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The Role Of Cocoa In Conflicts Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 5075 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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A great deal of attention has been given to the role of resource abundance in the onset and duration of conflicts. It is difficult to prove that the sole abundance of a certain natural resource can increase the risk of conflict. Different studies emphasize that the mismanagement of resources actually raises the risk of potential conflict. [2] 

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Cote d’Ivoire, a resource-rich country, certainly had the potential to be just another African country in the claws of a resource-motivated civil war. As one of the world’s leading producers of cocoa beans, the cocoa trade undoubtedly played an important role in the country’s conflict. [3] Cocoa was used to finance the military expenditures of both government and rebel forces. However, little has been said about the role of cocoa in onset of the conflict. Cocoa cannot be considered the only resource that contributed to the conflict, but one must acknowledge the importance of cocoa. This is the case because it has been the backbone of Cote d’Ivoire’s economy for decades.

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the role of resource governance in the onset of the conflict in Cote d’Ivoire. The analysis will be based on resource governance as transparent, efficient and fair allocation of revenues and non-harmful participatory implementation of policies including all relevant actors and affected communities. [4] This paper will analyze the governance of the cocoa sector because this sector has been the most important aspect of the country’s economy to date. It will begin with the post-colonial period and the rule of President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, and then continue until the onset of the conflict in 2002. It was during this year that the united rebel forces Forces Nouvelles (FN) managed to gain control of the cocoa-rich northern part of the country.

The management of resources, or resource governance, cannot be explained simply via an analysis of a country’s economic policies. It is important to examine both economic and political decision-making processes since the two are often interconnected. This paper will explain the relationships between the state’s economic and political decisions that, directly or indirectly, contributed to circumstances in which a conflict was more likely to begin.


A former French colony located in West Africa, resource-rich Cote d’Ivoire was considered one of the most prosperous countries in the region. After gaining independence from France in 1960, it was subsequently ruled for 33 years by an autocratic leader named Felix Houphouet-Boigny. President Houphouet-Boigny is often referred to as “the father of the nation.” Although rich in various resources such as cocoa, coffee, timber, gold, diamonds, oil and gas, the “golden years” of prosperity during Houphouet-Boigny’s government were closely related to agricultural advances. To be more precise, the economic prosperity of the country was primarily due to the export of commodities.

Dependence on primary commodities export directly influenced Houphouet-Boigny’s political platform. The government’s policy encouraged migration from neighboring countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Liberia etc.) to cocoa rich regions. Over time, this drastically altered the ethnic structure of the country. When world market commodity prices fell in the 1980s, the effects were intensely felt in both economic and governmental sectors. Social unrest triggered by the government’s unpopular attempts to downsize the unsustainable state apparatus ultimately resulted in the introduction of a multi-party system.

The power struggle that occurred following President Houphouet-Boigny’s death in 1993 planted the seed of the ethnic division in Cote d’Ivoire. Henri K. Bedie succeeded Houphouet-Boigny. Bedie and other politicians placed questions of identity at the forefront of the political agenda. During this period of economic decline and uncertainty, it was not difficult to manipulate questions of identity that focused on distinctions between local the local “first-comers” and the migrant “late-comers”. [5] The distinction between foreigners and locals was an important political tool for defining citizenship. When Bedie enacted the new electoral code in 1995, all foreigners lost their right to vote. The new code also required that the parents of any presidential candidate be citizens of Cote d’Ivoire. Similar practices of exclusion occurred within military institutions. Although Bedie believed such tactics would minimize political opposition, it ultimately resulted in a military coup. In 1999, General Robert Guei came to power.

Political violence slowly became entrenched in Ivorian society. This occurred via a violent boycott of the 1995 elections, Guei’s military coup and the military and civil unrest which preceded the 2000 presidential elections. When Laurent Gbagbo took over the presidency, he introduced a new program of identification that further deepened the gap between locals and migrants.

In September 2002, multiple army personnel staged an attempted coup against President Gbagbo. This led to a de facto division of the country in which southern Cote d’Ivoire remained under the control of the government and the north was overtaken by rebel forces. French military forces called Licorne monitored a ceasefire-line, the zone de confience. Three rebel movements (Mouvement Patriotique de la Cote d’Ivoire (MPCI), Mouvement Populaire Ivoiren du Grand Ouest (MPIGO) and Mouvement pour la Justice et la Pix (MJP)) ultimately joined forces and became the Forces Nouvelles (FN).

