Côte d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara promised on Wednesday to quickly restore security and prosperity to a nation broken by civil war as life in the main city slowly returned to a normality of sorts.
In his first news conference since the arrest of his rival, Laurent Gbagbo, ended a power struggle that descended into all-out war, Ouattara promised to bring to justice all those responsible for atrocities, including his own forces.
“I say to my countrymen: in a few months Côte d’Ivoire will have come out of this crisis. Trust me,” Ouattara said.
“We are still in a delicate situation. We still need to secure the country, especially Abidjan … I will do everything I can so that all Ivorians, everywhere in the country, can live safely.”
He said a new national army would be formed and urged militias and mercenaries to lay down their weapons.
Everything is in place for the immediate resumption of cocoa exports — the main foreign revenue earner — and branches of the regional central bank shut for months will likely reopen next week, enabling private banks to do the same, he said.
The ports of Abidjan and San Pedro should reopen this week.
Ouattara said he would ask the International Criminal Court to investigate reported massacres since the stand-off with Gbagbo began after last November’s election, which results certified by the United Nations showed he won, an outcome Gbagbo rejected.
Gbagbo’s capture by Ouattara’s troops, aided by French forces in their former colony, follows a civil war in which thousands were killed, more than a million uprooted and the economy of West Africa’s former shining star wrecked.
In Abidjan, the commercial capital, some petrol stations reopened on Wednesday, communal taxis were running and people ventured out cautiously on to the streets despite continued violence in some districts.
Running water and electricity cut off by 10 days of fierce fighting for control of the city once known as the Paris of Africa were restored to most neighbourhoods, residents said.
“Life is gradually returning to normal, shops have reopened as well as pharmacies,” said Mariam Kone in the southern district of Koumassi.
“At night, though, there is still shooting by those who have weapons. They are not happy at all that Gbagbo’s gone.”
Cleaning up, detaining looters
In Cocody, a wealthy neighbourhood where Gbagbo spent a week holed up in a bunker before being arrested, Ouattara’s forces were patrolling the streets and detaining looters.
On Boulevard de France, in an area near Gbagbo’s residence attacked by French helicopters before his arrest, workers from the local Red Cross collected bodies from the street.
Some corpses were so badly dismembered or decomposed that shovels had to be used.
Gbagbo’s arrest left Ouattara as the leader of the world’s largest cocoa grower, but analysts say he faces a huge task stopping violence and healing deep wounds.
In a boost to his legitimacy, Gbagbo’s former army chiefs swore loyalty to Ouattara at a ceremony on Tuesday where the words “forgiveness” and “reconciliation” were repeated.
Ouattara, whose standing has been undermined by reports that his forces, as well as Gbagbo’s, killed hundreds of civilians in the ethnically divided west of the country, said all crimes would be prosecuted.
He urged supporters to refrain from reprisal violence and said soldiers caught looting would be dismissed from the army.
“There can be no reconciliation without justice,” he said. “All Ivorians are equal before the law. We will fight impunity.”
Some parts of Abidjan were still unsafe. In the pro-Gbagbo neighbourhood of Yopougon, gunfire was heard on Wednesday.
“There is still a lot of sub-machinegun fire and we don’t know who is doing the shooting,” said resident Stella Gogo.
“There are a few cars circulating and people are walking in the streets. Markets are open but food is very expensive.”
Another resident, Justin Behan, said: “The youth militias still have weapons. We hear shooting every day, so we are frightened to go out.”
Banks were still shut, as was the Western Union money transfer service, and many residents reported an acute shortage of cash to buy food.
The European Union, France and the World Bank have all pledged financial aid to rebuild the economy and repair badly damaged infrastructure. United States President Barack Obama called Ouattara to offer his support.
After his capture, Gbagbo was taken to the Golf Hotel where Ouattara has his headquarters. Colombia’s UN ambassador, who chairs the Security Council this month, said Gbagbo had been moved to an undisclosed location in the north of the country.
Ouattara said he would be prosecuted alongside his wife and aides, and that their safety and rights would be guaranteed.
Gbagbo’s daughter, however, said her parents and their associates had been detained illegally, and said she had asked five Paris-based lawyers to defend them. — Reuters