Ivory Coast, called the ‘pearl of West Africa’, is on the brink of civil war – and chocolate companies could play a critical role in stopping the bloodshed.
Despite losing elections in November and united international pressure and sanctions to remove him, Laurent Gbagbo is clinging to power. Revenues and tariffs from cocoa, the country’s largest export, are bankrolling his brutal army that has murdered hundreds of winning party supporters. If chocolate companies immediately and publicly refuse to do business with Gbagbo, his cash supply could dry up – and without the support of the army, his power base would dwindle, and he could be forced to step down.
All regional, African and international institutions recognise Alassane Ouattara as winner of the November elections and the legitimate President of Ivory Coast, but Gbagbo refuses to step down despite threats of military intervention. More than 200 Ivorians have already been killed, and 25,000 have fled to neighboring countries, whilst pro-Gbagbo TV and radio stations are inciting violence against UN peacekeepers and sparking fears that his supporters could undertake campaigns of widespread brutality. The risk of a dangerous spiral into civil war looms ominously and threatens regional stability.
Ouattara, the legitimate winner, is doing what he can for peace and has agreed to accept ministers from Gbagbo’s cabinet into his new administration, but Gbagbo insists he be President. Millions of Ivorians risked their lives to participate in democratic elections and exercise their right to vote. Caving in to Gbagbo would only reward impunity and his violent crackdown – and would encourage other election-losers in Africa to cling to power, as happened recently in Kenya and Zimbabwe.
The Ivory Coast accounts for nearly 40% of the world’s cocoa supply. Cocoa companies alone can’t unseat a dictator, but the Central Bank of West African States has just suspended services to Gbagbo – and cutting the cocoa industry’s financial support to his army could be the tipping point. Companies have long bolstered Gbagbo’s abusive regime, many through shady financial operations. Three national cocoa institutions gave more than $20.3 million to finance the war effort in 2002-2003, when some of the worst killings and human rights violations were taking place.
This situation could spiral into all-out war within days.
Chocolate lovers of the world, let’s flood popular brands like Nestlé, M&M/Mars and Hershey’s with messages to end trade with Gbagbo now and commit to working only with the legitimate government.
Head over to Avaaz right now and send your message to these companies to end their company’s trade with Laurent Gbagbo and his forces and immediately and publicly commit to working only with President Alassane Ouattara’s democratically elected government.