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Ivory Coast’s Ouattara: tough-minded economist-president

President Alassane OuattaraIvory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who won a second term in office according to official results released Wednesday, has revived the country’s war-scarred economy — but at the cost of being accused of creeping authoritarianism.

A high-flying economist before taking office five years ago, the tall 73-year-old is a former top official of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO).

Known as a tireless worker needing little sleep who is said “to wear out his staff”, Ouattara in his five years at the helm of the world’s top cocoa producer has made good use of his international contacts to pump funds into the economy.

After a decade of unrest and a civil war that saw the once prosperous former French colony split in two, Ouattara has overseen major infrastructure works including new roads, overpasses, bridges and dams, while upgrading schools and universities.

He has pledged to press on with the same development agenda in his second term despite questions over his methods, which have seen entire seafront communities and districts prone to landslides razed and residents evicted.

Ouattara has also come under criticism on the judicial front.

Amnesty International has slammed the detention of opponents ahead of the presidential vote and rights campaigners have said little justice has been meted out to members of his own camp since the 2010-2011 post-election crisis that brought him to office.

Ouattara has appealed to Ivorians to put aside religious and ethnic differences of the past, but to many the president — who hails from the mainly Muslim north — is a living reminder of the rifts.

He took office on April 11, 2011 after a post-electoral conflict which left around 3,000 people dead after the then incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to stand down.

– ‘Dubious nationality’ –

Known as “Ado” after his initials, he was born on January 1, 1942, at Dimbokro in central Ivory Coast but did most of his schooling in Burkina Faso and later worked there, feeding a nationwide controversy over his national identity.

He earned a doctorate in economics at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States in 1972, having started work at the IMF four years earlier.

In 1983 he was appointed vice-governor of the regional Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO).

He was named prime minister in 1990 by Ivory Coast’s first post-independence president Felix Houphouet-Boigny, a post he kept until the former leader’s death in 1993.

Considered a candidate for the 1995 presidential race against Henri Konan Bedie, he decided not to take part, judging the process was not transparent.

Fearful Bedie supporters meanwhile developed the nationalist concept of “Ivorian-ness” and tried to prove that Ouattara was of Burkinabe nationality, barring him from standing.

After another stint with the IMF, Ouattara returned to Abidjan in 1999 and was appointed head of the Rally of Republicans party, launching himself into the 2000 presidential campaign.

But his candidacy was rejected on the grounds of “dubious nationality” and Gbagbo was brought to power.

The next vote, scheduled for 2005, was repeatedly delayed by Gbagbo, partly over issues of nationality. He finally allowed elections to be held in 2010 — only to flatly refuse to accept that he had been beaten by Ouattara.

As some of Gbagbo’s forces deserted him, Ouattara — backed as rightful president by the United Nations, United States, European Union and African countries — called on militia and mercenaries in the pay of his rival to join his Republican Forces.

Allegations of atrocities committed by both sides mounted as Ouattara’s forces swept southwards from their bastions in the north, and he called for discipline, also promising there would be no cover-up.

At his inauguration, Ouattara emphasised reconciliation for the strife-hit nation.

Ouattara is married to a Frenchwoman, Dominique Folloroux-Ouattara, and has two children from a first marriage.

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