Election Blues For The Poor In Cote D’ivoire

image002While ballots were being counted for the “heavily favored” incumbent President of Cote d’Ivoire this week, solid new housing for the middle class and well-to-do was rising in the colonial city of Grand Bassam.

The cement structures are being built by women who carry cement bricks on their heads to the work site for 4 cents per brick.

So do two worlds live side by side in the West African nation named for the ivory traded to European explorers in the 15th century.

Alassane Ouattara, the country’s pro-business president, is seeking a second term in this country of 22 million, including six million registered voters. He should win by a substantial margin to assure the international community that the prior years of political violence are over.

Toward that end, a security force of 34,000 soldiers, including 6,000 United Nations peacekeepers, has been deployed across the country since the start of the month. High-tech voting cards with bar codes are being used to ensure against fraud.

As of Monday, some 60% of the voting group had cast ballots.

Ouattara’s main challenger is Pascal Affi N’Guessan, the leader of former President Laurent Gbagbo’s political party and Ivory Coast’s only major opposition group, the Ivorian Popular Front. N’Guessan, who served two years behind bars for his role in the post-election unrest of 2010, still faces trial by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity during that time.

Meanwhile, symbols of the country’s swelling economy and foreign investment are everywhere. According to the country’s budget minister, about a third of the 2016 budget will be spent on new roads, bridges, apartment buildings and businesses in the capital city of Abidjan.

Still, the economic recovery is very imbalanced, said Richard Banegas, an Ivory Coast expert at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. “In the countryside and remote areas of the country, nothing has changed.”

While oil- and mineral-based African economies are in crisis, investors have flooded into the world’s top cocoa grower, drawn by growth around 9 percent over the past three years.

But the cocoa industry and the multinationals tied to it face major legal headaches in the U.S. where a lawsuit on behalf of three “child slaves” forced into working on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast, was filed against Nestlé, ADM (Archer Daniels Midland), and Cargill.

According to court documents, the three plaintiffs worked without pay for up to 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. They were only fed scraps of food, and were frequently beaten and whipped by the plantation overseers.

Aged 12 to 14 years old at the time, they witnessed other children tortured when they tried to escape the plantations. After a decade of legal battles, the case now goes to the Supreme Court which may accept or toss the anti-slavery suit.

The West African nation is the world’s biggest producer of cocoa, providing about 40 percent of the global cocoa supply.

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