Thursday, August 21, 2014

[Part 6] Côte d'Ivoire, The Coup d'État, by Charles Onana--Chapter 4.

[Part 6 describes the troubles that befell President Gbagbo on his first ascension to the Ivorian presidency in 2000--a bad year for elections.  Though the French seemed to have his back, what they were really doing was getting ready to put a knife in it.--mc]

{In the Scheveningen prison, used in the 1940’s by the Gestapo, sits an African head-of-State: President Laurent Gbagbo: duly elected by the people of Ivory Coast in 2000; in 2011, after his November 2010 re-election was contested by opponent Alassane Outtara, he was overthrown in a coup arranged by the West, particularly by France and the USA; and, in April of that year, he was placed under arrest by French troops. He now languishes in the concrete cells of the International Criminal Court [ICC] in The Hague. First dragged before the ICC in November 2011, he has not yet gone to trial. In keeping with the Kafkaesque legal procedures at the ICC, the hearing to confirm that there was sufficient evidence to charge him and proceed to trial was not held until March 2013.  No surprise to those who know the facts, the judges at the ICC found the prosecutor had failed to present sufficient evidence to establish the charges.

But, instead of immediately releasing President Gbagbo, the judges ordered that his detention continue while the prosecutor tried to come up with some kind of evidence. Such a ruling in any common law or civil law system in the world would be seen as blatantly political—its purpose, to keep Laurent Gbagbo out of Ivory Coast politics for as long as possible.

Finally, more than a year later, on June 12, 2014, the ICC, based solely on hearsay evidence, confirmed the charges and ordered the Ivorian President to stand trial. In their decision, the judges did not once mention the principal role of French forces in the violence that took place.  However, one honest judge, Hon. Christine Van den Wyngaert, in her dissent, stated emphatically, "I am unable to join my colleagues in their decision to confirm the charges.... I am of the view that the evidence is still insufficient…. There is a considerable quantitative increase in the evidence submitted by the Prosecutor.... However, the previously identified problem regarding reliance on anonymous hearsay remains." She then found that, even taken at its highest, the prosecution had failed to meet the standard required, and that the evidence they had presented could not reasonably result in a conviction at trial.

The Prosecutor of the ICC is a former prosecutor at the Rwandan War Crimes Tribunal [ICTR] in Arusha, Tanzania, where it was standard practice to charge first and then concoct evidence later. We can see that these same extra-legal methods are being used at the ICC, and that in actuality we are observing the criminalization of International Justice. For those who wish to know why Laurent Gbagbo, Simone Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé are being held in the ICC prison, Charles Onana's comprehensive and dramatic account of the events in Ivory Coast is essential reading.  One can only hope that people around the world will wake up and stand up to call for justice for these political prisoners before their leaders, too, fall victim to what can only be described as “judicial fascism."

—Christopher Black, International Defense Counsel}

General Guéï poster 2000 elections


Gbagbo’s Troubles Begin

    Laurent Gbagbo’s coming to power in 2000 was not good news for certain Ivorian and foreign groups.  Those who had profited for more than a quarter century from the privileges bestowed by the single-party under Houphouët-Boigny did not easily accept the change.  They were ready to support whatever opportunist came along on the sole condition that Laurent Gbagbo did not remain in power.

    Others who wanted Alassane Ouattara at the head of the government, and did not care what it cost to put him there, also organized against Laurent Gbagbo.  This coalition was wont to use the most illegal means available to achieve their ends.  At its heart there were Western financial lobbies, some Ivorians and a certain number of foreigners, from Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea, who lived in the North of the country.  These outsiders based their political engagement in the country entirely on the policy of exclusion set out by the former president, Henri Konan Bédié, as well as on the ethnic and religious identity of Mr. Ouattara.  They universally held the belief that only someone of foreign origins and of Islamic beliefs like Ouattara could favorably respond to their wishes.

    It was along this line of thought that, in the early 1990s, what has come to be called the Northern Charter was born.  This was a platform of political claims, of an ethnic and religious character, that extolled separatism in Côte d’Ivoire.  During a televised debate on 1 October 1992, Alassane Ouattara evaded an embarrassing question from a journalist about the Northern Charter:  “Everything in its own good time,” he began.  Then he got more specific:

    “I would like to see, in ten or twenty years, a Côte d’Ivoire that extends beyond Ojéné. . . .  This might be a Côte d’Ivoire with, perhaps, another name, something that includes Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and why not?  Europe has given us the example, but they are far more numerous than we are.  Are we just going to stay in our micro-nationalism and our micro-regionalism?”

    This was not the position of a pan-Africanist.  Ouattara was a faithful disciple of ultra-liberalism, already having adopted the notions of market deregulation, the abolition of national borders, ideas conceived by ultra-liberal theoreticians.  His vision for Côte d’Ivoire, if he, in fact, had one, was not founded on concepts of political and cultural pan-Africanism.  A loyal servant of the IFIs (International Financial Institutions), Alassane Ouattara had already represented their interests in Côte d’Ivoire, and the Ivorians were right to question him about his actions since 1993.  Consequently, the Ivorian authorities lost the game by underestimating the determination of those who would impose Mr. Ouattara as Chief of State.

