It has been a week since the International Criminal Court (ICC) upheld an earlier acquittal of the former President of Ivory Coast, Laurent Koudou Gbagbo, bringing to an end a decade of legal problems for the 75-year-old who had been charged among others with murder and sexual abuse which marked postelection violence.
After the President of the ICC, Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji, a Nigerian, declared on March 31 that “[t]he appeals chamber, by majority, has found no error that could have materially affected the decision of the trial chamber,” Gbagbo would have heaved the most profound sigh of relief he has ever managed. He had always maintained his innocence but the alacrity with which Gbagbo was processed for adjudication has been hailed as the best possible way to deal with powerful men whose reigns see unspeakable inhuman offenses.
Gbagbo was freed along with the Minister of Youth during his presidency, Charles Blé GoudéOn Wedne, a man blamed by loyalists of the current Ivorian president, Alassane Ouattara, as the one who led the organizational ground game for offensives against rebel alliances from the north as well as against civilians.
Judge Eboe-Osuji also repealed all the conditionalities attached to letting the men go. But as any observer of the politics in the Ivory Coast could tell you, this is a tense never-before-seen moment that will test the fragile peace in the West African country.
On Wednesday, Ouattara announced that Gbagbo and Blé Goudé were free to return to their home country if they wanted to. Ivorian authorities, perhaps in anticipation of the present moment, gave Gbagbo an ordinary passport as well as a diplomatic one, depending on which life he chose to live after the ICC’s proceedings.
Gbagbo’s travel expenses, and those of his family as well, will be paid for by the Ivorian state. But Ouattara’s announcement of these packages mentioned nothing about a 20-year prison sentence that awaits Gbagbo from a case tied to embezzlement. He was tried and sentenced in absentia in 2019. It is also not known if the Ivorian government will agree to Gbagbo’s financial demands in line with his importance as a former president.
Jeune Afrique, the pan-African Francophone magazine, has reported that Gbagbo is asking for “a €14,600 [$17,000] monthly allowance plus another €11,400 [$13,500] for transport, gas, electricity, and telephone bills.” These amounts are the same as what he was entitled to when he was arrested by the ICC in April of 2011.
Campaigners for peace and well-wishers will be gladdened by Ouattara’s commitment to involving the state in receiving Gbagbo. However, the president may be expected to go further than that. Gbagbo’s influence may not be insignificant despite being away for about a decade. In Gbagbo, it is possible for elements antithetic to Ouattara to find renaissance.
Religious and ethnic tensions are still very present too, one cannot forget. Ivory Coast still struggles to define what it means by a nation after 60 years.
There are even grounds to doubt what was heralded as reconciliatory efforts by Ouattara’s government last December when Gbagbo was handed the two passports. An African Intelligence report noted at the beginning of this year that the two men had not spoken, with one man waiting for the other to call.