The conflict in the Ivory Coast looks as though it is now coming to and end. Former president Laurent Gbagbo was arrested yesterday by French officials supporting President Alassane Ouattara, after weeks of violent fighting. Gbagbo lost re-election last November to Ouattara but refused to give up power. Gbagbo, who was in office for more than a decade, will now be investigated for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.
This is a momentous event. The continent’s post-independence “big men” had, over decades, become accustomed to permanent power. If they lost an election, they simply threatened (or encouraged) violence until a power-sharing deal was cobbled together which allowed them to stay in office. For examples see Kenya and Zimbabwe. The Ivory Coast looked as though it would follow the same path. The fact that it now won’t is immensely encouraging.
But for the Ivory Coast to again become the kind of stable country it once was, President Ouattara should consider forming a government of national unity to ensure that Gbagbo’s supporters are part of the country’s future. Those loyal to Gbagbo have been controlling the south of the country, including Abidjan, since the country’s civil war, against the north, which was run by the ex-rebel pro-Ouattara New Forces. The scope for the continuation of conflict is clearly there, even without Gbagbo at the helm.
Ouattara must show that he deserves the support of the international community — and ensure that the Ivory Coast not only sets a standard that other dictators cannot ignore, but also engages in a transition that opposition figures elsewhere in Africa can look up to.