/ 15 April 2011

Côte d’Ivoire: rebuilding begins

The president-elect of Côte d’Ivoire has heralded ‘the dawn of a new hope” since the arrest of his rival, Laurent Gbagbo.

In a television address to the nation, Alassane Ouattara said his predecessor would receive ‘dignified treatment” and called on all
fighters in Côte d’Ivoire to lay down their arms.

‘After more than four months of post-electoral crisis, marked by so many human lives lost, we are finally at the dawn of a new era of hope,” Ouattara said this week.

He said Gbagbo, his wife Simone and the former president’s entourage would be investigated by Ivorian authorities and Ouattara said he would establish a truth and reconciliation commission.

The United Nations has appointed three independent experts to lead an investigation into allegations of serious human rights abuses by both sides.

It is hoped that the rebuilding of the country can now begin. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it was planning airlifts in the coming days to provide food to tens of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees in neighbouring Liberia. ‘We need to open up a humanitarian lifeline to the many Ivorians who are now the victims of alarming shortages of food, water and other basic needs,” said Josette Sheeran, the WFP’s executive director.

After four months of a growing crisis which threatened to tip Côte d’Ivoire into civil war Gbagbo was detained at the presidential compound on Monday by forces loyal to Ouattara. French troops and UN peacekeepers, who had struck Gbagbo’s home in Abidjan from the air earlier, provided crucial support.

One of Ouattara’s top military aides described the final assault by the rebel New Forces, now renamed the Republican Forces.

‘It was a big battle from midnight until the afternoon,” said Cisse Sindou, the group’s deputy leader. ‘The militias were everywhere. We had to advance on the residence from 1,5km away. The French troops didn’t want to be on the ground in the last 1,5km.

‘The Republican Forces got into the garden of the residence. There were no heavy tanks left there after the UN and French air strikes but the garden was full of militias. There was some resistance from these militias outside the bunker, [but] not inside.

‘We won the battle,” Sindou said.

‘We had to have a strategy to keep Mr Gbagbo alive. President Ouattara and Prime Minister [Guillaume] Soro had made it clear that he should be taken alive.

‘Our military intelligence knows well the structure of the bunker. Gbagbo was believed to have been holed up with 50 family members and supporters.”

Sindou said he went quietly once he knew the game was up. ‘We just went in the bunker and got him. When your guard is reduced, what resistance can you put up?”

Gbagbo, who had been hiding in the bunker for a week, was interrogated and then taken to the Golf hotel, where Ouattara has been based under UN protection since early December. The two rivals came face to face but Ouattara did not speak, Sindou said.

He added that a presidential swearing-in ceremony would be held soon.

He said Ouattara might move the seat of government from Abidjan to the official capital, Yamoussoukro.

‘The important thing now is to secure Abidjan, clean up the streets and deal with those militias. You cannot let the people suffer.”

Ouattara’s forces swept down from the north, his stronghold, and Abidjan, the country’s main city, has been the scene of fierce fighting for the past week.

After the arrest, Soro called on Gbagbo’s troops to switch sides.

‘To all the forces, I make a last appeal to rally [with us] — there cannot be a manhunt,” he said, in an address to the Ivorian people on French television.

Some analysts said the conflict, which has cost more than 1500 lives, would be difficult to end, particularly because of the French role in removing Gbagbo. The former president, once a history professor who had studied at the Sorbonne, portrayed the conflict as a fight against foreign forces, and France’s Licorne peacekeepers in particular.

‘This is just the start of the crisis,” said Kwesi Aning, head of research at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Centre in Ghana. ‘The role of French Licorne forces undermines Ouattara’s credibility.

‘There may be a lull for a couple of months but certainly there will be attacks to try to reverse this defeat.”

Deep divisions in Côte d’Ivoire, which has been split into north and south since the brief 2002 civil war, mean Ouattara will have to tread carefully in his handling of Gbagbo, who, in the past decade has stoked xenophobia aimed at Ivorians whose parents or grandparents came from neighbouring countries.

For all his failings, which included repeatedly postponing elections to stay in power, Gbagbo still commanded a lot of support, winning 46% of the vote in November. —