Ivory Coast crisis causes economic misery

(Reuters) – Prices in Ivory Coast are shooting up, transport is choked by strikes or fears of civil war, and a cocoa industry that is still the life blood of this once affluent West African economy is increasingly in disarray.

An election on November 28 was meant to end the debilitating crisis that has plagued the world’s top cocoa grower since a 2002-3 war split it in two, deterring investment and hampering growth. Instead, it has merely deepened it.

A power struggle between incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and rival Alassane Ouattara over who won the election has escalated into a dangerous standoff that has shut down business and disrupted transport.

While some shops have tentatively re-opened since protests and lethal gun battles between supporters of each camp erupted last week, many shop owners and residents are still too scared to leave their homes.

“Ever since those events last week, the cars have stopped driving around and people stopped coming to eat here,” said Mariam Kante, a street vendor in Abobo, who sells vegetables and cooked meals.

“Not enough transporters are bringing pepper, tomato, bananas, potatoes to Abidjan, so the prices are rising. There’s no food in the market.”

A freight transporters’ union has announced a strike in support of Ouattara. Other transporters have stayed indoors out of fear.


Despite huge international pressure to step down, including sanctions announced by the European Union, after electoral commission results showed he lost to Ouattara by nearly 8 percentage points, Gbagbo has refused to step down.

He was backed by the Constitutional Council, headed by a staunch ally, and retains the support of the security forces.

Any chance this election might deliver a stable government to revamp crumbling infrastructure, reverse deepening poverty and reform an ailing cocoa sector, seems long gone.

Ivory Coast was once a haven of peace and prosperity in a troubled region. Its multi-lane highways, tall buildings and lagoon-side hotels, all surrounded by forests of palm trees, were the envy of neighbouring countries.

But even before the events of this month, a decade of crisis had already hit the economy hard. Roads gape with potholes, trash piles accumulate in the streets. Poverty is visible in the growing number of beggars and street hawkers.

Tensions in Ivory Coast have pushed cocoa futures to four-month highs in recent weeks on market fears of a disruption to supplies. So far, beans have been getting through to port, but there have been delays in registering them for export.

And increasingly, cocoa exporters say, there are other problems getting them out of the ports on ships towards Europe.