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As Gbabgo seizes Central Bank assets in Ivory Coast, a look at the arcane institution

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When an infrastructure-strapped backwater such as, say, Guinea-Bissau looks to borrow the tens of billions of West Africa CFA francs it needs to tar rural roads and string power lines, its functionaries fly here, to La Banque Central des États de l’Afrique d’Ouest: the central bank for eight West African nations (Ivory Coast, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Togo, Benin, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Niger). It's where government debt is sold in the form of treasury bills to whatever arcane financiers harbor a niche interest in owning a chunk of Africa's debt.

Built in the shape of a Baobab tree at the end of the colonial era, the bank is as vital to its region as it is anachronistic – it has the feel of a secret society for African High Finance.

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