Ouattara slaps ban on Ivory Coast cocoa exports

2011-01-24 15:08

Alassane Ouattara, internationally recognised as the winner of Ivory Coast’s presidential election, tried to choke off funding for his rival today by ordering a month-long halt to cocoa and coffee exports.

As Nigeria called on the UN Security Council to authorise force to prise Laurent Gbagbo out of the presidency, Ouattara’s government flexed its muscles by ordered “the immediate stoppage of all exports of coffee and cocoa”.

The ban would last until February 23, said a statement signed by Ouattara’s prime minister Guillaume Soro, warning traders who violated it would be considered to be “financing the illegitimate regime” of Gbagbo.

The country is the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocoa and the announcement led cocoa futures to soar to a one-year high on the New York Board of Trade, reaching $3?393 (about R24?000) a ton for deliveries for March.

On London’s futures exchange cocoa for March reached a five-month peak of £2?307 (about R26?000) a ton.

Ouattara has been emboldened by diplomatic support from west Africa, but is still under siege from Gbagbo’s forces in an Abidjan lagoon hotel nearly two months on from the disputed November 28 election.

The governor of the Central Bank of West African States, Philippe-Henry Dacoury-Tabley, was forced out at the weekend after refusing to abide by a decision to give Ouattara control of Ivory Coast’s assets with the bank.

Since the decision in favour of Ouattara was taken in December, the bank has paid out between 60 and 100?billion CFA francs (R872?million to R1.5?billion) to the Gbagbo regime.

The main players in Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry have also remained loyal to Gbagbo, giving him another crucial source of cash.

Cocoa accounts for around 20% of Ivory Coast’s GDP, and a ban would deal a major blow to Gbagbo – but only if it is enforceable.

It was dismissed by the Gbagbo government. “Everyone knows that this will have no effect on the ground,” spokesperson Ahoua Don Mello told AFP.

“The customs and tax administration, the police, the gendarmarie, they are are at the moment under the control of the Gbagbo government. It is us who are running the country, that is the reality,” he said.

But Gilles Yabi from the International Crisis Group said the halt could have some effect.

“Even if it does not work 100%, and that is certain, if some exporters hesitate and apply this order, it will already be some several million (CFA francs) less for Gbagbo, and that is the aim of the Ouattara camp,” he said.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), the main regional grouping, has already threatened to use force to lever Gbagbo out of power and the foreign minister of Nigeria – the chief power in Ecowas – said that he wanted UN backing for military action.

Odein Ajumogobia, in an editorial published in Nigerian newspapers, said the crisis “single handedly precipitated by Mr Laurent Gbagbo ... will inevitably lead to anarchy and chaos, or worse, a full-blown civil war” if not resolved.

Ecowas “requires unequivocal international support through an appropriate United Nations Security Council resolution to sanction the use of force,” Ajumogobia wrote.

He said the use of force did not have to mean an invasion.

“Legitimate force can include, for example, a naval blockade to enforce sanctions which might be imposed against Gbagbo,” he said.

UN peacekeepers have been operating in Ivory Coast since the official end of a civil war in 2003 and are protecting Ouattara’s base but Gbagbo has said they should quit and accused them of behaving like an “occupation force”.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the African Union envoy in the crisis, said on Friday the use of force “is absolutely the last resort and we all must avoid that prospect”.

Former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki, who has also tried to mediate in the dispute, was quoted as saying today that only head-to-head talks between the rival presidents could end the deadlock.

“If this is not done, it is virtually certain that the country will engage in a very destructive war which will inevitably result in many civilians losing their lives and much property destroyed,” said Mbeki in comments in The Times in Johannesburg.

Violence linked to the dispute over the election has killed 260 people since mid-December, according to the United Nations.?

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