    There was another problem in Côte d’Ivoire, that of ethnic dissensions and the frustrations in the Ivorian Army created by the Bédié regime and the short-lived presidency of General Robert Guéï, which eliminated solidarity within certain units.  Laurent Gbagbo had to manage this situation when groups hostile to him sought to use these dissensions and frustrations against him.  With all the different groups living in the country, no one had really paid any attention to the magnitude of the danger and the consequences of an action to destabilize Côte d’Ivoire.  No one considered what the nation, or even the whole sub-region, might look like if such an action were carried out. 

    Finally, very few people understood that reverting to violence as the only means of political expression could lead Côte d’Ivoire to disaster and that it would be very difficult to undo the damage caused.  Having failed to gain power through the ballot box, Gbagbo’s adversaries chose to take up arms as the principal means of contesting political authority.  Laurent Gbagbo, who had, for nearly twenty years, been patient in his democratic opposition to the single-party and categorically refused a politics of armed violence, was faced with impatient opportunists predisposed to the use of arms in order to achieve political power.  His main adversary, Alassane Ouattara and his cohort, did not hesitate to take violent actions and massacre Ivorian civilians for political gain.  These were the conditions in which Mr. Gbagbo would begin to govern Côte d’Ivoire.  Suffice to say, the game was difficult and the course was strewn with all kinds of traps.

    Less than three months after effectively coming to power, Laurent Gbagbo faced an attempted coup d’État during the night of Sunday 7 to Monday 8 January 2001.  The attackers, trained in Burkina Faso, staged their assault using unmarked police cars.  Toward 3 am, they hit Ivorian Radio/Television, a camp of the Gendarmerie, and fired on the presidential residence.  Around 3:20 am, they were surrounded by loyalist forces and gunfire broke out in the city of Abidjan.  The Ivorian Army drove back the putschists and regained control of strategic buildings in the economic capital.  Among the attackers were Malians, Guineans and Burkinabés. 

    For the Ivorian authorities, this attack bore the signature of foreign agents or countries that wanted to destabilize the institutions of Côte d’Ivoire.  President Gbagbo, who left the city on the eve of the coup attempt, spoke of a “terrorist action.”  To an enthusiastic crowd out to demonstrate support for the democratic government, Gbagbo said:

    “I want to give our military the means by which to make fire fall from the sky onto our enemies, so as to let them know that whoever ventures into Côte d’Ivoire—like these people who have returned—, will have to go back to their homes.”

Among the demonstrators, some chanted, “Côte d’Ivoire for Ivorians!”

    To Ivorians it was obvious that Alassane Ouattara was behind this attempted coup d’État against Gbagbo.  That foreigners were involved in this attack only reinforced this hypothesis.  Different corroborating sources confirmed the financial support of Alassane Ouattara for the attempted putsch.  In fact, the coup was carried out by Ivorian Army deserters who had sought refuge in Burkina Faso and under the direction of Master-Sergeant Ibrahim Coulibaly, known as “IB”, a close associate of Alassane Ouattara.  The grand-puppeteer of this failed attempt to bring down Laurent Gbagbo was actually Blaise Compaoré, President of Burkina Faso, someone else very close to Ouattara.  He had made his country available as sanctuary for these deserters who had fallen out with General Guéï, himself a putschist in 1999.
Burkina Faso's Blaise Compaoré

    In the course of the loyalist offensive, a group of Touareg mercenaries were arrested.  While under interrogation, they confirmed the roles of Burkina Faso and Blaise Compaoré in this attempt coup d’État.  And President Compaoré did not hesitate, after the Ivorian president’s statement, to mass his troops (1500 men) on the border of Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire.  In the press, no one recognized the disastrous role that the Burkinabé president played in the destabilization of his neighbor.  At the summit of the French-African Chiefs of State in Yaoundé from 17 to 19 January 2001, the atmosphere was chilly.  The case of Côte d’Ivoire embarrassed both the African leaders and the representatives of France, chief among whom was Jacques Chirac.

    To them, Laurent Gbagbo was an intruder.  They refused to recognize the legitimacy he had gained through the electoral process or over his long, non-violent struggle to become the country’s Chief-of-State.  The problem with Laurent Gbagbo was that he owed next to nothing to these African political dinosaurs.  He was not a member of the “Old Autocrats” club, and he had no intention of becoming one.  Nor did he hold much admiration for those heads of state who had taken power through bloody coups and then gave little thought to torturing their opponents.  This profile fit Blaise Compaoré very nicely.

    Laurent Gbagbo had so suffered the brutality of the Houphouët-Boigny regime and the indifference of other national leaders to the inhumane treatment of their political opponents that he felt no kinship whatsoever with them.  They all would quickly become very annoyed with the “bad example” he was setting with his democratic ways, so unfriendly to the Franco-African scheme of things.  Above all they could not imagine how this newcomer would ever stay in power on a continent where electoral chicanery, destruction of any democratic opposition, treacherous coups, and the submission of corrupt regimes to the dictates of their Western supporters, were all long-standing priorities.

