Cote D’Ivoire is slowly getting back on its feet following several months of an electoral scandal and several years of civil war and political tension, under the direction of President Alassane Ouattara. Political stability has largely regained the country, and the very slow process of turning rebel-governed regions back to government jurisdiction is under way. This is not to say, however, that there are not certain potential problems lying in wait on the road to recovery. Cote D’Ivoire and its new government will have to carefully tread the line of impartiality in reconstructing Ivoirian society, making sure to not favor or excuse either side in the conflict.
Successful recovery in the wake of the Ivoirian crisis may prove harder than the last few months have made it seem. This is because the country will have to face a fundamental contradiction. The political crisis that has wracked the country since 2002, opposing disgruntled military and civilian elements from the north of the country to the traditional landowners and autochthon economic and political power in the south, bled over into the electoral crisis. The electoral crisis opposed Laurent Gbagbo, shortly put a representative of the latter group, to Alassane Ouattara, former IMF economist with closer ties to the former group. So Ouattara’s challenge in office is negotiating his position in charge of assuring an impartial peace and post-crisis reconstruction with that of tangential actor in said crisis. With one side of the conflict reaping much political benefit, can there be talk of a balanced, fair meting out of justice?
During the Gbagbo years Alassane Ouattara, but especially Prime Minister and former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, fought for their cause holding the Rwandan example as a warning call. The oppression of people from the north, or of specific northern ethnicities, was compared to the Rwandan genocide, in nature if not in scale. But the Rwandan example is a good example if anything that post conflict situations, if built upon a logic of a complete power shift from ‘aggressor’ to ‘victim’, are all too likely to sow the seeds of renewed conflict.
So far, however, this trend does not seem to be applying to Cote D’Ivoire. President Ouattara has dedicated a large part of his agenda to the reconstruction of the country- both physical and emotional. He has turned into a veritable globetrotter, accumulating a schedule of visits to Paris, Brussels, Germany, Israel, and China in an effort to secure bilateral aid agreements. In addition, one of the more welcomed plans put forward by the new administration has been the drawing up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Commission, launched this past September, includes a myriad of representatives from government, religious organizations and civil society. While the Commission seems like the correct first step to ease tensions between regions and peoples, uncertainties remain as to its exact function, and its real power in prosecuting and bringing to justice perpetrators of crimes against humanity.
Of course, certain key Gbagbo supporters, including the ex-president himself, have been accused of a wide spectrum of crimes, ranging from allegations of massacres to ‘economic crimes’. Former president Laurent Gbagbo is being charged along with his wife in connection with violent incidents during the electoral crisis, and Ouattara, according to a Hague Justice Portal Report last month “has made little secret of his desire to send Gbagbo to trial at the International Criminal Court”. Ouattara’s government has in addition shown itself inclined to cooperate with the ICC when it comes to arranging trials for militants in the Gbagbo camp.
However Ouattara’s government has not yet charged any of his supporters in connection with violence or crimes against humanity, despite evidence implicating certain officials. Specifically, a great factor of worry is the military officials who have integrated the new government, but who are currently being targeted by Human Rights Watch and the International Criminal Court on suspicion of crimes against humanity. Soldiers like Eddie Médi and Losseni Fofana, wanted in connection with human rights abuses and massacres of hundreds of people, have been appointed to the highest posts in the military hierarchy by Ouattara himself. Médi is the commander in chief of the Republican Forces of Cote D’Ivoire, the new military created by Ouattara this spring. Fofana was appointed Deputy Commander of the Special Forces branch this past summer.
In all, five top officials from the rebel side are named in a Human Rights Watch report detailing alleged massacres during the 2002-2007 civil war period as well as during the recent electoral crisis. That Ouattara’s government has not made any strong move to investigate these claims and deliver the perpetrators to justice hints at a hierarchy of blame being established, which would put the Gbagbo camp in the first line of fire while more or less sheltering the remainder.
Should the Ouattara administration’s one-sidedness continue, there is the chance that tensions and conflicts between groups will subside, but not disappear, incubating a new, revived conflict. The two most important steps Ouattara can take to sit Cote D’Ivoire on more solid ground seem straightforward. The first is to clearly state a desire to cooperate with the International Criminal Court regarding abuses committed by both sides in the conflict. The second is to ensure the success of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The latter, regardless of if it is done without punitive measures (modeled after the South African TRC), must clearly state its goals and mission, as well as engage the entire country in a balanced effort to come to terms with the past. Ouattara has indicated in many ways that he is the one to bring peace and stability back to Cote D’Ivoire; how complete the peace and how thorough the stability, however, remain to be seen.