Côte d’Ivoire: is cocoa money propping up Gbagbo regime?
Companies exporting from Côte d’Ivoire must publish information on taxes paid into the country’s cocoa sector, and respect the temporary ban on exports announced this week by president-elect Alassane Ouattara, said Global Witness today. The embargo comes amid fears that the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo – who refuses to recognise Ouattara’s November election victory – is using cocoa money to preserve his grip on power.
Global Witness’s 2007 report, Hot Chocolate, exposed how money from the international cocoa trade had financed both rebels and government loyalists in the country’s civil war from 2002-03. The rebels continue to control the north of the country, with Gbagbo loyalists – who rejected Ouattara’s November electoral victory – ruling over the south. Concerns about the cocoa sector have not gone away, and there are now concerns that Gbagbo may now be using the industry to finance his activities, as fears grow that the country could see a return to war.
The EU has imposed sanctions on Mr Gbagbo and his allies following reports of systematic killings of groups considered loyal to Mr Ouattara. However, he was until recently able to access Ivorian state funds held at the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO). The governor of the BCEAO was forced to quit last week after reportedly allowing Gbagbo’s government to withdraw at least $140m from state coffers(1).
Mr Ouattara’s ban on exports is an attempt to restrict the cash flow to Mr Gbagbo and his supporters.
“The army’s loyalty allows Gbagbo to maintain his stranglehold on the Ivorian state, and it needs to be paid,” said Daniel Balint-Kurti, Campaigner at Global Witness. “Cocoa taxes have long been a major source of funds for his regime, and there’s a danger money stolen from the sector is being used to fund the militias now terrorising parts of the population.”
In December 2010, Global Witness wrote to several cocoa companies to make them aware of our concerns that their payments could be diverted and ask what policies they have in place to prevent this. We are awaiting their reply.
"Companies should now respect the ban and immediately publish the taxes and levies they have paid on cocoa, so that this money can be properly traced," added Balint-Kurti.
(1) The BCEAO governor at the time, Philippe-Henri Dacourey-Tabley, explained in a press conference that he had no option but to make funds available to officials from Mr Gbagbo's administration, as they were in effective control of the state. A transcript of the press conference is available here - http://news.abidjan.net/h/388624.html.
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