The Linas-Marcoussis Peace Agreement was signed in January 2003. As per the parameters of the agreement, all conflict parties committed themselves to forming a government of national unity. In the following years, both parties repeatedly obstructed various peace efforts following the Marcoussis Treaty. [6] After years of sporadic outbursts of violence, the March 2007 Ouagadougou Political Accord (OPA) was signed between president Gbagbo and FN leader Guillaume Soro. Soro was subsequently appointed Prime Minister. Implementation of the OPA has been very slow. However, it provided an adequate level of security and made the November 2010 presidential elections possible. [7] 

Preliminary elections results showed that President Gbagbo had lost the elections to his rival, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara. The ruling party contested the results on charges of massive fraud in the northern territories of Cote d’Ivoire, which were controlled by the FN. International observers disputed these charges. The report of the results led to severe tension and violent incidents. To this date, the dispute over the election results in Cote d’Ivoire has not been settled.


Post-Colonial Period

Although often considered the “golden years” of Cote d’Ivoire, Houphouet-Boigny’s post-colonial rule did contribute to the country’s conflict. An abundance of land used for cocoa cultivation triggered the effects of the so-called “resource curse.” The “resource curse” thesis addresses reasons why a resource-abundant country fails to use resources in a way that would be economically beneficial. It refers not only to the socio-economic development of the country, but also to its governance and prospects for democracy. [8] The following chapter will analyze resource governance, economic development and the political decisions of Houphouet-Boigny’s government. It will demonstrate that these factors ultimately contributed to the onset of the conflict.

1.1. Economy, Politics and Policies

Cote d’Ivoire gained its independence from France in 1960. By 1978, it was already one of the world’s leading cocoa producers. Cocoa, or more broadly the agricultural sector, constituted the backbone of the county’s economy. Agricultural growth was mostly due to the conversion of forest areas into cropped areas and a shift in production from food stuffs to highly remunerative coffee and cocoa. Liberal immigration policies promoted by the government attracted a foreign workforce from neighboring countries. Rapid deforestation carried out by immigrant farmers later impacted agricultural capacities.

1964 marked the establishment of an important governmental institution. Caisse de Stabilisation et de Soutien des Prix des Produits Agricoles (CAISTAB) commercialized the cocoa and coffee sectors and guaranteed a fixed price for farmers through an advance sale system. CAISTAB bought cocoa directly from farmers and then sold it on the world market. The differences between the world market prices for cocoa and the prices paid to farmers were significant. The management of public revenues from cocoa was far from transparent and enabled government officials to indulge into corrupt activities. However, CAISTAB did bring about government investment in economic infrastructure and other services of great importance to farmers. [9] 

In 1967, President Houphouet-Boigny issued a decree stating that the land belonged to the person who cultivated it. This caused patronage relationships to form between the local landowners and the migrants who came to work the land. It essentially meant that the new laborers could sell part of the crops they helped produce. These relationships were often regulated through informal agreements between locals and migrants. However, some migrants gained land access on the grounds of a valid “principle of entitlement to rights by virtue of invested labor (and not by virtue of descent), which was fostered by Houphouet-Boigny’s policies.” [10] Migrants were also given the right to vote. The subsequent impact of this policy and its relation to the onset of the conflict will be discussed later in the paper.

Cocoa prices continued to rise on the world market during late 1970s and revenues further contributed to Cote d’Ivoire’s development. CAISTAB, a stabilizing factor, ensured good prices for the farmers and continued to stimulate cocoa production. Additionally, inclusive politics regarding migrant farmers lended political support to the regime. The government was able to purchase social peace by ensuring that different ethnic groups received a share of the revenues. However, macroeconomic imbalances had grown to unsustainable levels, and the country carried a budget deficit of approximately 10% GDP. This was primarily a result of debt servicing problems due to rapid build-up of external debt during the second half of the 1970s, as well as inefficient resource allocation. [11] Unsustainable development and governance were only possible due to soaring cocoa prices on the world market.

