Ivory Coast: Free at Last

Now that former President Laurent Gbagbo has been captured, what's next?

Posted: 04/12/2011 09:18 AM EDT
Filed Under Ivory Coast

Former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and his wife Simone are seen in the custody of republican forces loyal to election winner Alassane Ouattara at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan.  (Photo: AP Photo/Aristide Bodegla)

After several harrowing months during which the Ivory Coast’s former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power to the democratically elected Alassane Ouattara and the threat of a civil war, the Ivoirian strongman was finally captured on Monday.

Gbagbo, his wife Simone and their son were pulled from an underground bunker in the presidential compound by French military forces and taken to a hotel. In an address to the nation Monday night, Ouattara declared that the country is “finally, finally at the dawn of a new era of hope.”

When the news of Gbagbo’s capture spread, joyous citizens in some parts of the country danced in the streets, singing, “Gbagbo est parti!” Gbagbo is gone. In Abidjan, the country’s economic center, residents are feeling hopeful but still very cautious because of intermittent violence taking place.

“We are being quiet. Even though Gbagbo has been arrested, there are still people who have weapons in their hands, shooting here and there, because they don’t want to give up,” explained Drassa Koné, 59, who works as an IBM consultant. ”The new authority has been asking the population to give up their weapons, but some militia hired by Gbagbo are still in the city and trying to do harm. Those are the ones who are creating troubles.”

Everyone else is anxious for life to return to normal. During the height of the crisis in Ivory Coast, which is also known as Côte d’Ivoire, Gbagbo forces frequently cut off water and electrical utilities for hours and even days at a time. People who had not stocked up on food were forced to pay twice the normal price for bread and other staples, if they dared leave their homes to buy them, that is. In addition, they couldn’t access their funds at local banks or receive wire transfers from friends and family abroad.

“The city was dead. All banking and economic activity was at the zero position on a scale,” Koné said.

President Obama issued a statement Monday night saluting Gbagbo’s arrest, and called for an end to the violence.

“For President Ouattara and the people of Côte d’Ivoire, the hard work of reconciliation and rebuilding must begin now. President Ouattara will need to govern on behalf of all the people of Côte d’Ivoire, including those who did not vote for him. All militia groups should lay down their weapons and recognize an inclusive military that protects all citizens under the authority of President Ouattara,” Obama said. “The victims and survivors of violence deserve accountability for the violence and crimes that have been committed against them. The international community must continue to support the people of Côte d’Ivoire as they turn the page to a more hopeful and democratic future. In that effort, a democratic Côte d’Ivoire that respects the rights of its people will always have a friend in the United States of America.”

Koné said that Obama expressed similar sentiments in a televised address to the nation last week, which went a long way in lifting his countrymen’s morale.