Abidjan, Ivory Coast – Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo is returning home on Thursday to help “reconcile” a country that was left in chaos almost 10 years ago.
The opposition leader is due to return from Brussels on a commercial flight after judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague earlier this year upheld his acquittal, as did that of Youth Minister Charles Blaise Goode, for crimes against humanity. They were both charged with inciting post-election violence in C դte d’Ivoire in 2011.
The return is seen as a test for a population of a country that still remembers the bloody conflict, with some analysts fearing it could once again destabilize the world’s largest cocoa producer.
But supporters of Gbagbo and members of the C Կte d’Ivoire People’s Front (FPI) party hope the 76-year-old’s return, after spending most of the past 10 years in the ICC, will ease tensions.
Preparations for Gbagbo’s return to the commercial capital Abidjan were well under way ahead of his planned arrival.
“Gbagbo is a man of peace and reconciliation,” Benedict Blair Uete told FPI headquarters while shopping for baseball jerseys with a portrait of the leader. “For all those who suffered for years when Gbagbo was exiled, his return is a good thing.”
President Alassane Ouattara, who sent Gbagbo to The Hague, made the presidential pavilion at the airport available for his return.
He has granted him former presidents status, awards, including pensions, personal security, and a diplomatic passport that facilitates his return.
“The fact that Ouattara has asked for this to be done directly by the President’s Office is a strong message,” FPI Secretary-General Asua Adu said on Monday.
A former opponent of Cևte d’Ivoire’s former professor of history, a longtime opponent of France’s Felix Houfou-Buini, Gbagbo came to power in 2000 after winning an election in which military leader Robert Guy did not concede defeat.
Gbagbo’s years were marred by a failed coup that divided the country into a rebel-held north, a government-led south, and sparked outbursts of violence that pushed him to extend his presidency. When the election finally took place in 2010, Watara defeated Gbagbo, who insisted on voter fraud and refused to give in.
More than 3,000 people have been killed in months of fighting between two men ‘s loyal forces before 2011. Gbabgo was arrested in April and subsequently transferred to the ICC.
Gbagbo’s supporters say his return is necessary to resume the reconciliation process, which never came to an end after violence.
“Gbagbo is the only one who can gather people,” said his 51-year-old son, Michel Gbagbo, և Yupugon, deputy director of the FPI base.
Gbagbo first announced his intention to return on the eve of the October 2020 elections, when 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 in 2016 as a result of constitutional changes.
Despite major infrastructure projects, including bridges, highways, universities, and the economy, which has grown at an annual rate of 7% over the past decade, most of the population feels left out of economic growth.
This, in turn, led to accusations of nepotism, corruption, and complaints that the Ouattara government had largely benefited members of its northern Diula ethnic group.
In April, Ouattara said Gbagbo was free to return to Ivory Coast. He did not say whether Gbagbo had been pardoned for 20 years in prison by C Կte d’Ivoire in absentia for embezzling funds from the regional central bank.
Earlier this year, Gbagbo’s FPI nominated candidates for the first time in 10 years. Its candidates are on the list with the Democratic Party of C Կte d’Ivoire, which supported Ouattara in the 2010-2015 elections.
Gbagbo continues to weigh heavily in opposition to Ouattara, says political analyst Sylvain N’Guesan, director of the Abidjan Institute for Strategy. He still leads a large number of FPI followers with members of his Bete ethnic group.
But critics warn that Gbagbo’s return could lead to further tensions.
“Why would I want to see the return of someone who caused so much suffering and devastation?” said Samuel Abongo, a 29-year-old Uber driver from Yupugon.
Gbagbo supporters also suffered, said Henriette Quasi, who recently returned to Cոտte d’Ivoire after seven years in exile in neighboring Ghana.
“We are very happy that Gbagbo is coming home.”