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Alassane Ouattara begins difficult task of reuniting, rebuilding Ivory Coast

Alassane Ouattara, Ivory Coast's new president, must tread carefully as he works to disarm militias, defuse long-simmering hatreds.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / April 12, 2011

Soldiers allied with Alassane Ouattara rest along the roadside at a republican forces operating base in the Youpougon neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Monday, April 11.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP

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Johannesburg, South Africa

--- UPDATED April 13 at 9:29 a.m. ET

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You think you have a tough job? How about restarting a nation after its second civil war in a decade; convincing several private militias to lay down their arms; and persuading feuding politicians to stop exploiting ethnic, regional, and religious hatred that has built for decades?

That's what Ivory Coast's president-elect, AlasĀ­sane Ouattara, faces in coming weeks and months to move beyond fighting that has killed hundreds and displaced more than a million in a bid to oust former President Laurent Gbagbo, who was finally captured Monday after refusing to step down since losing the Nov. 28 vote.

Mr. Ouattara got off to an early start this week by promising Wednesday that Mr. Gbabgo is in safe hands in a secret location in Ivory Coast and will face charges "on a national level and an international level."

But it will take much more than that to put the once-prosperous West African nation back together.

Ouattara, a former International Monetary Fund technocrat, will have to prioritize reconciliation, rebuild institutions, and jump-start the country's stagnating economy. But first, experts say, he will need to gain firm control over the rival militias that could derail all other efforts.

"What he needs to do as president is fairly clear, but whether he can gain actual power throughout the country is perhaps more important at this stage," says Richard Moncrieff, a West Africa expert and researcher at the South African Institute for International Affairs in Johannesburg. "There's a whole shopping list of things he has to do, but the first thing is to establish that he has effective rule and reduce the destructive capability of armed groups from both those who support Gbagbo and those who support Ouattara himself. You have to create enough space that you can govern."

Creating that political space, indeed, is the first priority of any leader taking over a country in the aftermath of civil war, and there are plenty of examples of leaders on the African continent who have done either a good or bad job of this, and sometimes both. There is no single model of postconflict transition that works in every country, and no single country that has had an entirely positive experience worthy of being a model. Yet development experts say that Ivory Coast can take lessons from other African countries that have emerged from civil war, and returned to a kind of normalcy.

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