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Ivory Coast: All for the better?

Posted by on 12 April 2011

Laurent Gbagbo, the former Ivorian President, was arrested yesterday by the military forces of the Alassane Ouattara (though one can rightfully suspect that it was the French army in reality who should be credited for this achievement).

This marks the end (at least in theory!) of an eight-month deadlock caused by Gbagbo’s stubbornness not to recognize the results of the presidential elections organized  last November.

Once known as the Perl of Africa, Ivory Coast has been affected by military coups, civil wars and a plummeting economy for much of the last twenty years. Ouattara is therefore the first democratically elected president to take office since late 1990s, an event many international stakeholders hope to put Ivory Coast back on track to sustainable development.

President Ouattara is now facing two major challenges in his political career and it is safe to assume that to some degree the future of his country depends on how he and his allies decide to proceed from now on: revamping the economy (get the economic sanctions placed by foreign powers removed, encourage foreign investors to return to the country, assist local economic actors in their attempt to reopen their businesses, etc) and deciding what is to be done about Laurent Gbagbo.

Whereas a formal ceasefire is now in place in Ivory Coast, gunshots have still been reported. And this is to be expected.

For a country which has been divided along ethnic / religious / social lines for almost two decades, restoring peace and encouraging reconciliation is a difficult task. On the bright side, Ouattara has already publicly announced the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (following the already established and successful South African model!) that will investigate the human rights abuses and the conduct of the military forces in general.

As students of African history very well know, a shift in power from one political force to another does not necessarily or implicitly constitute a real “change”. Again and again, we have seen leaders with good intentions making the same mistakes and following the same paths as their predecessors.  For Ouattara to avoid the same fate as Gbagbo, he will need to calculate his next moves carefully and deal with the following issues accordingly:

1.       The process of demilitarization needs to continue under the supervision of western powers. The military serves no real purpose for Ivory Coast, a country which is no immediate dangers from any of its neighbors. Only a liability and a huge financial burden for the state. Moreover, it was from the ranks of the military forces that dictators emerged in the 1990s. Only a complete demilitarization can help Ivory Coast avoid repeating the same mistakes that brought it in the current state. (NB: I argue that the military should be dissolved not the national police force;).

2.       With France already pledging 400 million euros in development aid to Ivory Coast, President Ouattara will have some discretion with respect to how he plans to reorganize the economy. Encouraging entrepreneurs, economic forces and foreign partners to resume their activities as soon as possible is of paramount importance in these early stages.

3.       The Truth and Reconciliation Commission should be allowed to conduct its duties promptly and efficiently. Ivory Coast needs to be in peace with itself and this institution might be the only way to provide both closure and justice to the victims of this long and useless war.

4.       Resource redistribution: President Ouattara needs to pay close attention to how the state resources will be distributed. The North-South Division has cut deep in the social cohesion of the country. And people will look, analyze and live their lives through the lenses of these divisions. If Ouattara is to change the course of history, he needs to assist all regions of the country in their endeavor to secure financial, social and personal stability.

President Ouattara has a lot on his plate at the moment. He is clearly under a lot of pressure from all sides.

Whereas it is true that only time will tell if this change in power was for the better, one might look at history and hope that Ouattara will choose to defy it, that he will be the politician to do the right things. For everyone’s sake.

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