It is important to stress the interplay between the socio-economic, political and institutional dimensions. Lack of transparency regarding the distribution of revenues via CAISTAB and the nature and efficiency of infrastructural investments indicate the presence of politically motivated state activity in the economy. Most state investments were typical “white elephant projects” [12] that did not contribute to the country’s overall development. [13] Undoubtedly, there was too much government interference in economic activities. This resulted in the insufficient development of a strong, independent private sector vis-a-vis the government. Concurrently, Cote d’Ivoire endured widespread corruption and an absence of government accountability due to an autocratic regime and a lack of “checks and balances.”

“The Cocoa War”

Whether or not certain regime types are more susceptible to conflict than others is subject to debate. What is known is that the type and quality of political institutions that develop overtime within a country may determine how natural resources are managed. [14] The government failed to contribute to economic diversification or invest in infrastructure for cocoa processing. As the prime recipient of vast amounts of external rent, Cote d’Ivoire’s government had no intention of changing its policies or cutting excessive public spending.

Excessive state intervention in the agricultural sector, dependence on cocoa export and an inefficient public sector all played a role in Cote d’Ivoire’s economic development when world market cocoa prices collapsed in the 1980s. The government’s response was the two year “Cocoa War” in which a government-imposed cocoa embargo sought to influence global prices. This plan backfired and only proved beneficial to other cocoa-producing countries. When Cote d’Ivoire returned to the market, its share in world production was reduced to 20% and prices for farmers were halved.

As the country hovered on the verge of bankruptcy, state expenditures were reduced. International financial institutions, such as the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), intervened. Cote d’Ivoire’s government was pressured into downsizing its large civil service and introducing greater transparency. CAISTAB’s powers were restricted and farm gate prices were cut by half. Succumbing to both pressure at home and abroad, the government introduced a multi-party system.

Cote d’Ivoire’s high dependence on primary commodities export made it extremely vulnerable to external shocks. Furthermore, such vulnerability and dependence compounded the risk of potential conflict. The correlation between different economic characteristics such as dependence on primary commodity exports, low average incomes and slow growth played a role in increasing the risk of civil war. [15] 

New Government, Old Governance

After Houphouet-Boigny’s death and forced political reform that introduced a multi-party system, the political arena was primed for a power struggle. New political circumstances and the continued economic downturn only increased overall political and social instability in the country. The following chapter will stress the lack of political will to introduce new, effective measures and ease the government’s grip on the cocoa trade. It will also illustrate the political manipulation of identity.

2.1. CAISTAB and its Successors

A scandal involving the embezzlement of 34.5 million USD in European Union (EU) credits intended for health care projects caused the WB and IMF to liquidate CAISTAB. [16] This resulted in even greater pressure on Cote d’Ivoire’s government to liberalize the cocoa market. Although liberalization meant the discontinuation of guaranteed prices for farmers, it did not improve their wages. Following CAISTAB’s liquidation, new institutions to govern the cocoa (and coffee) trade were formed. In barely a year, five new institutions came into existence. These included the Autorite de Regulation du Café et du Cacao (ARCC), Bourse du Café et Cacao (BCC), Fonds de Regulation et de Controle du Café et Cacao (FRC), Fonds de Developpement et de Promotion des activites des Producteurs de Café et de Cacao (FDPCC) and the Fonds de Garantie des Cooperatives Café et Cacao (FGCCC). In order to fund the rapidly multiplying cocoa institutions, the government introduced new levies on each kilogram of exported cocoa. This had a direct impact on the farmers’ wages, as exporters simply transferred the cost of levies to the farmers. The reform of cocoa governing institutions only “permitted diversion of cocoa revenue … for private purposes and towards off-budget expenditure by the Government, particularly military spending.” [17] 

2.2 The Question of Identity

Political opponents manipulated identity issues as a means of maintaining power. The distinction between the “first-comers,” or autochtones, and the “late-comers,” or allogenes, became central to the ongoing power struggle. In 1995, President Bedie enacted a new electoral code that “exempted foreigners from their right to vote and stipulated that the parents of any presidential candidate hold Ivorian nationality.” [18] This meant that approximately 25% of the population (mostly in cocoa rich regions) was deprived of its right to vote or run for president. Additionally, the parliament passed a new land law “excluding non-Ivorian planters from acquiring land titles in principle (Art.1).” [19] Due to the overall instability in the country, this law was never enforced. President Gbagbo’s contribution to the issue was the introduction of a new program of identification based on the concept of autochtony. [20] This new concept made it even more difficult for migrants to prove their “village of origin” [21] , thus further contributing to the autochtone – allogene distinction.

