When Alassane Ouattara, a deputy managing director at the International Monetary Fund, announced he was quitting his job at the end of July to go back to Ivory Coast to prepare his presidential campaign next year, sources say rivals back home told IMF officials they would prefer him to stay right where he is.
Critics of Ivorian President Henri Konan Bedie say political expediency prompted him to introduce the 1995 restrictions on candidates that would strip Ouattara of the right to run. For instance, candidates would have to be born in Ivory Coast of Ivorian parents; Ouattara's father was born in 1888 in what was then Ivory Coast but is now Burkina Faso. "It is political exploitation to say my father is not Ivorian. All his papers are Ivorian," Ouattara said.
Almost six years ago, when Ivory Coast's independence leader, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, died after 33 years as president, Ouattara was generally expected to win the battle to succeed him. An economist by training, Ouattara had been prime minister from 1990 to 1993 and was credited for the growth in Ivory Coast's gross domestic product in 1994--the first in seven years.
But Ouattara left the country on Dec. 9, 1993, two days after Houphouet-Boigny's death. The following year, he came back to the IMF, where he previously had served as economist and director of the fund's Africa department. His decision not to battle Bedie for the presidency reportedly came after pressure from France, the colonial power that ruled Ivory Coast until 1960. Ouattara's departure and the manipulation of the electoral code by Bedie to keep him out of power sparked rioting and violence by his opposition party, Rally of Republicans, four years ago.
Ouattara said in an interview this week that he has since come to the conclusion that he has to serve his country. "I made this decision a year ago to return home and engage in politics," he said. "My international experience both here and in other institutions tells me that lasting development, true change and democracy can only come from within. I am very excited because I see the opportunity for making a contribution. At least in terms of economic reform, I know what works and what does not."
While commuting from Maryland every day and managing the day-to-day demands of his job at the IMF, Ouattara could find time only on weekends to browse through the faxes he was inundated with at night, keeping pace with what was unraveling back home. What should have been a test case for democracy was going in the opposite direction, he charged: The government was having trouble with international institutions, the courts and the police were perceived as unfair, students were unhappy and journalists were being thrown in jail. "It is going in a direction which needs to be redressed. So many people have asked that I participate in the political process, and I cannot continue to decline such offers," he said Monday after an emotional farewell at the fund.
IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus praised Ouattara as "a man who always says yes when there is a duty calling on him to make a difference," adding that his savoir-faire knack for action coupled with his savoir etre, his knowledge of being, would be great assets to Ivory Coast.
Ouattara said he essentially has been living in two worlds, meeting with travelers coming through Washington from Ivory Coast and calling friends to inquire about the situation there. It is safer to live in Washington, with the comforts of an international institution, than go to the risky tumble of politics in Africa, he said, musing. In fact, he said, the hardest thing for him here was the winter.
"It has been exciting and quite tough. . . . I am going to miss the collegiality and diversity in this institution, its intellectual integrity that one experiences on a daily basis and its importance and influence as an institution," he added. But he has also missed "caring directly" for his people and says that that going back to a developing country to effect change will be "more meaningful and rewarding."
When an IMF employee arrived late for a meeting with Ouattara because he had to take his mother to the airport, Ouattara put him at ease. "You have your priorities right. In my culture, mothers come first and deputy managing directors come second," a colleague quoted him as saying.
Slogans in Tehran
Demonstrators in Iran are chanting bold slogans in their ongoing confrontations with hard-line security forces, according to Hooman Bakhtiar, head of the Washington-based Alliance for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran.
Examples relayed by telephone and e-mail from Tehran yesterday included "Brother soldiers, why are you killing your brothers?" "Iran will not be another Chile," and "The killer of Dariush Farouhar is hiding under the leaders' robes"--an apparent indication that Iranians believe the country's clerics were giving sanctuary to the assassins of activist author Farouhar and a handful of other intellectuals killed late last year.