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Côte d’Ivoire-Ghana: No hiding place for Laurent Gbagbo’s allies

By Olivier Monnier in Accra
Posted on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 12:16

In January, when Ghanaian police arrested fugitive Ivorian former youth leader Charles Blé Goudé near Accra and extradited him the following day, associates of former President Laurent Gbagbo exiled in Ghana asked if their turn was coming.

Two weeks later, when two other prominent Gbagbo supporters, former head of a paramilitary unit Jean-Noël Abehi and student union leader Jean Yves Dibopieu suffered a similar fate, questions turned into fear.

These arrests “cast a pall over all the members of the exile community,” acknowledges Ahoua Don Mello, former minister of infrastructure and spokesman for Gbagbo’s government.

Kidnappings

Suspicion has become a rule, says Don Mello, who faces an arrest warrant for economic crimes.

“We know there are kidnappings,” he says, referring to the recent arrests. Don Mello has put away the suit and opted for more casual clothing to merge in.

“We mind who contacts us and who we talk to. We pay attention to everything,” asserts Douayoua Lia Bi, a former communication minister.

About 90 Gbagbo allies, including 30 former ministers and 60 former heads of state-owned companies, are still in exile in Ghana, Togo and Benin, where they sought refuge after Gbagbo’s arrest in 2011 following five months of post-election violence during which at least 3,000 people were killed.

Most senior officials fled to Accra: a first choice considering the political affinities between some members of Ghana’s governing party, the National Democratic Congress, and Gbagbo’s Front Populaire Ivoirien.

“They are no longer protected by Ghanaian authorities,” according to Rinaldo Depagne, West Africa researcher at the International Crisis Group think tank.

While former president John Atta Mills did not propose a definitive resolution, President John Dramani Mahama aims to restore ties with the current government of Côte d’Ivoire.

Many in exile are now facing financial problems.

Gone are the days when they stayed in five-star hotels and were treated as statesmen.

“None of them work. They mainly live off donations,” explains Aurelien Sery, a pro-Gbagbo political scientist who also fled to Accra.

Sery has grown a beard to avoid being recognised.

“Our assets have been frozen. Friends are helping us, but we wake up every morning hoping not to be sick,” says Lia Bi.

“If it continues, it may turn out to be tragic,” says Don Mello.

An engineer trained in France, Don Mello says he works from Accra as a consultant for some development programmes.

All of them say they dream about Abidjan, where most of their families have stayed.

They want to go back but Daniel Kablan Duncan, Côte d’Ivoire’s prime minister, recently made it clear there will not be a collective amnesty●

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