Alassane Ouattara, the president of the Ivory Coast, announced on Saturday that he has pardoned longstanding adversary Laurent Gbagbo as part of an effort to mend fences with his predecessors before the 2025 elections.
Gbagbo, who served as president from 2000 to 2011, returned to the Ivory Coast last year after being cleared of war crimes charges by the Hague in 2019. He was accused of inciting a civil conflict in 2010 by refusing to accept loss after the election.
Back home, he still faced a 20-year prison sentence for a 2019 conviction linked to the robbery of funds from the Abidjan central bank during the post-election period. He has always denied the charges.
“In order to further strengthen social cohesion, I have signed a decree granting a presidential pardon to Laurent Gbagbo,” Ouattara said in a televised speech to the nation ahead of its independence day on Sunday.
He said he had also asked for Gbagbo’s accounts to be unfrozen and for the payment of the arrears of his presidential lifetime annuity.
The decision follows a rare meeting in July between Ouattara, Gbagbo, and former president Henri Konan Bedie.
The trio have dominated Ivory Coast’s fractious political scene since the 1990s. Bedie was president from 1993 until his ouster in a 1999 coup. Gbagbo governed from 2000 until his election defeat to Ouattara in 2010.
Tensions came to a head most dramatically after the 2010 election. Gbagbo refused to concede defeat, leading to a brief civil war that killed about 3,000 people before rebel forces aligned with Ouattara swept into the main city Abidjan.
Ouattara has presided over relative stability during his decade in power. But dozens of people were killed in clashes that broke out around the 2020 election, when he stood for a third term that Gbagbo and Bedie said was unconstitutional.
The president has not yet said whether he plans to run for a fourth term in 2025. He has said he would like to step down but also suggested he would need Gbagbo and Bedie to commit to withdrawing from politics in order to do so.
They have not so far indicated what their plans are.