The Politics of Agriculture

Although once considered one of French West Africa’s most prosperous nations as it ranked third largest coffee producer and number one cocoa producer, Côte d’Ivoire faced issues with these export commodities contributing to its state decay.

In the 1980s, Côte d’Ivoire’s economy suffered from a fall in cocoa and coffee prices and a local drought during the 1983-1984 season caused severe cuts in the agricultural and hydroelectric output. Throughout this time, the industry GDP dropped 33%, services GDP down 9%, and agriculture GDP falling 12.2% (Mongabay.com).

Côte d’Ivoire is a West African country located along the Gulf of Guinea, bordering Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. Its relatively small size (a little larger than New Mexico; about equal to Germany) has not stopped Ivoirians from largely affecting agricultural and economic sectors around the world. The country contains about 515 km of coastline, including the city and port of Abidjan.

Prior to gaining independence from France in 1960, Abidjan was the capital of Côte d’Ivoire. Soon after 1960, the capital changed to Yamoussoukro but Abidjan retained much authority, becoming the major shipping and financial center of French-speaking West Africa. Today, Abidjan is the largest city of Côte d’Ivoire and contains the second largest port in all of Africa (“Abidjan”).

So what does this have to do with agriculture, politics, or the rest of the world?

Following the 2010 presidential election, internationally-recognized President Alassane Ouattara banned cocoa exports from January until April. Supposedly, major cocoa companies indirectly supported the illegitimate regime of former-President Gbagbo with the means to purchase weapons and ammunition that had suppressed his opponents and launched a new civil war. By temporarily halting exports, Ouattara hoped to starve Gbagbo of the finances needed to maintain security forces and hold onto power, and eventually remove him from office. Although they had no way to officially enforce the ban, Ouattara expected to reach the public’s conscience by dissuading them from exporting in order to “starve Gbagbo of cocoa revenues.”

Societal consequence?

  • African nations divide on how best to proceed:
    • Nigeria: military intervention
    • South Africa and Uganda: closer inspection of 2010 election
    • ECOWAS asked the US, UK, and France to intervene but all deferred to the UN
    • Widespread confusion as exporters and others in the Port of Abidjan decided whether or not to comply with the ban
    • Many questioned future business relations with Côte d’Ivoire, especially Burkina Faso and Mali (landlocked neighbors whose business, transportation, and trade rely on the Port of Abidjan)

Agricultural and economic consequence?

  • The price of cocoa jumped 15% in 6 weeks
  • Impact of ban would’ve been more severe if not for the 2010 bumper harvest (surplus of cocoa on the global market), according to the ICCO
  • Cocoa traders, chocolate makers, and consumers are forced to wait on effects to cocoa’s supply and price

Much of the information presented here was gathered from these articles relating to the ban; its impact on the international cocoa trade; and what happened after the ban was lifted.

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Media Coverage: Friend or Foe?

International news media tend to focus on stories of violence, oppression, or oppression. This negative representation is especially visible for African nations, including Côte d’Ivoire. However, I’ve always wondered whether this is merely a trend occurring in American media, or if other countries also emphasize these issues. Why are positive news stories rarely in the media?

In order to examine this further, I conducted a search in three newspapers from around the world for articles within the past 6 months relating to Côte d’Ivoire. I chose the New York Times (USA), The Guardian (United Kingdom), and Le Monde (France). Here are the top headlines I found:

Headlines found online for three different newspapers when searching stories about "Côte d’Ivoire." The headlines under Le Monde were originally in French and translated to English by me.

Headlines found online for three different newspapers when searching stories about “Côte d’Ivoire.” The headlines under Le Monde were originally in French and translated to English by me.

Because Côte d’Ivoire was once a French colony and has maintained a relatively close connection to France, it didn’t surprise me that Le Monde would feature stories concerning the ICC and Ivorian politicians. However, it was refreshing to see more positive pieces listed in The Guardian, such as on the country’s barbershops, reconstruction efforts, and development of infrastructure. Although these headlines may not draw as much attention as those about war and suffering, it gives me a sense of relief to witness Côte d’Ivoire still trying to recover from its failing state status. In addition, those stories are encouraging and hopeful for the people who consider Côte d’Ivoire their home.

