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January 16, 2012

Clinton, Ouattara Discuss Ivorian Reconciliation

by Scott Stearns

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in West Africa where she met with Ivory Coast's leader Alassane Ouattara about efforts to reconcile divisions remaining from the political crisis over the country's disputed presidential election.

Secretary Clinton and President Ouattara met at Abidjan's presidential palace for talks meant to underscore the Obama administration's commitment to democratic governance in Ivory Coast. The first visit to Ivory Coast by a U.S. secretary of state in more than 25 years comes as Ouattara works to bring the country together following violence last year that toppled former President Laurent Gbabgo when he refused to recognize Ouattara's election. With Gbagbo facing charges at the International Criminal Court, Ouattara says he is committed to bringing to justice everyone responsible for electoral violence, even if they fought for him.

"I would like to reaffirm our will to ensure justice will be equitable and that all those who have committed crimes will be treated equally, without discrimination,'' said Ouattara.

Clinton said that is the only way to bring about reconciliation in Ivory Coast.

"We think that all Ivorians need to see that rule of law is working and that there is impartial justice,'' said Clinton.

Ivorians say they hope Clinton's visit will help boost investment by U.S. firms, including the agricultural giants Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill.

"We know that the Americans supported President Ouattara during the crisis Ivory Coast has gone through, so it's normal that after this crisis the American secretary of state comes to our country to see how life is going on and if President Ouattara is following the democratic path," said student Sekou Toure, in French.

Clinton's visit is expected to send another signal that Ivory Coast is back in business.

"This will bring a lot to Ivory Coast because at least it will encourage investors. Anyway, people who were still worried, this will encourage them to come to Ivory Coast to invest massively," said driver Karim Tarpiliga.

President Ouattara's political party won big majorities in last month's parliamentary elections, increasing optimism about new investment.

"All we can expect from this visit is that the Americans come here with new contracts for Ivory Coast. That Americans come to say to Ivory Coast that they will invest in several sectors: mining, oil, agriculture," said Toure. "Anyway, everything is being reviewed at the moment. You know that the post-electoral crisis affected all the sectors, particularly the private sector."

Secretary Clinton began this trip in Liberia, where she attended President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's inauguration, praising the Nobel Peace Prize winner's moves to reach out to her political opponents.  
Clinton wrapped up her time in West Africa with visits to Togo and Cape Verde - countries the Obama administration says are practicing good governance, and with whom the United States would like to develop even stronger ties.