News / Africa

Ivory Coast Crisis Puts a Chill on the Economy

A vendor arranges cucumbers at a market in Abidjan (file photo)
A vendor arranges cucumbers at a market in Abidjan (file photo)
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The violent political showdown that has gripped Ivory Coast since last month's disputed presidential election is taking its toll on the country's citizens and its economy.

For residents of Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan, celebrating Christmas this year, an atmosphere of caution and vigilance has replaced typical holiday cheer.

Last month's presidential poll was meant to heal more than a decade of internal division and restore the world's top cocoa grower to its former prosperity.

Instead, it is has led to a violent political power struggle that has only deepened economic troubles and looks dangerously close to reigniting a 2002-2003 civil war.

Incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refuses to cede power to Alassane Ouattara, who the United Nations and much of the international community recognize as the winner of the Nov. 28 presidential run-off.

Reuters reports that the crisis has shut down businesses, disrupted transport and pushed up prices.

Amadoun Dahogo, who sells cabbage at an Abidjan market, says everything is more expensive and there are no more trucks bringing in produce.

Dahogo says there is a lot of movement in the country at the moment, some say they have two presidents, others say they only have one president. As long as the elections are not finished properly, he says, we do not know how we are going to sell our produce.

Since opposition protests against Mr. Gbagbo last Thursday turned violent, the United Nations says more than 170 people have been killed.

In the country's commercial capital, Abidjan, Reuters reports that many shop owners are still too scared to resume work.   

Pineapple seller, Binta Traore, says they would like the crisis to be over. She says if the country is not stable, they cannot sell their produce. She says there are not even any clients. Who will come out to buy things, she asks.

U.N. endorsed election winner, Alassane Ouattara, remains holed up in an Abidjan hotel under the protection of U.N. peacekeepers and former rebel fighters.

Mr. Ouattara's prime minister has called for the international community to consider removing the increasingly defiant incumbent by force, though that is not the former IMF official's only strategy. Mr. Ouattara and the international community are also dialing up the financial pressure on Mr. Gbagbo.

The World Bank froze $800 million in committed financing for Ivory Coast Wednesday.

On Thursday, the West African Central Bank granted Mr. Ouattara's request to block Mr. Gbagbo's access to funds. The 7-member regional bank said it would allow only Mr. Ouattara's government to access the money, calling Mr. Ouattara the "legitimately elected president."  

Some speculate that Mr. Gbagbo will soon no longer be able to pay the salaries of civil servants and government troops who currently support him, though salaries for the month of December were, in fact, paid in time for Christmas.

Africa security analyst, J. Peter Pham of the New York-based National Committee on American Foreign Policy, says it remains to be seen whether the international community has the political will to hit Mr. Gbagbo's pursestrings with more drastic, and perhaps more uncomfortable, measures. For example, a cocoa embargo.

The Ivorian government taxes cocoa heavily, Pham said, and most of the country's supply is grown in the southern and western regions under the control of forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo.

"That being said however, prices are very volatile. The market is very tight. Most of the companies -- European and American are the major consumers of the Ivorian production -- won't thank their governments for cutting them off from the supply which puts them at a commercial disadvantage with competitors," said Pham.

Ivory Coast produces 40 percent of the world's cocoa supply. The current political crisis has pushed cocoa prices to recent four-month highs but has so far not dramatically interrupted delivery.

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