When I tried to search in top newspapers from China, India, and Spain, that cover world events, I found virtually nothing relating to Côte d’Ivoire’s political turmoil, ethnic divide, or economic crisis. Instead, the topics centered on the country’s soccer team and their participation in the World Cup, or contained no articles at all. At first, I found this fact discouraging. How could such large and powerful countries not report on the awful events in Côte d’Ivoire? Do they not realize how important it is for the world to know about these issues in order to put pressure and end the violence?

And then I read an article about media coverage and how it misrepresents the causes of conflict in Côte d’Ivoire. In one part, the author referenced an interesting quote by Bono, the lead singer for U2 and committed activist, from the NY Times where he emphasized the World Cup’s positive impact on Africa.

“… A few years ago, Ivory Coast was splitting apart and in the midst of civil war when its national team qualified for the 2006 jamboree. The response was so ecstatic that the war was largely put on hold as something more important than deathly combat took place, i.e. a soccer match. The team became a symbol of how the different tribes could — and did — get on after the tournament was over.”

Although this can be viewed as somewhat controversial and thoughtless, I give him credit because I believe the news should not always cover the “bad” stuff. People truly need the “good” in order to look forward for a better future, and it seems Côte d’Ivoire is in the right direction.

For the People of Côte d’Ivoire

Thus far, I briefly introduced a history of Côte d’Ivoire and topics relating to how and why its stateness has weakened since the 1960s. However, I feel I have neglected some important questions: what does state weakness mean, especially for the people of Côte d’Ivoire? How has ineffective governance affected them?

State weakness encompasses a variety of definitions and is influenced by numerous factors, including its financial systems, transnational security, environmental stewardship, infrastructure and development, healthcare, and education. Unfortunately, Côte d’Ivoire has experienced its fair share of most, if not all, of these political goods.

When comparing the economic, political, social welfare, security and GNI per capita standing of the world’s 141 weakest states, Côte d’Ivoire placed in the bottom quintile for its overall score in 2008 (Rice and Stewart 10). Although there exist some methodological differences between the Failed States Index and the Brookings Institution’s Index of State Weakness in the Developing World, both reports have ranked Côte d’Ivoire with similarly low scores within the past five years. The Brookings report defines weak states as those incapable of “fostering an environment conducive to sustainable and equitable economic growth; establishing and maintaining legitimate, transparent, and accountable political institutions; securing their populations from violent conflict and controlling their territory; and meeting the basic human needs of their population,” (3).

“Nation-states fail because they are convulsed by internal violence and can no longer deliver positive political goods to their inhabitants,” (Rotberg 1). In light of this statement, here are a few comments from the video that I found to be particularly alarming and disheartening:

“The people have been traumatized. There were presidential elections in Ivory Coast and we’ve seen what happened. For the trauma is still there. People saw what happened. They voted in masses and it ended in war.” –Father Cyprien, Catholic Mission

“They tend to come describing generalized body pain. Then they start to realize all they’ve been through. They relive it all again, all the killings and the violence they’ve experienced.” –Marie Koudou, psychologist at MSF

“The shock of violence, troubled mourning, and lack of security is leading to psychological and neurological disorders.” –Narrator

How can the common people of Côte d’Ivoire even think about setting goals and having dreams when they are facing such traumatic experiences and are lacking basic human needs like food, water, and a home?

Although parts of Côte d’Ivoire have begun to look past the violence from the 2002 election, it seems like the 2011 election has only worsened the lives of other communities. Will they be able move forward if most are still trying to recover physically, mentally, and financially from previous events? It seems like they cannot break from this vicious cycle of political corruption, widespread violence, and overall suffering, simply because certain individuals seek greater power.