that a coin costs massively more to produce than the value it represents. The largest one, 500 francs, is already making way for a banknote, much cheaper to produce. And the others, those pieces of metal representing 5 francs, 10, 25, 50, 100, 200 and even the increasingly unpopular 250 francs? Likely to be in perennial short supply. They just don’t mint too many of them.

In Zone 4

Don’t even think of getting on a Sotra city bus, one of the gbaka minibuses (warning: these are frequently driven by maniacs) or a wôrô-wôrô (local communal taxi) without the right change. This is the routine.

Sotra excepted (they have regular busstops), you can flag down any of these anywhere.

You talk to the driver.

You will be asked where you want to go. Either you state how much money you have and if it is anything over 500 francs (75 eurocents), forget it. Or you know how much the fare is and you simply tell the driver: ya monnaie. You will be taken at your word and there will be hell to pay when you have arrived and you don’t produce the monnaie you promised.

Wôrô-wôrôs are easy to recognise. They are colour coded Japanese saloon cars – colour coded according to the area where they are allowed to operate along fixed routes: yellow in Cocody, blue in Yopougon, green in Marcory/Koumassi, and so on. They sit four passengers: one in front, three at the back. The name is said to have come from a word from the Mandé linguistic family that means sixty (bi-woro), said to be the fare at the time this transport variety was introduced. Well – maybe.

Taxis, by contrast, are universally orange, Côte d’Ivoire’s national colour. They are sometimes still referred to as taxi compteur because they used to have functioning meters. But nobody bothers with those compteurs any more. The reason, as was explained to me, was that the compteurs were inside the formal economy and hence taxed to the hilt, which rendered the whole business unprofitable. Passengers increasingly demanded what became known as ‘arrangements’, where you’d negotiate the fare before getting in the car, standard practice in literally every West African city. But do not – ever – forget to ask the driver this extremely vital question: ya monnaie? He (almost never a ‘she’) will then ask you with which note you will pay: the blue one? OK. The green one? Maybe. The purple one? Forget it.

(Sadly, I have not been able to travel on the rapidly expanding lagoon boat network but I will leave that for my next visit.)