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Côte d’Ivoire: Date set, but not terms for Gbagbo’s return home

By Aïssatou Diallo, Benjamin Roger, Vincent Duhem
Posted on Monday, 7 June 2021 22:10

Côte d’Ivoire’s former president Laurent Gbagbo at the ICC on 15 January 2019 © Peter Dejong/AP/SIPA

Although Côte d'Ivoire’s former president Laurent Gbagbo is due to return to Abidjan on 17 June, the terms of his return have not yet been confirmed.

This time, things are becoming more clear. After weeks of speculation and rumours, it has finally been confirmed that Côte d’Ivoire’s former president Laurent Gbagbo will return to Abidjan on 17 June.

As usual, Gbagbo had his right-hand man in Abidjan and secretary-general of the pro-Gbagbo wing of the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) deliver the message. “On 17 June, Laurent Gbagbo will return to the soil of his ancestors, Côte d’Ivoire,” said Assoa Adou during a ceremony on 31 May, the day of the former president’s 76th birthday.

According to our information, negotiations regarding the terms of the former president’s return are still underway between the two camps. Once he returns from Brussels, Gbagbo will be able to avail himself of the various advantages conferred to him as a former head of state.

“We have given him guarantees”

In addition to being provided with a security team, an office and household staff, he will also receive about 17m CFA francs [€25,900] per month in lifetime and monthly allowances for housing, fuel and telephone costs. Contrary to what was once envisaged, he will not reside with his second wife, Nady Bamba, but instead will move into a villa in Abidjan that will not be provided by the state.

During discussions related to ensuring Gbagbo’s safety, the authorities were surprised by some of his entourage’s demands. For instance, they requested that he be given a substantial amount of bodyguards and that pick-ups be equipped with an anti-aircraft system. The authorities denied these requests, limiting themselves to strict compliance with the law.

One of the issues that still needs to be addressed is deciding whether Gbagbo will receive the 10 years of back payments that are due to him as a former president of the Republic. This amounts to a total of more than €3.1m. Gbagbo is also going to launch a procedure to claim damages from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Another sensitive issue is his sentence by the Ivorian justice system in January 2018 of up to 20 years in prison for “looting” the Ivorian branch of the Banque Centrale des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (BCEAO).

Côte d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara has still not decided on whether he will offer Gbagbo amnesty or a presidential pardon. “We have given him guarantees on this matter. Now we have to see what form they will take, either a pardon or amnesty. In any case, he has been assured that he will not be arrested,” said an aide to Ouattara.

Risk of clashes

10 years after the 2010-2011 post-election crisis, Gbagbo’s return arouses as much enthusiasm as fear on the banks of the Ebrié Lagoon. His supporters, who have been waiting for him ever since the ICC announced his final acquittal on 31 March, have already sewn images of him onto cloths and are preparing to give him a “triumphant” welcome.

The victims of the 2010-2011 post-election crisis are also preparing for his arrival. There have already been demonstrations. The forces of order had to calm things down. Imagine what will happen if these two groups clash… We don’t want any more crises.

Within the government’s ranks, the excitement is much less palpable, as ministers are torn between the prospect of seeing their former rival welcomed back as a hero by thousands of people and the risk of clashes. In recent days, several of Ouattara’s colleagues, like Adama Bictogo, have requested that only Gbagbo’s family and inner circle welcome him at the airport.

“Laurent Gbagbo has been acquitted and rehabilitated. It is up to us to decide how we will welcome him home, not the government. And we have decided to welcome him back triumphantly, just like he deserves,” said George Armand Ouégnin, a member of parliament and president of Ensemble pour la Démocratie et la souveraineté (EDS), the pro-Gbagbo platform.

“The victims of the 2010-2011 post-election crisis are also preparing for his arrival. There have already been demonstrations. The forces of order had to calm things down. Imagine what will happen if these two groups clash… We don’t want any more crises. That is why we are asking everyone to be careful about what they say and to use language that calms people down. Reconciliation is not an empty word. We must adopt the behaviour that goes with it,” said Kandia Camara, the foreign affairs minister.

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