Côte d’Ivoire: Simone Gbagbo upsets ‘Gbagbo or nothing’ faction
Simone Gbagbo broke a taboo when she questioned the 'Gbagbo or nothing' stance championed by the loyalist wing of the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI).
“We must follow Laurent Gbagbo because we share his vision and not for personal reasons, because they are fragile. In the battle we are waging, Laurent Gbagbo must be the focus of our demands because he is the leader who represents us. […] If he is not here, our vision is dead. But our vision is not Laurent Gbagbo. Our vision is a new Côte d’Ivoire. Our vision must not die with Laurent Gbagbo.”
Simone Gbagbo tested the waters in a bold way, to say the very least, on Saturday 30 November, before a room of fervent supporters of the former Ivorian president, who is currently on conditional release in Belgium.
A less than lukewarm reception by the audience at the meeting – led by Marie-Odette Lorougnon, a former member of parliament and the current radical president of the FPI’s women’s organisation (OFFPI) – obliged the former first lady to redirect her speech. Simone Gbagbo knew it was extremely risky to bring up the taboo topic of no longer making her husband’s return the sole demand of the party he created.
This is not the first risk she has taken. In August 2018, she expressed a similar sentiment when she spoke publicly for the first time after her release from prison. “We are here to take up the fight again. We are here to begin the march towards power. We are here, stand up, get ready and start marching because we are headed towards power,” she said, before adding: “We have begun to rebuild today. Everything is new. Stand up, fellow activists. We are on our way and will never stop.”
That speech had sparked the fury of Aboudramane Sangaré, one of the FPI’s founding members, who served until his death on 3 November 2018 as acting chairman of the party’s wing that stayed true to Laurent Gbagbo.
However, Simone Gbagbo’s speech was interpreted as that of a woman overcome with emotion due to her recent prison release, where she had suffered untold hardship. And so it was quickly forgotten. Later, she fell into step with “Gbagbo or nothing” supporters by proclaiming, like other party officials, ad infinitum: “Gbagbo is coming back soon.”
Turmoil in the Gbagbo camp
Although Sangaré, as the keeper of the FPI temple, had straightened out Simone Gbagbo the first time around, at the OFFPI meeting no one dared openly contradict the former first lady. Nevertheless, a press release signed by the party’s “communications department” was published on the “FPI-Gbagbo” Facebook page.
- Even though Simone Gbagbo was not explicitly mentioned in it, the message was clearly addressed to her: “Laurent Gbagbo is not only the leader who symbolises our vision – he is our vision. And, beyond that, he is the vision. We are pro-‘Gbagbo or nothing’.”
- The clarification, which Gbagbo’s devotees widely distributed on social media, was deleted the next day.
Since then, neither Assoa Adou, secretary general of the FPI, nor the party’s communications managers – led by Franck Anderson Kouassi and César Etou – have made an official statement. Their silence suggests that the issue raised by Simone Gbagbo has caused turmoil in the Gbagbo camp.
Prior to the former first lady, it was the FPI’s lawful president, Pascal Affi N’Guessan, who dared to “turn the Gbagbo page”. Everyone knows how that turned out for him. Edged out of the party and abandoned by most of the elite, for the past several years he has had to contend with a rebellious faction that now controls much of the base. Meanwhile, the Laurent Gbagbo loyalist wing of the FPI still refuses to bring up the idea of a presidential election without him in October 2020.
This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.
The article continues below
Get your free PDF : Nigeria Focus
A giant with feet of clay
Complete the form for your free download of The Africa Report’s Nigeria Focus. Get your free PDF by completing the following form.