Chances are many readers of this newsletter won’t recognize the name Gbagbo. After all, it’s not as if the Ivory Coast’s former president is a household name, even amongst chocolate makers and chocolatiers.

But in paraphrasing President Regan’s famous “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” declaration, anyone  dealing with chocolate will become very familiar with Gbagbo if he doesn’t relinquish his claim to the presidency of the Ivory Coast.

As most of you known, the Ivory Coast produces about 38% of the world’s cocoa beans. Unfortunately, for the past several years, the once stable and relatively prosperous nation has been engulfed in civil strife, with various factions engaged in a power struggle.

Cocoa, the country’s predominant cash crop, hasn’t escaped the turmoil as farmers have had to deal with intimidation, destruction and theft from armed camps trying to establish territorial claims.

The country’s tenuous political situation has -- along with the vagaries of weather -- contributed to higher cocoa prices as cocoa harvest totals slipped. 

The United Nation’s attempt to bring about a negotiated settlement, which finally resulted in elections last November, seemed like the long-awaited first step to resolving the conflict. Despite losing the election to his rival, Alassane Ouattara, Gbagbo refused to concede. The former president, who was supported by the army and a portion of Ivory Coast citizens, proceeded to cordon the hotel where Ouattara was staying, in effect blockading any delivery of food or supplies to the president-elect. The United Nations was forced to airlift supplies to Ouattara via helicopter. 

In this presidential post-election controversy, hanging chads weren’t a concern. Rather, real hangings were.

The latest reports from the Ivory Coast suggest  that Gbagbo may be softening somewhat as an alliance of West African nations, ECOWAS, and the African Union bring pressure on Gbagbo to step down.

Reportedly, Gbagbo has lifted the blockade surrounding Outattra’s hotel. Nevertheless, the deposed president insists he’s not leaving, although he’s open to a negotiated settlement. Long-time observers of the situation insist that this is a typical Gbagbo tactic, stalling. Many believe that a military intervention is the only way Gbagbo will surrender the office. 

I hope that’s not the case.

What the Ivory Coast doesn’t need is another military conflict. The country and its people have suffered enough during the past decade. And I’m not even focusing on what this would do to cocoa prices. 

As representatives from all phases of the cocoa and chocolate global community begin to better coordinate their efforts to eliminate child labor abuse, improve cocoa agricultural practices and farmer incomes as well as intensify research and development in cocoa plant varieties, it’s critical that the Ivory Coast return to political stability.

As the largest single-nation market for chocolate consumption, the United States must bring to bear additional pressure on Gbagbo to simply “step down!” And while we have enough domestic issues to deal with here, everything from higher commodity prices to a still recovering economy, one can’t embrace isolationism. We owe it to the farmers in the Ivory Coast to speak out.