Can New President Turn Ivory Coast Around?

In Ivory Coast on Saturday, after months of violence and political turmoil, Alassane Ouattara was inaugurated as president. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton discusses with host Guy Raz the challenges Ouattara faces: pacifying a country, uniting a fractured military and delivering on campaign promises of economic reform.

GUY RAZ, Host:

In Ivory Coast today, after months of violence and political turmoil, Alassane Ouattara has been officially inaugurated as the new president of that country. Ouattara defeated Laurent Gbagbo back in an election in November, but Gbagbo refused to step down, prompted months of violence between military factions loyal to each man, and at least a thousand Ivorians were killed in the fighting.

Gbagbo was arrested last month, and now the new president, Alassane Ouattara, has to figure out how to unite a divided country and military.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is here in the studio with me.

And, Ofeibea, with Ivory Coast still battered and bloody, what can Ouattara expect to accomplish in the near term?

OFEIBEA QUIST: Things are much calmer in that people aren't being killed in the numbers every day, as we saw in March and April in Ivory Coast. But, of course, now you've got this myriad soldiers, former militias, former rebels who were meant to be part of the national army. And the problem is: Is everybody going to agree? Are all these people who are under arms, who have held arms going to be able to join together and protect civilians in Ivory Coast?

RAZ: The man that Ouattara replaced, former President Laurent Gbagbo, presumably still has a lot of supporters. Is there talk of reconciliation, some kind of process, or are there whispers of retribution?

QUIST: You know, whichever figures you take for the results of the elections, Ouattara and Gbagbo got about 50 percent each.

RAZ: Yes.

QUIST: Ouattara, 54, Gbagbo, 46, give or take. So about half the nation supports him, and half the nation supports Ouattara. And people - there's a lot of bitterness in Ivory Coast.

Ouattara has pledged to set up a dialogue, truth and reconciliation commission. But at the same time, he says that those who were responsible for the violence and the killings in Ivory Coast will be investigated. That has started.

And now there's also talk of Ouattara saying that the International Criminal Court should be involved. So we're talking about international justice and justice at the local level.

RAZ: There are also questions, I gather, about whether he can wrangle what has been a pretty fractured military. He does have a prime minister with some influence in some parts of the military. You say that might actually make things more complicated, having a prime minister with ties to the military.

QUIST: And an ambitious one who wants to be president.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

QUIST: I mean, Guillaume Soro is well-known. He was part of the rebellion back in 2002. He's a young man, 39 years old. But he is not just going to move out of the picture. So these are all the challenges facing Alassane Ouattara, who talks about Ivory Coast going back to work, about kick- starting the economy. But if he's trying to tackle security issues, is he going to be able to focus on what Ivorians want: jobs, peace and reconciliation?

RAZ: Let me talk about the international community, because there was a lot of talk about possible sanctions. Of course, France was heavily involved in this story. Is the international community now breathing a sigh of relief and saying, OK, our guy is in, and now we can resume normal relations with the Ivory Coast?

QUIST: Yes, yes, from that point of view. But it's really important not to see things just from the international prism, that there's been too much blood flowing under the bridge in Ivory Coast. It's going to take a lot more than them saying Ouattara was the one who won the elections. We support him. Yes, they will financially.

But I think everybody has got to look much deeper into the Ivorian crisis. The healing of the wounds, if that isn't done, it will be really difficult for this country - which was the number one in West Africa, the top economy, the bastion of peace, prosperity and stability - for Ivory Coast to relive that dream.

RAZ: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton here in the studio with me this weekend, visiting from West Africa.

Ofeibea, thank you so much.

QUIST: Always a pleasure.

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