Laurent Gbagbo remains silent and that visibly raises questions. Returning with fanfare on June 17, 2021 to Abidjan, after his acquittal by international justice, the former Ivorian president is currently positioning himself as a discreet opponent. While keeping an eye on the 2025 presidential election?
Once the popular jubilation accompanying his return subsided, the former head of state (2000-2011), now 77 years old, quickly showed his desire to play the game of reconciliation. In July 2021, he first went to Daoukro (center), to Henri Konan Bédié, ex-president once rival and now his ally. A few weeks later, he was received by President Alassane Ouattara, a first since their presidential duel in 2010 which led to a deadly crisis. The warm embrace between the two men gave a glimpse of “a happy tomorrow”, as the press then hoped. “The spirit of revenge, for a Republican, does not work. For Laurent Gbagbo, Côte d’Ivoire is above everything, ”says Justin Koné Katinan, one of his loyal lieutenants, to AFP.
Laurent Gbgabo caught in the game of reconciliation
After years of imprisonment in The Hague, accused and then acquitted by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity, the “Woody” (boy, one of his nicknames) nevertheless wanted to regain his full place in the Ivorian political game. In October, when he launched the Party of African Peoples-Côte d’Ivoire (PPA-CI), a new pan-Africanist political formation on the left, he said he wanted to continue politics until his death. But, if most of the executives of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), his historic party, followed him in this adventure, a few heavyweights are missing: among them, Simone Gbagbo, former first lady, with whom he asked for the divorce, and Pascal Affi N’Guessan, his former Prime Minister, with whom he is in political rupture. “We thought that his release from prison was going to boost him, but it was not so easy, he was unable to unite the Ivorian left,” points out political analyst Arthur Banga.
Since then, in addition to a few spades against the controversial third term of his successor, Laurent Gbagbo is generally careful not to fire red balls at the current power. “Apart from two or three projections during visits to the interior of the country, it is not the thunderbolt of war that we expected”, confirms Arthur Banga. At the beginning of June, the deputies of his camp even voted in favor of Adama Bictogo, the majority candidate, in the election of the president of the National Assembly. “We are not a dogmatic opposition”, had then justified Hubert Oulaye, one of his faithful lieutenants and boss of the PPA-CI group in the Assembly. “There is no incompatibility with working for reconciliation and being an opponent. Laurent Gbagbo is a man of the opposition and we have a lot of points of divergence with the power”, assures the spokesman of the party, Justin Koné Katinan, citing pell-mell debt, development policy or even political foreign.
Restricted discretion for how long?
For several observers, this moderate opposition can also be explained by the judicial sword of Damocles which still hangs over Laurent Gbagbo’s head. Because, if he was acquitted by international justice, he remains sentenced in absentia in 2018 in Côte d’Ivoire to twenty years in prison for the “robbery” of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO ) during the post-electoral crisis of 2010-2011. “This condemnation forces him to be discreet. The power can activate the legal procedure at any time, ”said the Ivorian political scientist and essayist Geoffroy Kouao.
So, a year after his return, does Laurent Gbagbo still want to be president of Côte d’Ivoire in 2025? “He still has his ambitions and we will support him. There is no debate on that”, replies Katinan, hammering that Laurent Gbagbo is “not retired”. “His advanced age constitutes a political handicap in a country where young people and public opinion are increasingly hostile to gerontocracy. Laurent Gbagbo, today, politically, it is more a name, a symbol than a reality”, tempers Mr. Kouao.
The results of the PPA-CI in the municipal and regional elections of 2023 will be a first indicator of the political weight that Laurent Gbabgo still weighs in Côte d’Ivoire.