Ivory Coast’s presidential elections, which began in November 2010 and resulted in a bloody transfer of power five months later, were the tipping point of a ten-year conflict that had transformed one of the region’s keystone economies into another cliché of African chaos. Much like the unrest that spawned the Arab Spring across North Africa, factors such as high unemployment, government corruption, and a disaffected youth had helped push a combustible situation to the point of explosion.
Ground zero for the tumult that grew out of these problems was Ivory Coast’s cocoa zone, the fertile west that produces nearly all of the Ivorian cocoa crop, the largest in the world. The millions of farmers who tended these crops were the conflict’s primary victims. Many of them were descendants of West African immigrants who had come to Ivory Coast decades ago to build the cocoa sector, helping create a vibrant economy touted as the “Miracle of Africa.”
With the ascension to the presidency of Alassane Ouattara, the cocoa farmers finally have an ally in the presidential palace. But in the spring of 2012, one year after the end of hostilities, Ouattara is ignoring calls for true justice, prosecuting only those linked to the prior regime and ignoring atrocities committed by his supporters. With Laurent Gbagbo set to become the first former head of state tried for war crimes before the International Criminal Court, how can Ivory Coast move forward if Ouattara refuses to seek justice on all sides? And are cocoa farmers finally seeing their share of cocoa profits, unhindered by government corruption or armed militias? Are Ivory Coast’s cocoa exports now clean—no longer sullied by the warlords or arms trafficking the crops once financed?
Austin Merrill and Peter DiCampo travel to the heart of cocoa country to see the plantations and speak to the farmers themselves—the very people whose bountiful harvests and horrible suffering are at the core of what has sent Ivory Coast spiraling out of control.