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Côte d’Ivoire: All signs point to the imminent return of Gbagbo

By Vincent Duhem
Posted on Monday, 1 March 2021 19:33

Supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, in front of the Independent Electoral Commission, August 31, 2020 © REUTERS / Luc Gnago TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) announced that Laurent Gbagbo, the former head of state, will return to Côte d'Ivoire in mid-March. However, the reality of the situation is a little more complex.

“By mid-March of this year, he will be with us,” said Assoa Adou on 24 February after listing out the 13 members of the committee set up to prepare the return of Laurent Gbagbo, the former head of state. However, this statement from the secretary-general of the Front populaire ivoirien [Ivorian Popular Front] (FPI) sounds more like a means of exerting additional pressure on the Ivorian authorities than a certainty definitively set in stone.

Honour and safety

According to his colleagues, Gbagbo wants to leave Brussels as soon as possible and does not plan to go to any country on the continent other than his own. Although he does not want to negotiate anything, he does want his rank to be respected.

Since his arrest in April 2011, Gbagbo has not received the benefits to which former Ivorian presidents are entitled, i.e. 9,584,580 CFA francs (€14,600) per month, plus an additional 7,500,000 CFA francs (€11,400) for transport, fuel, electricity and telephone expenses.

“The material aspects related to the recognition of his status as a former president are not negligible. But the most important thing for him is that his safety is assured,” says one of his colleagues.

“We were told to wait until after the presidential election, that we should not put pressure on Alassane Ouattara until the legislative one. Gbagbo doesn’t want his return to cause any trouble, but he does believe that he has been gone long enough. If the authorities don’t cooperate, he is ready to get on a plane and disembark without their agreement. All options are on the table, even if he has to face the consequences,” continues our source.

In early December 2020, after receiving two passports – one diplomatic and one ordinary – Gbagbo appointed Adou to approach the competent authorities in order “to organise his return in peace, in accordance with his status as former president of the Republic.”

Ouattara, the “master of clocks”

After sending a letter to Prime Minister Hamed Bakayoko, President Alassane Ouattara (ADO) was received by the latter on 13 January in the company of Sébastien Danon Djédjé, vice-president of the FPI, and the ministers of security, Diomandé Vagondo, and national reconciliation, Kouadio Konan Bertin (KKB). The head of state had assured these men that the authorities were open to the return of the former president, but needed time to organise it.

According to our sources, the possibility of establishing phone contact between ADO and Gbagbo was also raised. “The problem is that Ouattara believes that it is up to Gbagbo to call him to negotiate a smooth return, while for the latter, it is up to ADO to take the initiative as head of state,” said a source aware of the negotiations.

Since Gbagbo’s acquittal in January 2019, ADO has been playing for time. Even now, he still wants to remain the “master of clocks” in order to consolidate his power. Some of his entourage still fear that Gbagbo’s presence in the country could weaken the regime.

“Discussions with Hamed Bakayoko are going well. But the truth is that Ouattara is not yet ready for Laurent Gbagbo’s return,” said a confidant of the former president. “The head of state no longer fears his return. However, in his eyes, it can not take place until the proceedings before the International Criminal Court (ICC) have ended,” said one of ADO’s colleagues.

The ICC’s options

The appeals chamber of the ICC must deliver its verdict before 31 March, more precisely between the 10th and the end of the month. It has four options:

  • to confirm Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé’s acquittal;
  • to grant the prosecutor’s office’s request for an appeal, and thus organise a new trial;
  • to issue its own judgment;
  • to request additional information on part of the case file, which would refer the case to a new appeals chamber;

If the appeal is rejected, the question of Gbagbo’s judicial situation in Côte d’Ivoire would then arise. Sentenced in 2018, in Côte d’Ivoire, to 20 years in prison in the case known as the BCEAO case – a sentence he contests – he was also charged with “genocide, crimes against civilians and murder.”

“ADO was initially in favour of a pardon. The idea of passing an amnesty law or a specific ordinance is also on the table. But all this is part of a negotiated return. In the event that Gbagbo returns without our agreement, he will be placed under house arrest,” continues the source cited above.

A sign, however, of Gbagbo’s imminent return is the fact that several of his supporters still in exile are preparing to return to Côte d’Ivoire. The activist Steve Beko returned to Abidjan on 7 February to prepare for the arrival of Stéphane Kipré, the son-in-law of the former president who has been in exile in Europe since April 2011.

Exiled in Ghana, Justin Koné Katinan, Gbagbo’s spokesman, and Damana Pickass, one of the vice-presidents of the FPI, will return in the coming weeks – before or just after the parliamentary elections on 6 March.

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