Fallen Queens: Sleepless in Côte d’Ivoire
The orders from above are clear: the ousted president Laurent Gbagbo’s spouse, currently under house arrest, must be treated well.
The last time we saw her she appeared exhausted and neglected. Some of her braids had been ripped out. That last time was April 11 last year, only a few minutes after her arrest. Since then the 63-year-old Simone Gbagbo has been sporting very close-cropped hair.
On August 18, 2011, she was charged by the Ivorian justice system for “economic crimes”, but the former First Lady is yet to be incarcerated. She is currently living in a controlled residence in Odienné, the birthplace of incumbent President Alassane Dramane Ouattara’s mother.
All her lawyers agree that their “client has been given a more humane treatment than her husband received when he was still in Korhogo”, in the words of Serge Gbougnon, Simone Gbagbo’s council. She suffers from diabetes and back pains, a trace of the maltreatment she received when she was first arrested in 1992, during the late President Houphouet Boigny’s rule. However, the villa where she currently resides is said to be very comfortable.
The residence is owned by Issouf Koné, a former chancellor who supported Ouattara. “The Head of State and the PM Guillaume Soro have been crystal clear.
Simone Gbagbo has to be treated with dignity.” She is under the direct protection of Commander Lanciné Konaté, Head of the city’s security. He is in charge of filtering the visits from her lawyers, UN staff, and the small team of people that has been put together to make her stay more comfortable.
This “small team” constitutes of, among others, Prefect Jérôme Kayaha Soro, Bishop Antoine Koné and the deputy Mayor Adama Cissé. In addition to that, two of her sisters, Victoire Ehivet Mady and Claudine Ehivet Ouattara, travel back and forth (between Odienné and Abidjan), to bring her additional clothes and food supplies.
This is the daily life of the former First Lady, with Souleymane Bakayoko, municipal secretary-general, who has taken upon the role of administrator, enquiring that his “houseguest” has everything she needs.
Although she is not allowed to own a telephone, one of the guards recently lent her one to call Miaka Ouretto, head of the Ivorian popular front (FPI).
She also has a Bible and a television set that allow her to follow programmes broadcast on the Christian channels. Simone Gbagbo, still very religious, is convinced that the bells of freedom will sound shortly.
She has not been able to speak with her husband, and hasn’t even seen any of her four daughters, who were recently forced into exile. Moreover, she has not been able to speak to Marie Antoinette Singleton, her older sister who is currently living in the United States.
To occupy her days she teaches some of the jailers and their children to read. Sometimes, she even sweats it out in the kitchen. But what really keeps her going, she’s told her close-ones, is the future of her political party, FPI, of which she has long been one of the pillars.
Could she be transferred to The Hague, just like her husband? Alassane Ouattara has assured that she won’t, but the International Criminal Court’s judges have lost interest in her.
*This article was previously published in French in our sister magazine Jeune Afrique, issue 2669.
Fallen Queens – Safia Gaddafi: Libya’s “desperate housewife”
Fallen Queens – Leïla Ben Ali: Tunisia’s femme fatale
Fallen Queens – Suzanne Mubarak: Egypt’s prison visitor
What will Africa look like in 2060?
Côte d’Ivoire torn apart but thrown together
West Africa’s economies trumpet same tune
Vanishing Presidents and the Perpetuation of Violence in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire