| 23 February 2024, Friday |

Ivory Coast’s former president Gbagbo flies home after decade in exile

Laurent Gbagbo, the former President of the Ivory Coast, boarded a plane in Brussels on Thursday to return home for the first time since he was deposed in 2011 and sent to The Hague on allegations of war crimes, which he was eventually cleared of.

Even as President Alassane Ouattara’s government and Gbagbo’s supporters say they hope his return will help the country reunite, there was a large police presence around Abidjan, the commercial city of Ivory Coast, to prevent any violence.

Hundreds of people flocked to the streets in Abidjan’s Yopougon district, which is considered Gbangbo’s political heartland, to show their support for his arrival. In other neighborhoods, police used tear gas to disperse similar groups.

From minivans headed towards the airport, one group screamed “Gbagbo is coming, we will install him,” while others shouted “Respect the power of Gbagbo.”

“It’s a wonderful day for me to go and greet Gbagbo,” Liliane Kokora, who was wearing a t-shirt with Gbagbo’s face on it, remarked. “He is finally making his way to his homeland to give us hope.”

Gbagbo, who came to office in 2000, was arrested after a brief civil war prompted by his refusal to concede defeat to Ouattara in the 2010 election. More than 3,000 people were killed in the conflict, which was fought largely along ethnic and regional lines.

He was acquitted in 2019 of war crimes and crimes against humanity charges by the International Criminal Court for his role in the violence.

Ivory Coast, the world’s leading cocoa producer, has had remarkable economic growth in the previous decade, but it still suffers political and ethnic conflict on occasion.

At least 85 people were killed in riots around the highly fought presidential election in October 2020, in which Ouattara was re-elected for a third term.

Gbagbo’s return follows months of discussions between his team and the government, which held off on issuing him a passport until after the 2020 election.

The administration originally objected that it had not been contacted after Gbagbo announced his homecoming date, but then stated that he would be welcomed back in the spirit of national reconciliation.

Gbagbo 76, has said little about what political role he might play on his return. He retains firm support among his base of supporters, particularly in the country’s south and west.

He is also serving a 20-year prison sentence for misappropriating funds from the regional central bank, which was handed down in November 2019.

Gbagbo is free to return, according to Ouattara, but the administration has not announced if he has been pardoned.

A tiny group of Gbango’s fans from Paris waited at the Brussels airport to see him leave. Some donned T-shirts with his effigy on them, one of which said “Gbagbo the Unavoidable.”

“Why would someone want to return to their homeland? It is his country, after all. It’s where he’s supposed to be “Before entering the terminal, one of Gbagbo’s lawyers, Habiba Toure, remarked.

  • Reuters