Côte d’Ivoire is preparing for the return of Laurent Gbagbo | Ivory Coast News


Abidjan, Ivory Coast – Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo returns home on Thursday to help “reconcile” a country he left in chaos nearly a decade ago.

The opposition leader will have to return on a commercial flight from Brussels after judges from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague earlier this year upheld his acquittal, as well as that of his minister. of youth Charles Ble Goude, of crimes against humanity. The two had been accused of instigating the post-election violence that ravaged Côte d’Ivoire in 2011.

The return is seen as a test for the country and for a population that still has the bloody conflict in its memory, and some analysts say there is concern that it could destabilize the world’s largest cocoa producer again.

But supporters of Gbagbo and members of his Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party hope that the return of the 76-year-old, after spending most of the last ten years in ICP custody, will ease persistent tensions.

In the commercial capital, Abidjan, preparations for Gbagbo’s return were well advanced on the eve of his planned arrival.

“Gbagbo is a man of peace and reconciliation,” Benedicte Bleh Ouete told the FPI headquarters while buying baseball shirts and caps with the portrait of the leader. “For all those who suffered for years when Gbagbo was in exile, his return is good.”

President Alassane Ouattara, who sent Gbagbo to The Hague, has made his return available to the airport’s presidential pavilion.

He has also been granted status and rewards reserved for former presidents, including a pension, personal security and diplomatic passport to facilitate his return.

“The fact that Ouattara has called for this to be handled directly by the presidential staff is a strong message,” FPI Secretary General Assoua Adou said on Monday.

Former history professor and opponent of the first president of Côte d’Ivoire after France’s independence, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Gbagbo came to power in 2000 after winning an election in which military governor Robert Guei did not recognize his defeat.

Gbagbo’s tenure was affected by a failed coup that divided the country into a rebellious north and a ruled government in the south and fueled outbreaks of violence that pushed him to extend his presidential term. When the elections finally took place in 2010, Ouattara defeated Gbagbo, who claimed electoral fraud and refused to concede.

More than 3,000 people died in the months of fighting that took place between forces loyal to the two men, before Gbabgo’s arrest in April 2011 and subsequent transfer to the ICC.

Gbagbo supporters say his return is necessary to revive a process of reconciliation that never began on the ground after the violence.

“Gbagbo is the only one that can bring people together,” said his 51-year-old son, Michel Gbagbo, and Yopougon MP, an FPI stronghold.

Gbagbo first announced his intentions to return on the eve of the October 2020 elections, which meant Ouattara won a controversial third term.

His return is timely, as many Ivorians feel betrayed by Ouattara’s decision to run for a third term following the constitutional amendments introduced in 2016.

Despite investments in large infrastructure projects (including bridges, highways and universities) and in an economy that has expanded by more than 7% annually for much of the last decade, a large part of the population is being excluded from economic growth.

This, in turn, has led to allegations of nepotism and corruption, as well as complaints that the Ouattara government has mainly benefited members of its Dioula ethnic group, who come from the north of the country.

In April, Ouattara said Gbagbo was free to return to Côte d’Ivoire. He did not specify whether Gbagbo had been pardoned by a pending sentence of 20 years in prison handed down in absentia by an Ivorian court for misappropriating funds from the regional central bank.

Earlier this year, Gbagbo’s REIT fielded candidates in parliamentary elections for the first time in ten years. His candidates participated in a joint list with the Democratic Party for Côte d’Ivoire of Henri Konan Bedie, which supported Ouattara in the 2010 elections and back in 2015.

Gbagbo remains a heavyweight in opposition to Ouattara, said Sylvain N’Guessan, a political analyst and director of the Abidjan Institute of Strategy. He still commands a large following with FPI and members of his Bete ethnic group.

But critics fear that Gbagbo’s return could increase tensions again.

“Why would I want to see the return of someone who caused so much suffering and destruction?” Said Samuel Abongo, a 29-year-old Uber driver from Yopougon.

Gbagbo supporters also suffered, said Henriette Kouassi, who recently returned to Côte d’Ivoire after seven years in exile in neighboring Ghana.

“We are very pleased that Gbagbo is returning home.”

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