Blood And Chocolate

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The following post is by Dealbreaker reader and commenter Infinite Guest.

If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And if the only tool you have is an election, then every place looks like a democracy. For the past decade it has been fashionable in the United States and among the liberal democracies to tout the phrase “democracy and the rule of law” as though the two were soft synonyms for each other. They aren’t, of course. The rule of law imposes constraints on government, institutions and the people, without which democracy would be a deadly dangerous thing to have around.

Suppose that a candidate in a Western presidential election appeared to have lost the popular vote but disputed the results and was found victor by a friendly judiciary. The rule of law in every Western country is strong enough that, whether the people liked it or not, the courts’ choice would become president while the candidate who won the popular vote would concede and return to private life. Not so in the Ivory Coast . The international community nearly unanimously supports Western-educated banker Dr. Alassane Ouattara over the incumbent former history teacher Laurent Gbagbo, painting the former as a centrist champion of human rights and the latter –leveraging the racism baked into the developed world’s view of the Dark Continent— as an archetypically deluded African strongman kleptocrat bent on genocide.

While Gbagbo is no saint, it strains credulity to say that Ouattara has any faith in democracy. This is the same man who called the ouster of his long-time political enemy Henri Bédié by a military junta "not a coup d'état", but "a revolution supported by all the Ivorian people." Having defeating that same junta leader, Robert Guéï, in a popular election, Laurent Gbagbo only came to power after violence broke out in the streets. Alassane Ouattara’s disqualification from that election was one of the catalysts of the Ivorian Civil War. History repeats itself in the Ivory Coast , first as tragedy and then as even uglier tragedy. The rebels never disarmed following the Ivorian Civil war and effectively control the Muslim north, where Ouattara’s support is strongest; only the United Nations would impose a national election on a partitioned country.

Hamfisted disregard of great nations toward the politics and even the sovereignty of the small is no new narrative, and fortunately, the Ivory Coast only produces forty per cent of the world’s cocoa. If they produced forty per cent of the world’s wheat, or forty percent of the world’s copper, or perish the thought, the world’s oil, that would be a major global problem. But cocoa is a small market, and cocoa is a peculiar commodity. Picked by hand, often by children, many of whom are arguably slaves, cocoa is nobody’s necessity, not even the most committed chocaholic. Moreover, cocoa has a long shelf life and it can be grown almost anywhere the sun shines. Production is been moving increasingly away from major growers in South America and Africa toward Southeast Asia . Although a few hedge funds recently made a little money on cocoa, and UBS’s cocoa ETF is finally showing a positive return, cocoa simply doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. If it did, then by this late date Alassane Ouattara wouldn’t be cooped up in the Golf Hôtel and Laurent Gbagbo wouldn’t be a free man.

What is significant is this: The global economic narrative now and for the next decade is one of tension between the West and developing nations, who share no common cultural heritage and whose economic interests do not align or are in direct conflict. The Ivorian Civil War was aggravated by new trade agreements advancing the interests of the developed world to the detriment of smaller countries, just as the flames today in Tunisia , Egypt , Libya and across the developing world are fanned by our loose monetary policy. Our economies are sufficiently mature, our banks sufficiently independent of and protected from government, that we can withstand decades of capital glut without succumbing to hyperinflation. The emerging markets of the developed world are not so lucky. There, the price of bread is the price of wheat and when you run out of cash you don’t borrow, you starve. Or you revolt. By taking a myopic view of our economic self-interest, we run the very real risk of winding up on the wrong side of a strange new Prague Spring.

During this season of political upheaval in Africa and the Middle East it’s worth remembering that from the fall of Rome until 1945 the entire continent of Europe was a bloodbath, ruled delusional strongman kleoptocrats bent on genocide. The first Western democratic leaders weren’t elected and sworn in without a fight. Whatever the price of cocoa —or oil, or any commodity, for that matter— blood is the price of democracy.

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