Cocoa corruption trials

If I didn’t have a day job, it’d be quite tempted to spend my time at the Abidjan courts this past month, where after nearly four years of waiting the trial of the country’s former cocoa sector managers is underway. It’s not making headlines internationally, but a few papers are following the trial closely and there are some simply stupendous stories coming out each day. Surely this sort of thing would make a fantastic book. One headline today suggests some 1.8 billion dollars of sub-grade cocoa was illegally exported – every day there are similar stories of scams.

All this is creating barely a stir here. For context, the cocoa sector here in the world’s biggest producer was liberalised in 1999/2000 and put under the control of various semi-private agencies. The whole thing was very badly organised leaving agencies that had ambiguous legal foundations controlled by unaccountable managers, many of whom had little formal training. In addition, the period coincided with instability in Ivory Coast following the late-99 coup d’etat. The result of the cocoa reforms was theft on an incredible scale.

There was an incredible amount of corruption under former president Laurent Gbagbo, but in this case it was he who arrested the twenty leading figures in the sector in June 2008. What surprises me most is not the figures (which are breath-taking) but the lack of current outrage. It’s evidence of just how little power and influence the Ivorian cocoa farmer has – this is their money stolen by Abidjan-based elites and most of us don’t seem to care. Here’s a prediction – no money will be returned to farmers, no-one will apologise either among those who organised the crime or those who didn’t bother to stop it, and no-one will question the morality of a society that lets the rich steal so openly from the poor.

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