Tended with great impatience by supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, who remain numerous in Côte d’Ivoire despite his absence for ten years, this return accepted by President Ouattara is a strong sign of his will to work for “national reconciliation” in a country with a recent history marked by political violence. “MM. Gbagbo and Blé Goudé are free to return to Côte d’Ivoire whenever they wish, ”President Ouattara declared at the opening of the first cabinet meeting of his new government formed on Tuesday. “Arrangements will be made for Laurent Gbagbo to benefit, in accordance with the texts in force, from the benefits and indemnities due to the former Presidents of the Republic”, he added, specifying that “his travel expenses” and those “of the members of his family will be supported by the State of Côte d’Ivoire ”.
Preeminence of the spirit of national reconciliation
The Head of State did not mention the conviction in Côte d’Ivoire of Mr. Gbagbo to 20 years in prison for the “robbery” of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) during the 2010-2011 post-election violence. But Amadou Coulibaly, new Minister of Communication and government spokesperson, then hinted that this sentence would be lifted. “I stick to the words of the Head of State, it seems pretty clear to me: we are not going to offer the trip to Gbagbo to put him behind bars,” he told the press. Michel Gbagbo, son of Laurent and deputy, wanted “to welcome this speech by President Alassane Ouattara because it goes in the direction of appeasement, national reconciliation and ultimately the fair application of Ivorian legal texts”. President Ouattara is “in a frame of mind to go to reconciliation and peace,” said Kouadio Konan Bertin, Minister of National Reconciliation. “Our wish today is that he returns to his family, his activists and the Ivorians to participate in the national reconciliation so desired by the Ivorians,” said N’Goran Djedri, one of the leaders of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), the main opposition formation allied to the pro-Gbagbo.
A fair consequence of the acquittal obtained at the ICC
The International Criminal Court (ICC) confirmed just a week ago the acquittal, pronounced in 2019, of Laurent Gbagbo, definitively found not guilty of crimes against humanity, paving the way for his return to Côte d’Ivoire after a decade of absence. The judges rejected the appeal of the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, against the acquittals of Mr. Gbagbo and one of his relatives, Charles Blé Goudé, former leader of the Young Patriots movement, pronounced in January 2019 in the outcome of a trial for crimes against humanity related to post-election violence in 2010 and 2011.
Mr. Gbagbo, the first former head of state tried by the ICC, and Mr. Blé Goudé have always proclaimed their innocence in these crimes that killed 3,000 people in Côte d’Ivoire, during the violence born out of Mr. Gbagbo’s refusal to recognize at the end of 2010 the presidential victory of his rival Alassane Ouattara. In the name of “national reconciliation”, the authorities had granted Laurent Gbagbo at the end of 2020 two passports, one ordinary and one diplomatic, and the person concerned then expressed his wish to return in December.
This return, which he then announced for “soon”, remained suspended to the decision of the ICC, but it was also to a definitive green light from the power now acquired. He will intervene, at a date that remains to be fixed, in a context of appeasement of Ivorian political life, a month after legislative elections which took place in peace and without street protest, unlike the presidential election in October. 2020, which gave rise to violence that killed around 100 people. These elections in which the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) of Laurent Gbagbo took part, which had boycotted all the polls for ten years, were won by the party in power, but also allowed the return of 91 opposition deputies to the National Assembly.