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Côte d’Ivoire: Who are Laurent Gbagbo’s most loyal allies?

By Benjamin Roger
Posted on Friday, 18 June 2021 09:09

Supporters hold t-shirts dedicated to former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo at his party's headquaters in Abidjan, Ivory Coast June 14, 2021. Picture taken June 14, 2021. The t-shirts read respectively ,"Definitive acquittal", "President Gbagbo welcome". REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Despite his arrest and imprisonment, Côte d'Ivoire's former president Laurent Gbagbo had the unwavering support of a core group of people. Some were arrested and also imprisoned; others went into exile after his fall. We take a look at those who have been waiting for his return eight years after leaving the country.

As Laurent Gbagbo prepares to return to Côte d’Ivoire on Thursday 17 June 2021, more than a decade after he was arrested by Alassane Ouattara’s forces in the bunker of his Abidjan residence, Jeune Afrique introduces you to some of the members of his inner circle.

Nady Bamba, the pillar

Nady Bamba has been by his side throughout his ten-year trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC). More than simply his second wife, Bamba has been his pillar, his confidante and an influential advisor to the former president.

After the transfer of the former head of state to The Hague at the end of 2011, the former correspondent of Radio Africa N°1 (now Africa Radio) in Abidjan, who married Gbagbo in a traditional ceremony ten years earlier, moved to Brussels.

Throughout the years of her husband’s detention, she visited him every week, sometimes accompanied by their son Raïs. After his acquittal at first instance in January 2019, Gbagbo joined her in the Belgian capital. They live a discreet life there, out of sight.

In contact with many leaders of the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI), Nady Bamba was also very involved in his return to Côte d’Ivoire. She has been in contact with several members of Alassane Ouattara’s regime to discuss the conditions. On 17 June 2021, she will board the Brussels Airlines flight to Abidjan with him and will once again be by his side when he sets foot on Ivorian soil.

Assoa Adou, the old faithful

Gbagbo and Assoa Adou have known each other since the 1960s. At the time, the young Gbagbo and Adou set up the Cellule fondamentale, a clandestine Marxist organisation opposed to the regime of Félix Houphouët-Boigny.

Then came the creation of the FPI, which Adou joined in 1994, and Gbagbo’s accession to power in 2000. The new socialist president then appointed his old friend as Minister of Construction and Urbanism. He then became Minister of Defence after the Linas-Marcoussis agreements in 2003.

When his mentor was arrested on 11 April 2011, Adou fled to Ghana. From Accra, he led the FPI in exile. In 2014, Gbagbo asked him to return to Abidjan and he obediently returned. Two months later, he was arrested for plotting against the authority of the state. He spent four years in prison and was only released in August 2018 thanks to a presidential pardon. Gbagbo placed him at the head of the FPI and made him his trusted man in Abidjan.

The old faithful of the GOR (the “Gbagbo or nothing” supporters of the former president), Adou was determined to execute to the letter Gbagbo’s instructions. Since Gbagbo’s first acquittal in January 2019, the two men have spoken very regularly by phone.

Adou has also travelled several times to Brussels to see him. Developing relations with Pascal Affi N’Guessan, courting an alliance with the Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) and Henri Konan Bédié, boycotting the presidential elections but participating in the legislative elections… Whenever Adou acts or makes a statement, there is no doubt that he does so on behalf of Gbagbo.

In recent weeks, he has also been at the heart of negotiations with the government for the return of the former head of state. He was received by Prime Minister Hamed Bakayoko in January and then by his successor Patrick Achi in early May.

Habiba Touré, the lawyer

Touré is one of Gbagbo’s lawyers. This Franco-Ivorian, whose offices are located in Pantin, a suburb of Paris, has been defending the former president since he was transferred to the ICC. She was also Simone Gbagbo’s lawyer in the court of The Hague and defended Michel Gbagbo when he filed a complaint against Guillaume Soro and former co-conspirators for “kidnapping, sequestration and inhuman treatment” after his imprisonment from 2011 to 2013.

In close contact with her client, Touré regularly travelled to Brussels to see him in recent months. There, she managed his official passport application procedure at the Côte d’Ivoire consulate, in July and August 2020. Faced with the lack of response from the Ivorian authorities on his case, she denounced their “refusal” to issue him the precious pass to prevent him from returning. Gbagbo finally obtained his passports (ordinary and diplomatic) in early December 2020.

Justin Koné Katinan, the spokesman

Justin Koné Katinan is one of the figures of the “exiles”, the FPI cadres who fled Côte d’Ivoire after the post-election crisis of 2010-2011 and Ouattara’s victory over Gbagbo. A refugee in Ghana, Katinan, the last Minister of Budget of the former president, has long been a target of the Ivorian justice. In vain. Targeted by international arrest warrants for economic crimes and murders, this graduate from Niakaramandougou has never been extradited by the Ghanaian authorities.

A spokesperson for Gbagbo, Katinan has always remained loyal to him, becoming one of his main lieutenants in exile. On 30 April, in agreement with the Ivorian authorities, Katinan returned to Abidjan. Alongside him were other pro-Gbagbo supporters including Jeannette Koudou, the sister of the former head of state, and Damana Adia Pickass, the vice-president of the FPI responsible for youth. Since then, Katinan has played an active role in the welcoming committee in charge of organising Gbagbo’s return.

Ahoua Don Mello, the executive

An engineer by training, this FPI executive was the director general of the National Bureau of Technical Studies and Development (Bnetd) under Gbagbo. Appointed Minister of Equipment and spokesman for the last government of the ‘Baker’, he managed to flee the country after Gbagbo’s arrest on 11 April 2011.

This was followed by a decade of exile on the continent, most of which was spent in Guinea. In Conakry, Gbagbo’s former minister became Alpha Condé’s special adviser on infrastructure and major works. At the end of May 2021, he applied for a passport at the Côte d’Ivoire embassy to be able to return to Abidjan, in anticipation of the return of his former boss to the shores of the Ebrié Lagoon.

Narcisse Kuyo Téa, the mission manager

A former footballer, Narcisse Kuyo Téa played for Africa Sports of Abidjan before becoming its president at the end of the 2000s. Gbagbo’s former chief of staff, he was arrested after the 2010-2011 post-election crisis, then provisionally released in 2013.

An intimate ally of the former president, he was one of his rare visitors in Brussels. He is also his chargé de mission and was, in recent weeks, one of the few people who helped to settle the final logistical details of the return of the “boss” in Abidjan.

Christophe Blé, the doctor

Personal physician of Laurent Gbagbo, Christophe Blé was arrested with his patient in 2011 and held with him in a military camp in Korhogo from April to November 2011. After Gbagbo’s transfer to The Hague, Blé was released in January 2012.

After the acquittal of the former head of state in January 2019, he was one of the first to visit him in Brussels to check on his health. At 76 years, Gbagbo has been physically challenged by his ten years of detention, especially his few months spent in the hands of pro-Ouattara, in Korhogo. Blé continues to watch over him regularly.

Roland Guibony Sinsin, the friend

Former director general of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) turned consultant, Roland Guibony Sinsin is a great friend of both Laurent and Simone Gbagbo.

In the last days of the regime, in April 2011, he was one of the few to visit them when their presidential residence was bombed by Ouattara’s forces. Arrested alongside them, he was tried in the 2015 trial of 84 pro-Gbagbo individuals for their role in the 2010-2011 post-election crisis.

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