The Militant (logo)  
   Vol.66/No.46           December 9, 2002  
U.S., French imperialists battle
to pillage Ivory Coast cocoa
Capitalists in Britain and the United States, speculating on world cocoa production, have taken advantage of a civil war and poor harvests in Ivory Coast to drive up the price of cocoa beans to 17-year highs, raking in huge profits in October. Ivory Coast is the world’s largest cocoa producer, with exports of more than 1 million tons a year, providing some 40 percent of the global supply of cocoa.

With cocoa comprising about 10 percent of the cost of chocolate production, high cocoa prices and stagnant candy sales are squeezing the profits of the giants of the $13 billion chocolate industry, such as Hershey Foods Corp., Mars Inc., Nestle SA, and Kraft Foods. "We are working on tighter margins than we used to," said David Zimmer, secretary general of Caobisco, the European candy makers’ association.

Washington is vying with its imperialist rivals in Paris for control of the natural resources of Ivory Coast, a former French colony. One week after antigovernment soldiers launched a failed coup on September 19, the two powers sent hundreds of troops to the West African country under the guise of evacuating their own citizens. Paris has provided what it describes as "logistical support" to the Ivory Coast government, with more than 1,000 French soldiers sent there ostensibly to "police" a truce in effect since October 17.

Washington deployed some 200 U.S. troops, mostly Special Forces, to the capital of Ivory Coast. They are now "on standby" in neighboring Ghana.

Ivory Coast won its independence in 1960 from direct colonial rule. Since then, however, Paris has continued to exert its political and economic domination of the resource-rich country. According to the French embassy in Abidjan, 60 percent of the country’s tax revenue comes from French-owned companies. French capitalists still control key sectors of the Ivory Coast’s infrastructure such as electricity, water, telecommunications, port services, and construction. In recent years, U.S. capitalists have been trying to increase their foothold in West Africa at the expense of Paris.

World cocoa prices have almost doubled since early 2001 following two bad harvests in Ivory Coast and a resulting shortage. The latest price surge began when the rebels attempted a coup and thousands of farm workers fled the fields from the ensuing conflict. Anticipating the harvest shortage, within one week speculative traders drove up the futures price for December deliveries of cocoa registered on the New York Board of Trade by $37 to $2,157 per ton--the highest level since 1986. According to BBC News, cocoa prices increased 12 percent since the fighting began.

Traders in New York and London, who speculate buying and selling in the futures market--where commodities are bought or sold for future delivery--also act as brokers between cocoa farmers and large cocoa processing companies such as Hershey Foods. One London trading company, Armajaro, took delivery of 204,380 tons of cocoa at the end of July--before the price began soaring--to cash in a $90 million profit bonanza.  
Farmers exploited by unequal exchange
In 1999, under political pressure by the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the Ivory Coast government gave up its fixed price system for cocoa, allowing prices to be set on the world market. The results were devastating for Ivorian cocoa farmers. Their income dropped by at least 50 percent while cocoa prices crashed at that time.

"It is somewhat ironic that while European and American agriculture is protected, we should argue to developing countries that they should be fully exposed to the vagaries of the market," said a European cocoa executive in a rare moment of truthfulness.

One example of the agricultural protectionism the businessman was referring to is the $190 billion in government subsidies that Washington gives to U.S. capitalist farmers and agricultural monopolies, enabling them to undercut their competitors around the world. These imperialist agricultural policies have a ruinous impact on semicolonial countries, where millions of workers and peasants depend on the export of raw materials and survive on less than $2 a day.

While billionaire traders and investors have raked in profits from the hike in cocoa prices, cocoa farmers have gained little or nothing from the higher prices. The farmers and farm workers toiling in the cocoa fields will receive a paltry fraction of the $3 billion Ivorian cocoa fetches on the world market.

In an article headlined, "War inflates cocoa prices but leaves Africans poor," New York Times reporter Alan Cowell noted that speculative traders cashed in on high cocoa prices by shortchanging the farmers, "buying their beans cheaply and selling at big profits."

Salifou Kabore, an Ivory Coast farmer who moved there from Burkina Faso when he was five years old, said, "I’ve heard that prices of commodities are going up." But instead of being able to gain from the high prices, "we are forced to live like rats, hidden away in our home," he said.

Even before the war working people in the Ivory Coast, many of whom labor on the cocoa and coffee plantations, were being devastated by the world economic crisis. Falling cocoa prices and political turmoil exacerbated an economic downturn in 1999 and 2000. A slump in world cocoa prices began in September 1998 and collapsed to a 27-year low of $714 per ton in November 2000.

Life expectancy in the semicolonial country is less than 45 years and the illiteracy rate is more than 50 percent. Government debt to imperialist banks is $13.9 billion.

With the second largest economy in the region and relatively higher living standards than many of its neighbors, Ivory Coast has been a magnet for people from nearby countries who come to work in its vast cocoa fields. About 30 percent of Ivory Coast’s 16 million people are immigrants. Three million of the 5 million immigrant workers are from Burkina Faso

Since it colonized West Africa, Paris has fostered religious and social divisions in Ivory Coast between Christians and Muslims as well as between the native-born and immigrants. The government and paramilitary forces have been waging assaults on immigrants and on the primarily Muslim population in the northern half of the country where the rebel soldiers have taken control and many of them originate.  
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