Tuesday, April 12, 2011

3. Chocolate, agribusiness and the Ivory Coast Crisis

The Roots of the Côte d'Ivoire Crisis

 James North

This tropical West African nation, once the most prosperous in the region, is sliding even deeper into civil war. At press time, after a weeklong street battle for Abidjan, the commercial capital of 5 million, there were reports of a fragile settlement. But the vicious violence could break out again at any time. Mainstream Western press accounts included depressingly familiar explanations: the stolen presidential election in November, rising ethnic conflict. The explanations were accurate, as far as they went.

Right now, Côte d’Ivoire’s 21.5 million people are living in a terrible human rights crisis, a catastrophe that is being downplayed partly because the uprisings in the Arab world are distracting attention. But several thousand people have already died here, and up to 1 million are refugees. The small United Nations peacekeeping force should be strengthened, and the world pressure to force the election’s loser, Laurent Gbagbo, to give way to Alassane Ouattara must continue. (Right now Gbagbo is still hanging on to power.) But a change in presidents will not end the danger—and the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire is representative of deeply rooted structural problems in many other African nations.

You have to come here, to one of the forest regions where Côte d’Ivoire’s million-plus cocoa farmers live, to find the fundamental reason that fighting is breaking out again: a profoundly unjust international economic order that pays the people who supply our primary products a pittance and leaves their nations chronically ill with unemployment and poverty, and with people who will fight one another over scarce resources. Here, too, you will learn that the giant American agribusiness corporations Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) are one part of the problem, even though their names do not appear in the grim dispatches about widespread killings and mass graves.

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