Côte d’Ivoire Tragedy Continues

Alassana Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo on election posters

Alassana Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo on election posters. Reuters Photo

First, my apologies for the long silence of this blog. I’ve had a really busy time and blog updates have taken a back seat. But I had to add a post, now that the presidential election in the Côte d’Ivoire has deteriorated into chaos. A quick summary: after five years of delays, the presidential election finally took place on October 31. Initial reports were encouraging, there was little violence and the election seemed to proceed properly. The results let to a runoff election between the two top vote-getters: sitting President Laurent Gbagbo and opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara. The runoff election took place on November 28 and on December 2, the Ivorian Electoral Commission announced that Alassane Ouattare had won the election with 54 percent of the vote.

Almost immediately,  Laurent Gbagbo rejected the results claiming massive voter fraud in the northern region of the Côte d’Ivoire which is also the stronghold of Ouattara. The Constitutional Council–under the control of Gbagbo supporters–rejected the decision of the Electoral Commission and declared Gbagbo, the winner. That’s when the tragedy really began.

Groups of Gbagbo supporters, possibly with the support of the Armed Forces, attacked the headquarters of the Ouattara campaign, killing eight people. Protests erupted through out Abidjan. The Armed Forced closed the borders. On December 4, Gbagbo was sworn in as the new President in the presidential palace. Claiming that the ceremony was illegal, Ouattara swore himself in as the new president. Meanwhile all foreign news transmissions via radio or TV have been blocked.

The real question is how long Gbagbo can keep himself in power. At the moment he controls the armed forces and a large segment of the political hierarchy. Arraigned against him are a well armed rebel army in the north of the country and, more importantly, the entire world. The UN Security Council which had authorized some 8,500 peacekeeping troops in the country for the past seven years has backed Ouattara, most Western countries have expressed their support for Ouattara.

Key is the reaction of African countries and, so far, they have supported Ouattara. Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa, came to mediate but achieved no breakthrough. West African leaders are currently meeting in Nigeria to discuss the stalemate and ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) stated the Gbagbo should accept the election results.

How does this all affect the cocoa world? As expected, the turmoil has pushed cocoa prices to a four-month high of $3,140/ton. Some observers claim that this is the opportunity for farmers in neighboring Ghana to capitalize on the lack of Ivorian exports and expand production to take advantage of the higher prices. Still, there is no evidence yet that the turmoil has affected cocoa exports and processing. The Côte d’Ivoire has been in turmoil for a decade now with little evidence that the turmoil affected the production or export of cocoa. The only ones suffering were the farmers who had to pay off the various faction to get their crop to the ports.

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