ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
Ivorian workers empty bags of cocoa beans in Abidjan in January, 2011.
Ivorian workers empty bags of cocoa beans in Abidjan in January, 2011. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
International chocolate producers have until the end of March to export cocoa beans that are sitting on docks in Ivory Coast, or they'll be impounded by forces loyal to Ivory Coast leader, Laurent Gbagbo. Ivory Coast is the biggest exporter of cocoa beans in the world.
Gbagbo is in a violent conflict with Alassane Ouattara, who's recognized internationally as the winner of Ivory Coast's presidential election last year. But Gbagbo won't cede power. Hundreds of people have been killed in the conflict while hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing the violence.
The Wall Street Journal says Gbagbo wants the chocolate producers to pay export taxes - to him - or risk having their beans impounded. Reuters says Gbagbo is running out of money to pay wages to his supporters, including soldiers. On Monday, he nationalized the Ivorian crops of cocoa and coffee, rebuffing Alassane's executive order in January banning their export.
His ultimatum could mean trouble for European chocolate producers, as the European Union imposed sanctions on Ivory Coast. The Toronto Star says Ivorian cocoa smuggling is on the rise and Reuters adds Gbagbo could try to sell cocoa beans to Russia and other Asian countries, which haven't imposed sanctions on him. But the Financial Times doubts that will work, because handling the logistics of the world cocoa bean market is complex.
Meantime, Gbagbo imposed a 'no fly zone' on UN and French aircraft. That will make it tough for Alassane Ouattara to come home from an African Union summit in Ethiopia.