The lack of positive effects of liberalization coupled with the continued mismanagement of cocoa revenues through state institutions contributed to overall economic decline. High unemployment rates in urban areas put more pressure on the areas where cocoa was cultivated, because many youth returned to their villages and attempted to claim the land from migrants. Questions of ownership naturally arose. The 1967 decree stated that the land belonged to the person who cultivated it. [22] However, this principle now came into conflict with the principle of intergenerational justice, which “guarantees the younger generation appropriate access to family land.” [23] 

Onset of the Conflict

The politization of the identity question that ethnically divided the country was a result of a fight for control of the county’s vast resources. Continued poor resource governance further destabilized the economy. The following chapter will analyze the development of the discourse of grievance.

3.1. The Discourse of Grievance

The grievance hypothesis suggests that part of a certain population, or a certain region of a country, may feel deprived of the benefits of resource-related income and therefore decide to fight. [24] In the case of Cote d’Ivoire, the fact that migrants were working the cocoa land turned out to be crucial. This is because the cocoa production sector was most affected by the government’s suicidal economic strategies. Collier argues that rebel organizations develop a sense of grievance in order to function. [25] However, concerning Cote d’Ivoire, one may ascertain that the government actually fomented an objective sense of grievance among the migrants. This sense was then further exploited by the rebels.

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Collier argues that the motive itself (i.e. the real or imagined grievance) is not the core determinant regarding whether or not a country will experience civil war. [26] What appears more important is “the feasibility of predation which determines the risk of conflict.” [27] Different studies of Cote d’Ivoire do not examine whether the cocoa trade was used to finance the onset of the conflict. These studies find evidence suggesting that the FN rebels illegally traded diamonds and gold in order to finance themselves. Cocoa has been identified only as a resource that contributed to the duration of the conflict. Still, cocoa was a substantial source of revenue for the FN rebels. As soon as the rebels managed to seize power over the northern part of the country, they began taxing cocoa. They introduced the so-called “protection” taxes for travel within the FN controlled zone. Additionally, all trucks were weighed and the additional tax per kilogram of cocoa had to be paid. This system later developed into an official taxing body called Le Centrale.

Collier argues that sense of grievance alone is not enough for a conflict to start. Rather, it is the feasibility of the rebellion that will determine whether a country will experience civil war. [28] In the case of Cote d’Ivoire, both of the factors were present. The negative effects of poor resource governance, along with a number of political and judicial decisions, created an objective sense of grievance among the migrant minority and inspired this segment of the population to take up arms. Although the lootability of cocoa itself is debatable, the taxation system imposed to collect revenues from the cocoa trade was very profitable.


In Cote d’Ivoire, both resource governance and political decision-making processes had a significant impact on the later onset of conflict in the country. This interplay resulted in circumstances that made conflict more likely.

The post-colonial autocratic regime of Houphouet-Boigny led to a government apparatus with full economic control. The lack of transparency and government accountability resulted in populist redistribution policies. The expansion of cocoa production and favorable policies for migrants changed the ethnic structure of the country and played a significant role in the onset of the conflict. Although favorable migrant policies might have been good for the country’s economy at one point, one other reason for their implementation was the fact that migrants were “good soldiers” and gave the government more legitimacy. Such policies were implemented in a country with no democratic institutions and under developed human rights mechanisms, which later made it possible for other political actors to abuse them. Mismanagement of cocoa revenues through CAISTAB made the country dependant on primary commodities export and therefore vulnerable to external shocks. The clumsy political and economic reforms that followed did not deliver the expected results and only paved the way for further instability.

