With a new peace finally taking root in Côte d’Ivoire, President Alassane Ouattara speaks to New African’s Célhia de Lavarène and discusses a variety of issues, including that lingering issue of the lack of African representation on the all-powerful UN Security Council, his ambition for a second term, and why the International Criminal Court (ICC) – the indictor of his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo on charges of crimes against humanity relating to the 2010 election – humiliates Africa in some circumstances.
Q | Mr President, do you feel that Africa can speak with a voice that resonates globally and is not only listened to, but understood?
Yes. Absolutely. Major change is happening in Africa. As the African Union, not only do we make decisions which concern the entire continent, but with 54 countries represented, we also carry a lot of weight within the United Nations. This represents more than a quarter of the UN Member States. The fundamental issue, however, is to gain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, which we do not have. This is wrong and unacceptable. The Security Council – with its permanent members – was created after the Second World War. The countries which sit on the Security Council are certainly entitled to do so, but Africa, with its 54 countries, cannot and should not be excluded, no more than the Middle East and countries such as Germany and Japan. The Council needs to be reformed so our views are given more consideration. We are determined to have a joint position on all these key issues. Africa’s voice needs to be heard.
Q | The African continent often calls on foreign troops to resolve its conflicts. Isn’t it time for Africa to take charge and resolve its own problems without relying on the help of others?
You are absolutely right. This is what we want and what we are currently working on. But do not forget that we have cooperation agreements with some large countries. I presume you are referring to the case of Mali, where France intervened because it possesses equipment that we lack. I would like to point out, though, that ECOWAS had already set up its reaction force, so that we would be ready to move against the Jihadists as soon as necessary. That said, most countries, with the exception of Nigeria, lack a sophisticated air force. Once we have the means, we would obviously prefer to intervene ourselves. These are African problems which must be resolved by Africans.
Q | Does France still have an influence on the decisions taken by Côte d’Ivoire and, if so, what is that influence?
Yes, of course. France has an influence on Côte d’Ivoire, as does the United States, China and every country with which we have cooperation or trade relationships, as well as political and diplomatic relations. Consequently, these countries obviously have some influence. Sometimes it can just be through private companies, which invest in our country. However, Côte d’Ivoire has expressed a desire to diversify the partners it deals with. France is a privileged partner and we are delighted with that, but we hope that other partners will come. We have no complexes in terms of our relations. As our first president (Félix Houphouët-Boigny) once said: “Côte d’Ivoire is a friend to all and an enemy to none.”
Q | Africa has often expressed some reservations about the International Criminal Court (ICC). Why is this? Don’t you believe that a head of state or government should answer for any crimes committed, in his/her name, during a conflict?
Africa is not reluctant when it comes to the ICC. This idea is false. Out of our 54 Member States, 34 have signed up to the Treaty of Rome; in other words, the majority. I think I can justifiably state that most African countries are not in favour of impunity. However, there are specific circumstances. Perhaps this is what you are referring to.
Let me take the case of Kenya. Although Côte d’Ivoire is signatory to the Treaty of Rome, I find it unacceptable that elected politicians who face accusations and who could be judged in their country of origin, should be brought before the ICC in The Hague. This is humiliating for Africa and Africans. It is unacceptable.
President Kenyatta and Vice-President Ruto must be judged in Kenya, by Kenyan courts. This is what we believe. Obviously, there are different viewpoints regarding the Court. For example, should Africans continue to put their trust in it?
I would like to point out that most cases before the ICC are brought by African governments. Once we have asked the ICC to intervene, we cannot then tell it that it must not judge the persons brought before it. But the Kenyan case is an exception. We want President Kenyatta and Vice-President Ruto to be judged in Kenya, once their terms have ended.
In every place in the world, be it in France, the United States, Europe, but especially France, the head of state enjoys immunity for the full duration of their term. Why should this immunity not apply to these two men? They have been elected by their people and should, during that period, enjoy both national and international immunity. They can face prosecution once their term ends.
Q | The security situation seems to be a cause for concern in your country. The issue is the circulation of arms, especially those used by ex-combatants who have not found a place in the army and have turned to robbery. How are you resolving this issue?
It’s true that there is a security problem in Côte d’Ivoire, but the same could be said about the United States or France. You should be aware that our security indices are actually better than those in New York or Marseille. At the end of the crisis, we were virtually at 4 insecurity points according to the usual calculations. We are now at 1.4, which shows just how much progress there has been when it comes to improved security. That said, we have analysed the situation. There were around 65,000 young ex-combatants in possession of one or more weapons. We are currently disarming them, demobilising them and, above all, finding them jobs. This is the most important thing over the medium to long term. So, we are on the right track. The security index is much better and we are eager to keep moving forward. And in order to do so, we need around $150m.
We have planned to fund a third of this, that is, $50m. We have asked the international community to help us with the rest. I spoke to Ban Ki-moon (the UN Secretary-General) about this, during our talks, and of course I have held discussions with the EU, the World Bank and the African Development Bank. I am confident these institutions understand how vital it is to create jobs for these young people, once they have been disarmed and demobilised. We are sure that the security index will continue to improve.
Q | Are businessmen back in your country?
Well, you know, many businessmen and women are coming. All the hotels are full. If you want to come to Abidjan, you will need to book a room a month in advance, or you might not find a seat on the plane or a room in a hotel. It is the same thing in our restaurants. [Laughing] But I can make a call so there will be a place for you.
Q | Thank you, Mr President. If I have understood you correctly, Côte d’Ivoire is a country on the up and doing a lot better now than at the start of your term. However, can you state with any certainty that your country is in the process of regaining the stability it was once known for?
That is our goal. We have gone through a terrible period, but things are back to normal. Security is good and the economic situation exceptional. Last year, we achieved growth of nearly 10%. We are in the top 10 countries in the world in terms of growth. This year and over the next few years, we will achieve a rate of growth of between 9 and 10%. Côte d’Ivoire is regaining its former stature in economic, political and diplomatic terms. We want to be a model: of peace and the respect of human rights. We also want to be a country that is good to live in for both the Ivorian people and all those who choose to come and live in Côte d’Ivoire.
Q | You have already submitted your candidacy, although your term will not end before 2015. Why so quickly? Why so early?
Well, you know, when you decide to enter politics, it’s with the goal of making a contribution. Mine is to lift up my country to a level which I believe comparable with that of the countries with which I worked when I was at the International Monetary Fund. The depth of the crisis and the damage caused by the previous regime are such that I very quickly realised that I would be unable to complete this project in four years. In actual fact, I lost a year through the post-election crisis. So I would rather be transparent and say: “I need more time than the 4 years you gave me.” I would rather prepare my fellow citizens for the fact that I intend to seek a second term. I want to have my health and my life in order to be able to accomplish the goal I have set myself: to make Côte d’Ivoire an emerging country by 2020.