Cote d’Ivoire’s new president Alassane Ouattara vows to heal a shattered nation
Newly inaugurated as president of Cote d’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara, who was a victim of a poisonous law that barred him from power — and indeed from home for years — vows to heal the shattered Ivorian nation.
The brutal end of the Gbagbo’s regime on April 11, 2011, when he was bombed out of the presidential palace’s bunker after his almost successful attempt to stay in power illegally, is not simply the exit of one man. It is widely viewed as the end of the worst poison in Ivorian politics. Cote d’Ivoire’s socio-political woes for more than a decade are deeply rooted in the notion of ivoirité (which can be grossly defined as the essence of being an Ivorian citizen) that former Ivorian president Henri Konan Bédié created and used to prevent his now political ally, President Alassane Ouattara, from running for president. Bédié became the second president of Cote d’Ivoire in 1993 in accordance with article 11o of the Constitution after the death of President Houphouet-Boigny who was the mentor of both men.
In anticipation for the 1995 presidential election, Bédié crafted a new electoral code, voted into law in December 1994, that required “presidential aspirants to be born Ivorian, of parents who were also born Ivorian,” among other things. Bad news for Ouattara, Ivorian prime minister under Cote d’Ivoire’s founding father Houphouet-Boigny, for Ouattara’s father, though a full-fledged Ivorian born in Cote d’Ivoire, is portrayed by some Ivorian politicians as being of Burkina origin.
In addition, the Bédié administration launched an international warrant against Ouattara who was thus forced away from home. Gbagbo, then a staunch ally of Ouattara with whom he formed the Republican Front to fight Bédié, cried foul. In his defense of Ouattara, whose Ivorian nationality he strongly defended, Gbagbo dubbed the new law “a freedom-killer, xenophobic and dangerous.”
After being called in to serve as head of state during a projected one-year transitional period by younger army officers who had toppled Bédié in December 1999, General Robert Guei easily became addicted to power and attempted to extend his grips on the presidency beyond the transitional period. He quickly resorted to ivoirité by pushing for a new Constitution — swiftly adopted by referendum — that had the same requirements as Bedie’s electoral law.
After rising to the presidency in 2000, albeit through the back door, Gbagbo was no different. He deepened the divide between Ivorians of the South (like him) who claimed to be “pure Ivorians” and those of the North (like Ouattara) that are seen as “Ivorians of foreign origin.” The divide and the hatred grew even uglier after the 2002 failed coup attempt against Gbagbo that part of the people believe was instigated by Ouattara.
Alassane Ouattara won the November 28, 2010 run-off election against his former ally/enemy Gbagbo thanks to his one-time enemy turned political ally, former President Henri Konan Bédié. The latter, who mastered 25% of the votes after the first round, coming third after Ouattara (27%) and Gbagbo (35%), called on his supporters to cast their votes for Ouattara during the November 28 run-off.
With the majority of Ivorian voters being under age 30, Ouattara’s election is viewed by several analysts interviewed for this article as a sign that the concept of ivoirité probably “doesn’t hold much water anymore,” as one of the analysts has put it, “in a changing world where the youths see on TV a black man whose father is from Kenya rule the most powerful country on earth.” The younger generations are more interested in competent leaders that can create jobs. Nonetheless, the political analysts stress, Ouattara’s most daunting task is to reconcile Ivorians with themselves, given the fact that 48% of the Ivorian voters did vote for Gbagbo.
Despite the much-needed help Ouattara received from the international community to chase Gbagbo from the bunker in which he buried himself and several innocent, reportedly starving children, Ouattara got substantial help from Guillaume Soro’s loosely-organized Forces Republicaines de Cote d’Ivoire, FRCI, that fought the “ground war” for the demise of the Gbagbo’s regime. As expected, the FRCI forces have already clashed several times with the regular armed forces, notably the gendarmerie. What to do with the thousands of soldiers of Gbagbo’s Bete ethnic group that he recruited after the 2002 coup attempt? How to address FRCI officers’ request to be incorporated into the regular army at the ranks they had in the “rebellious” FRCI? Those are some of the new president’s headaches.
Mindful of the above, President Ouattara said in his inaugural speech on May 21: “Today, more than yesterday, we need to come together to build our motherland. That is the challenge facing our generation that has the duty to carry Cote d’Ivoire all the way to the new frontiers of development and prosperity. Therefore, like great peoples do, we shall come together and walk together again.” After saying these words that drew resounding ovation, the president solemnly sent “a message of reconciliation, togetherness and hope” to all, vowing to unify the Ivorian army.
While national reconciliation is the most urgent and dramatic need of the country, its economy is in ruins and is crying for repairs. Most analysts say that’s one area where they are confident the new president will deliver. The former deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, who worked his way to the top after joining the institution as [a plain] economist, has not only demonstrated his ability to deliver right here at home, but also has great connections where they are needed.
As expected, President Ouattara said in his inaugural address that he had “a special thought for an exceptional man who was a father to me, who also has a special place in the heart of every Ivorian.” He was referring to the late founding father, premier political figure and first president of Cote d’Ivoire and his mentor, Houphouet- Boigny, whom he labeled “a great, wise man, the great builder of modern-day Cote d’Ivoire.” Many Ivorians hope their new president, a comeback man, walks wisely in the footsteps of their revered late patriach.