Flying into Abidjan, you see that Cote d'Ivoire is back in business. Streets are lit, cars are new, and the downtown has the vibrancy and neon signs of a busy capital. Plans for development -- such as a new bridge to link the city across its lagoons -- are the government's focus.
Little of this was imaginable a year ago, when the country faced a dramatic crisis of leadership -- and a questionable future -- after its November 2010 elections. For months, the UN peacekeepers, backed by the international community and French Licorne forces, held the line against a defiant former leader who refused to step down despite losing the Presidential elections to his rival. Yet today, with former President Gbagbo in the Hague for war crimes, President Ouattara is moving forward to put the past behind and build a united nation.
Beyond the bright lights, much work remains. The UN mission, UNOCI, helps the government address urgent and long-term needs, from the thousands displaced by war and returning refugees, to support for police training and the protection of human rights. The government's security sector (military, police, courts, justice system) badly need capacity and reform.
Beyond Abidjan the country faces lack of governance and economic development. The second largest town, Bouke, got its first traffic light three days before we arrived; the police are unarmed and often unresponsive. In the West, refugees returning also face uncertainty -- and often strangers on their land.
Certainly Cote d'Ivoire has wealth. Over 40 percent of the world's cacao comes from here, along with other desired commodities. Yet this agricultural richness is also the source of land disputes that date back to its independence in 1960, and before.
A country focused on developing its economy, and emerging from conflict, needs a working system of law to assure security and effective development. So this is job one for UNOCI and Cote d'Ivoire -- to set up the rule of law to prosper and to take care of its people.
Thus, UN peacekeeping mission's efforts in Cote d'Ivoire, are key to the country's success. Going forward, the mission should concentrate on the security sector, rule of law, and needed reconciliation.
Why? Without security, forget investment. Without the international community to support it, forget political reconciliation and plans that the Ouattara government has begun to put in motion. Without UN peacekeepers -- Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Ghanaian, Nigerian -- small acts of impulsive violence can spiral into community-on-community clashes, reenacting the unresolved issues that brought civil war in the first place.
Reform to professionalize a military comprised of former enemies and rag-tag youth is the number one task at hand. We learned that the President is just now rolling up his sleeves. This aspect of getting back to business is the really hard part, but it will be the key to his success and to keep Cote d'Ivoire moving forward. And U.S. support to UNOCI during that transition can also make a critical difference to getting it right.
Editor's Note: This is the second in a three part series about the author's recent travel to Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire, where she visited UN operations in both countries.