Côte d’Ivoire’s former president Laurent Gbagbo smiled discreetly under his mask and gave two thumbs up to his lawyer upon hearing the verdict. When Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji, president of the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC), pronounced his final acquittal on 31 March, Gbagbo must have felt immense relief. He was finally free to travel without restrictions, finally free to return to Côte d’Ivoire whenever he wants to.
Nearly 10 years after his arrest in Abidjan, when cameras filmed him sitting on his bed in a tank top and looking haggard, the ex-president has finally regained his dignity. After a lengthy trial, he has been cleared of the war crimes and crimes against humanity of which he was accused.
Benefiting from a media platform
Nonetheless, eight years of detention in The Hague have left their trace. Simply seeing him make his way slowly to the Court, supported by his wife Nady Bamba, was enough to appreciate the effect that this long stay in prison has had on him.
By the time his fate was decided, 75-year-old Gbagbo was tired, but had not lost his sense of humour. “This is the first time I have not entered this building through the prisoners’ door,” he told us as he presented himself to the judges.
Thousands of kilometres away, Côte d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara has been closely following the proceedings. According to his inner circle, the head of state expected the acquittal and was therefore not surprised to hear it. However, he certainly didn’t feel it was cause for celebration.
A week later, he took advantage of the media platform offered by the first council of ministers of his new government to express himself on this subject. “Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé [the leader of the Jeunes Patriotes, also acquitted] are free to return to Côte d’Ivoire whenever they wish,” he told the press, adding that his predecessor’s travel expenses would be paid for by the state.
He added that “arrangements will also be made for Laurent Gbagbo to benefit, in accordance with existing texts, from the advantages and allowances due to former presidents of the Republic.”
“Alassane has no interest in engaging in a showdown. He is not in a hurry to see Gbagbo return, but he will keep his promises,” said someone close to him.