The political crisis in Cote d'Ivoire is entering its second month, as former President Laurent Gbagbo clings to office, despite calls by both his people and the international community to step down after losing the November run-off election. United Nations peacekeepers stand guard in the capital Abidjan to protect civilians and the government of President-elect Alassane Ouattara, and for now an uneasy peace prevails.
Economic sanctions and international travel bans have been imposed on Gbagbo, his family and close supporters, but he still hangs on as though his problems will one day just disappear. One way he has maintained his grip on power is by using money in the country's central bank to pay his political allies and supporters in the military, rather than for the government expenses and economic development it is intended for. Another source of money -– and power – is revenue from the country's vibrant cocoa trade, the largest in the world. Almost one-third of Cote d'Ivoire's gross domestic product comes from the sale and export of cocoa beans grown by the nation's small-holder farmers into international commodity markets.
Seeking to put further pressure on Gbagbo, but do as little harm to these farmers as possible, President-elect Ouattara has called for a one-month ban on cocoa exports. The aim is hit Gbagbo where it may hurt him the most: in the wallet. Concerned about the political situation in Cote d'Ivoire, some large cocoa buyers have already suspended their purchases there.
The United States respects the decision by two American cocoa-exporting companies to honor President-elect Ouattara's call for a temporary ban on Cote d'Ivoire's cocoa exports. We are working closely with the European Union, which has imposed sanctions that could target the export of cocoa and its shipment out of the country.
It is part of the strategy to deny Gbagbo the resources he needs to continue buying support from the military and political actors there. He must not be allowed to appropriate the resources of the people of Cote d'Ivoire to continue resisting their desire for a new leader.