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Côte d’Ivoire: ‘I will be in politics until I die,’ says Laurent Gbagbo

By Florence Richard
Posted on Monday, 18 October 2021 15:32

Laurent Gbagbo on 16 October 2020 at his new party’s launch. DR / Screen copy L.Gbagbo

Former president Laurent Gbagbo will be leading the Parti des Peuples Africains – Côte d’Ivoire, his new political formation. “We will resume our journey together,” he told his supporters, adding that he is ready to continue the fight “as a simple activist.”

Four months after returning to Abidjan, 76-year-old Gbagbo officially announced his comeback to the Ivorian political scene. During the night of 17 October, the former president was voted in as the official leader of his new party, the Parti des Peuples Africains – Côte d’Ivoire (PPA-CI).

“We cried,” says one activist, while another described the ‘fervour’ that took hold of the Hotel Ivoire’s convention hall during a moment that all agreed was ‘historic’.

“We will resume our journey together,” Gbagbo said in a long speech, the first one he has given before an audience of activists and leaders since his return. He delivered this speech on 17 October at midday on a stage that had been decorated with the colours of the Ivorian flag and to a chorus of ‘Woody! Woody! Woody!’ – his nickname.

‘My ambition’

In a slow but lively address that was animated by a room of impassioned activists and the stars of zouglou Yodé and Siro, the former president assured his supporters that he had never thought of abandoning politics, even during his 10 years of detention in The Hague. “I will be in politics until my death, but it is I and I alone who will decide in what form I will continue my fight,” he said. He has not ruled out keeping up the fight “as a simple activist.”

When you go to the Élysée Palace, you think you are great, but does the person who welcomes you think you are great?”

Gbagbo explained that he had been working on the PPA-CI’s structure “for months” and “preparing [his] withdrawal” so that he can leave “quietly for [his] village, without regret.”

“How can we leave tomorrow without inflicting damage on our fighting instrument? My ambition today is to leave, but not to abandon you because I will always be an activist for our party, a grassroots activist,” he said. “I don’t need to plan any more demonstrations. After this journey, I came to the decision to leave, but not abruptly. [..] You must know that I am with you.”

Not a word was said about 2025 or the next presidential election, a deadline that was on all the activists’ minds this weekend. However, a debate to introduce an age limit of 75 for those running for president was recently revived.

The PPA-CI describes itself as “pan-Africanist” and “left-wing”, oriented towards “universal values, solidarity and humanism, against foreign conquests and oppression,” said Gbagbo.

In his first speech as party president, he pleaded with African countries to unite. “When you go to the Élysée Palace, you think you are great, but does the person who welcomes you think you are great? When you consider the facts, does the political reality think you are great?

“As long as we are in micro-states, we are nothing, that’s where the idea of pan-Africanism comes from. There’s no point in looking for theories, you have to look at the facts. We go around saying that we are the leading producers of cocoa, but to what end?”

Return of exiles

Gbagbo also mentioned Aboudramane Sangaré, his old companion who died in 2018. “It is the story of my life, the fact that he is not there is very sad,” he said, while some activists were throwing “yako.”

He pleaded again for political prisoners to be released and for exiles to be allowed to return. “People went to prison because of me, now that I am outside, why are they still inside? They shouldn’t be in prison anymore, now that I have been released and acquitted. I’m not trying to start a fight, it just makes sense,” he said to a crowd that gave him a standing ovation.

“The party has already managed to mobilise 90,300 people even before going into the field, so at the very least, we had 90,300 members when the PPA-CI was created,” said former minister Sébastien Dano Djéné, who chaired the congress. He also unveiled the new party’s logo: the fingers of two hands interlaced with a map of Africa in the background.

31 March – the day that Gbagbo was acquitted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), where he was tried for crimes against humanity – was also chosen as the day that this “rebirth” will be “celebrated” each year.

Simone Gbagbo absent

On 17 October, Célestine Tazéré Olibé, member of the Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix (RHDP), represented the presidential party, after Adama Bictogo had done so the day before.

However, former first lady Simone Gbagbo, who is in the process of divorcing her husband and away in the DRC, was noticeably absent. After the former president – who has rebuilt his life – returned home, she launched her own movement that brings together his main supporters because she was ‘reluctant’ to join this new party, as she had been relegated to the background, while the committee responsible for its creation was being established.

While in hiding in 1982, Gbagbo founded the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) with her. In recent weeks, he announced that he would be ending the legal tug-of-war that had been taking place between him and Pascal Affi N’Guessan for several years – over control of the party – by launching a new political formation.

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