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Bitter Chocolate: Wealth Extraction in Côte d'Ivoire

Part of PERI's African Capital Flight Working Paper Series
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> Read French version of paper


The cocoa sector has been at the heart of Côte d'Ivoire economy since independence. The country has become the largest producer of cocoa in the world (40%). In the two first decades of independence, impressive economic growth was fueled by cocoa exports. But the Ivorian miracle evaporated after the collapse of cocoa prices and the debt soaring. The country plunged into a serious economic crisis, followed by a political crisis that culminated in civil war in the early 2000s. The primary commodity sector in Côte d’Ivoire has been highly vulnerable to illicit financial flows. Large and persistent discrepancies between Côte d'Ivoire’s cocoa export statistics and the cocoa import statistics of major partners such as the Netherlands, Germany and France are indicative of substantial capital flight through export misinvoicing. With a focus on the four major periods in Ivorian political history, this paper analyzes the trend of illicit financial outflows in the cocoa sector, the mechanisms of resource rent capture and personal enrichment that fuel them, the key national and foreign players, and their ongoing responsibilities. Under the Houphouët-Boigny regime (1960-1993), through the management of the country’s Agricultural Product Stabilization and Support Fund, the president had full control over the cocoa sector and used it to enrich himself and his associates. He and his successor Bédié (1993-1999) colluded with exporting companies in which Ivorian political leaders were shareholders. Under Gbagbo (2000-2010), the cocoa rent was the main source of funding for the civil war. The techniques of the Forces Nouvelles in the North and government forces in the South were similar: taxing cocoa production and exports, and illegally exporting part of the output to neighboring Burkina Faso and Ghana. Under the Ouattara regime (2011-2020), despite a series of reforms aimed at good governance, the cocoa sector has remained highly concentrated in the hands of a few corporate giants and plagued with favoritism, while predation in other sectors too persisted. The persistence of capital flight suggests the political economy of cocoa remains deeply rooted in the colonial scheme. Be it state-led or market-led, dominated by foreign or domestic players, the Ivorian cocoa sector has remained the place for wealth extraction to the benefit of a handful members of the elite. Overcoming primary commodity dependence is essential for equitable development.

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