Today Wednesday, April 7, Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara declared that his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo was welcome to come back home after being finally acquitted of crimes against humanity during a civil war that pitted them against each other over ten years ago.
Ouattara said Gbagbo, as well as his former aide, Charles Ble Goude was free to return to the country if they wish.
“Arrangements will be made so that Laurent Gbagbo can enjoy, in accordance with the laws in place, the advantages and allowances available to former presidents,” Ouattara told a cabinet ministers meeting in Abidjan.
President Ouattara added that the state would ensure the financial burden for the former president and family for their return home.
It should be recalled that more than 3,000 people died during months of fighting after the 2010 election when Gbagbo disputed the results of the vote won by Ouattara and refused to step down.
Gbagbo was eventually forced out of office as president and became the first head of state to stand trial at the ICC in The Hague.
The former Ivorian president still retains very strong support back home even after spending years in prison in the Dutch city, as well as time in Brussels as he waited for the outcome of an appeal against his acquittal in 2019.
His supporters have applauded the ICC’s decision to uphold his acquittal along with that of former youth militia leader Ble Goude, saying their return to the country would hopefully close up the division in Ivory Coast.
Ouattara made no remark Wednesday about the 20-year jail sentence that Gbagbo officially still faces in Ivory Coast after he was convicted in absentia in 2019 for the “looting” of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) during the 2010-11 conflict.
However, Amadou Coulibaly, Ivory Coast’s new communications minister, and government spokesperson, suggested that the sentence could be revoked.
Gbagbo has been positioning himself for a potential comeback since the end of last year when Ouattara’s government-held out an olive branch, issuing him with two passports, one ordinary and one diplomatic.
The government minister in charge of national reconciliation, kouado Konan Bertin, said Gbagbo’s return would facilitate the work of peace and reconciliation.
Ouattara is “disposed to move towards reconciliation and peace,” he said.
Gbagbo has cast himself as a conciliatory figure, having warned of the risk of “catastrophe” as tensions grew ahead of the October 2020 presidential election.
So far, sanity had returned to Ivorian politics, with Gbagbo’s FPI taking part in legislative elections last month, putting an end to a ten-year-long boycott.