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What Next In Ivory Coast?

Local residents react to news of the capture of Laurent Gbagbo in the Youpougon neighborhood of Abidjan, Apr 11 2011
Local residents react to news of the capture of Laurent Gbagbo in the Youpougon neighborhood of Abidjan, Apr 11 2011
Joe DeCapua

Two former U.S. diplomats say reconciliation in Ivory Coast will be difficult after the latest crisis, but they say careful investigations of alleged human rights abuses, international support and an improved economy would help.

Former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs Jendayi Frazer and former ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell are now both senior fellows at the Council of Foreign Relations, an independent, non-partisan think tank based in New York.

Frazer says it appears that U.N.-backed President Alassane Ouattara is making the right moves, following the ouster of Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to step down after losing last November’s presidential elections.

“President Ouattara is taking a lot of the important steps. He’s signaling very clearly to both his forces to put down their arms, as well as to those who have supported Gbagbo that there will be a process of reconciliation and that there will be no witch hunting,” she said.

Frazer also said Ouattara must signal the U.N. that it still has a vital role to play, including the restoration of human rights.

“It was not simply a matter of the civilians [being] protected, according to their mandate, now that Gbagbo is arrested. But, in fact, they need to continue to play that role of trying to help him secure the country during this transition phase,” she said.

International Criminal Court

Some have called for Gbagbo to be brought before the International Criminal Court for his alleged rights abuses.

Frazer said, “I’m not necessarily a fan of another African case at the International Criminal Court.”

She favors an African solution. “I would rather see Mr. Gbagbo taken out of the country, held in some type of custody, whether it’s house arrest or jailed, and then the Ivoirian courts be re-legitimized…to actually hold a trial against him,” she said.

Another possible solution, she said, would be the establishment of a regional African court of human rights.

The former assistant secretary of state says for any credible trials to take place, there must first be investigations of alleged rights abuses by both sides in Ivory Coast.

Reconciliation?

Meanwhile, former U.S. ambassador John Campbell said there must be disarmament of both factions and a reintegration into Ivoirian life. But he said reintegration will not be easy and poses some tough questions.

“What do you do to reunify a badly fractured country? What do you do to break down this insidious distinction between so-called indigents and so-called settlers, even when the settlers have lived or their families have lived in Cote d’Ivoire for 50 or 60 years? How do you move beyond those kinds of identities into a broader Ivoirian identity? I mean this is a long and painful process.”

The answer may lie in the quality of life for all Ivoirians.

“It’s a process,’ he said, “that becomes much easier if the economy is on the upswing. In effect, what was in many respects West Africa’s strongest economy, has essentially been severely damaged, aspects of it destroyed, over the past 10 or 12 years. And what that’s done is make everything worse,” he said.

Don’t forget

Campbell said the international community must remain engaged over the long term.

“If Ivory Coast is to move out of the current crisis, it’s going to need the support of the international community,” he said, “It’s going to need humanitarian aid and assistance. It’s also going to need political support and encouragement. And the legitimate government will benefit from the fact that the international community is watching,”

However, he added, “What worries me is that too often the international community has a very short attention span and simply moves on to the next crisis that dominates the news cycle. Were that to happen with respect to Cote d’Ivoire, the whole process would at very least take much longer and might well be compromised in some way that’s hard to foresee.”

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