By Mallory Cohen
Many Americans living abroad discuss feeling isolated in their homes overseas in the aftermath of Trump’s election. When I moved to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire this February, I had many questions about how I could continue to fight the injustices taking place in the US while living thousands of miles away. I wasn’t alone in thinking this way—Progressive Action, Global Exchange (PAGE)-Abidjan was formed in February of 2017 by Sarah Burgess, now living in DC, who also organized the global PAGE network. PAGE Abidjan has since met weekly to call representatives, support campaigns by activist groups around the world, and discuss how we can best fight Trump-perpetuated bigotry, intolerance, and injustice.
While there are limitations to engaging in American politics from Abidjan (it’s impossible, for instance, to camp out in front of a representative’s office), organizing from Côte d’Ivoire also presents incredible opportunities for learning about the US’s effect on West Africa and engaging with the Ivorian people to address changes happening in the new administration. Trump, after all, is not just America’s problem, and our resistance is stronger if we fight together— regardless of our country of origin.
In April, PAGE-Abidjan began a campaign to ask Hershey’s to denounce Trump’s stance on climate change. West Africa produces 75% of total global cocoa, with Côte d’Ivoire producing 40% of the world’s supply—the most of any country. Like many chocolate companies, Hershey’s sources most of their cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire. Erratic rains and dry heat brought by climate change has already limited the country’s cocoa production. In turn, hundreds of thousands of cocoa farmers, who already make as little as $.50/day, have suffered.
We feel it is Hershey’s obligation to stand up for their farmers, whom the company claims they care about, by insisting the US engage in climate action. Hershey’s says they work with Trump “behind the scenes” to affect policy decisions, but we feel a public statement would send a more powerful and effective message to the new administration. PAGE-Abidjan organized a social media campaign in April, and asked people to write to Hershey’s on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #HersheySpeakUp. We’ve received no word from Hershey’s about our campaign, so we’re writing an open letter that we hope to publish along with local environmental and cocoa advocacy groups.
Learning how to campaign in Côte d’Ivoire has been challenging but deeply informative. I arrived in Abidjan expecting to find a local community ready to fight Trump, only to largely encounter the opposite. Many Ivorians expected Obama to advocate more for African countries during his presidency because of his heritage, and were disappointed. I’ve encountered others who remain bitterly frustrated by the fact that the US extended no help towards Côte d’Ivoire during its recent and violent civil war, which ended in 2011. Those disenchanted by Obama see the Trump presidency as a step in the right direction. Many Ivorians feel neglected by Obama and the American left— the same sentiment that led to Trump’s election five thousand miles away.
However, we’ve also encountered environmental groups here who are eager to partner and focus on climate change. I hold differing views from many Ivorians about 45, but we’ve been able to find important common ground while talking about the need for climate action, both for West African cocoa farmers and the future of our planet. We’re looking forward to continuing to work with these local groups and individuals, not only on cocoa and climate change but on other issues that connect our two countries.