The manipulation of identities was the outcome of a power struggle due to the recently introduced multi-party system. Further mismanagement of resource revenues through new cocoa institutions, continued high public spending and forced liberalization of the market caused high unemployment rates and impoverished the population. One cannot say that the attempt to democratize the country and liberalize its economy was wrong, but one can question the way new rules were imposed. The country did not possess basic democratic mechanisms, an efficient system of control, or a satisfying level of transparency. The state was not ready to give up its piece of the cake from cocoa revenues and start playing fairly on the new liberal market. Ultimately, farmers had to pay the price.

Growing unemployment rates, especially in urban areas, caused people to return to their villages and try to claim their land from migrant farmers. Unclear ownership of cocoa land impacted the developing identity issue by deepening the gap between the autochtones and allogenes. In addition to being deprived of some basic human rights, this raised the question of the access to cocoa land they considered their own. The farmers were also affected by the overall economic instability in the country and bore the weight of the government’s reforms. Ultimately, the stage was set for the feeling of objective grievance to develop and serve as a motive for the onset of conflict.

In the case of Cote d’Ivoire, the “root causes” [29] of the conflict were socio-economic development (dependence on primary commodities export, slow economic growth, high poverty rates, forced institutional reforms, liberalization of the market), state institutions (CAISTAB, new cocoa trade institutions), political processes (migrant policies, introduction of new democratic institutions, politization of the identity issue) and government accountability (lack of transparency resulting in high corruption levels, mismanagement of resource revenues). In order to understand the conflict in Cote d’Ivoire, it is important to analyze the interplay of all of these factors. These factors developed the sense of grievance and provided the motive that aggravated and triggered the conflict. The means and opportunity for sustaining the conflict were provided through the lucrative taxation system imposed by the rebels.


Basedau, M., & Ley, J., (2005). Conceptualizing the “Resource Curse” in Sub-Saharan Africa: Affected Areas and Transmission Channels. In M. Basedau & A. Mehler (Ed.), Resource Politics in Sub-Saharan Africa (pp. 9-24). Hamburg, Germany: The Institute of African Affairs.

Basedau, M., (2005). Resourse Politics in Sub-Saharan Africa beyond the Resource Curse: Towards a Future Research Agenda. In M. Basedau & A. Mehler (Ed.), Resource Politics in Sub-Saharan Africa (pp. 325-348). Hamburg, Germany: The Institute of African Affairs.

Central Intelligence Agency, (2011). Africa: Cote d’ Ivoire. Retrieved January 24, 2011, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/iv.html.

Collier, P., The World Bank, Development Research Group. (2000). Economic Causes of Civil Conflict and Their Implications for Policy. Washington, USA: World Bank.

Global Witness, (2007). Hot Chocolate: How Cocoa Fuelled the Conflict in Cote d’Ivoire. London, UK: Global Witness. Retrieved January 20, 2011, from http://www.globalwitness.org/library/hot-chocolate-how-cocoa-fuelled-conflict-c%C3%B4te-d%E2%80%99ivoire.

International Cocoa Organization, (2001). Annual Report for 2000/01. London, UK: International Cocoa Organization. Retrieved January 20, 2011, from http://www.icco.org/pdf/An_report/anrep0001english.pdf.

International Cocoa Organization, (2002). Annual Report for 2001/02. London, UK: International Cocoa Organization. Retrieved January 20, 2011, from http://www.icco.org/pdf/An_report/anrep0102english.pdf.

Ross, M. L., (2004a). What Do We Know About Natural Resources and Civil War?. Journal of Peace Research, 41(3), 337-356.

Ross, M. L. (2004b). How Do Natural Resources Influence Civil War? Evidence from Thirteen Cases. International Organization, 58 (1), 35-67.

Schure, J., Guesnet, L., & Müller, M. (2010). Natural Resources in Cote d’Ivoire: Fostering Crisis or Peace? The Cocoa, Diamond, Gold and Oil Sector. Bonn, Germany: Bonn International Center for Conversion.

The World Bank, Occidental and Central Africa Department. (1994). Republic of Cote d’Ivoire: National Agricultural Services Support Project (No. 12388 – IVC). Washington, USA: World Bank.

The World Bank, (2011). Data. Retrieved January 27, 2011, from http://data.worldbank.org/country/cote-divoire?display=graph.


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