    For his part, Laurent Gbagbo had other concerns.  His priorities were more in line with peace, stability and development in his country.  The President had been seriously involved in the pursuit of these goals since his campaign.[1]

    Among his priorities was the reestablishment of good relations with the European Union, which had suspended all cooperation with Côte d’Ivoire after the embezzlement of 18 billion CFA francs by the Konan Bédié regime.  He knew that international isolation was a great drag on the development of his country.  Thanks to the support of his socialist friend Guy Labertit, the French Foreign Affairs Minister, Hubert Vedrine, and the Delegated Minister for Cooperation and the Francophone world, Charles Josselin, finally stepped up to encourage the European Union to resume cooperation with Côte d’Ivoire.  The cohabitation between the liberal Jacques Chirac and the socialist Lionel Jospin helped the Ivorian Chief of State regain a bit of serenity.

    Unlike Jacques Chirac, who enjoyed very familiar, if sometimes paternalistic, relations with African leaders, the Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, was much cooler and more distant.  This attitude perfectly suited the Ivorian President, who wanted “normal” relations with France, that is to say, State-to-State relations.  He had always detested the relations based on complaisance or even connivance between President Houpouët and France, and preferred keeping things clean and clear.  Moreover, he knew that Prime Minister Jospin did not particularly favor the interventionist policies the Élysée practiced in Africa.  So on this point, Gbagbo was on the same page with the socialist government.  This difference of vision in the matter of African policy between Matignon and Élysée would for a time be to the advantage of Laurent Gbagbo.

    However, the Ivorian Chief Executive, who had to struggle on all fronts to improve the image and economic situation of his country, had no real room to maneuver.  He needed France to bring progress to his country, but France wanted to make him think that it needed neither him nor Côte d’Ivoire.  His job would not be easy because those in Paris who wanted Laurent Gbagbo to fail were many and powerful.  The passivity of the French authorities was quite surprising to the Ivorians, whose country had always been a money pot for French businesses, as well as for certain French political parties.  The report of the top advisor to the French embassy in Côte d’Ivoire, Mr. Dominique Pin, though known for his visceral hatred of Laurent Gbagbo, was instructive on the attitude of Paris and the efforts made by the Ivorian President.[2]  In a note he sent to the Quai d’Orsay, he wrote:

    “I would like to call your attention to the communication from Abidjan of 26 July concerning the resumption of cooperation with the Ivorian Minister of the Interior; cooperation suspended after the coup d’État and officially not resumed.  The needs of the Ivorians are enormous, as the country’s security problems are bringing about the flight and discouraging the return of investors.  Not to mention the concerns of our countrymen who have been the victims of serious attacks. . . .
    On the political front, the improvements are obvious.  It is the same with the issue of Human Rights.  With regard to the efforts made by President Gbagbo and his government, it seems to us that there is no reason not to resume cooperation.  Even the British are planning to take part in a program to train police officers.  Without France, the Ivorians will now have to turn to Israel, Libya, China and Angola.  We are on the verge of losing our place in this very important sector.  It also seems to us absolutely necessary that a decision be made very quickly in Paris to ‘normalize’ our relations with Côte d’Ivoire in the security sector, and that of the FAC—aid for public order and the training of Ivorian police—be restarted.”

    This appeal to reason on the part of a French diplomat well shows that Paris had some concerns about Laurent Gbagbo.  However, despite the difficulties he faced on a daily basis and his lack of real experience as a head of State, he was doing better than both of his predecessors, Bédié and Guéï, combined.  This fact is not discounted by the French Ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire, Mr. Renaud Vignal.  In a three-page report he wrote on 5 July 2001, he finds the situation in Abidjan to be more troubling, but he stresses that the efforts of Laurent Gbagbo, eight months after taking power, have been far from negligible:

    “Early July 2001, eight months after Laurent Gbagbo’s arrival on the scene, and ten weeks after my own arrival, I see the situation is still very troubling. (…) After the “divine surprise” of his election at the end of October 2000, due to the complete failure of the Guéï regime and to the exclusion, solely in the name of Ivorité, of his only serious competition, Ouattara, Gbagbo easily seems responsible for the reestablishment of democracy.  Certainly, in November, he did not have the courage to put Ouattara back in the game by accepting that he be made a Deputy in his home district of Kong.  But he did put five ministers from the PDCI, Houphouët’s party, and four independents in his government.  The municipal elections of 25 March were not contested and the results (RDR in the lead, PDCI second, and FPI third) serve as the best evidence for democracy in action: the governing party lost.”

    So the French Ambassador had no doubt that the newly elected Laurent Gbagbo was acting like a democrat.  He even organized municipal elections for 25 March that his own party lost.  He was in no way compelled to put in office mayors who would favor him as a way of consolidating his power.  Even the attempted coup against him by friends of Alassane Ouattara did not make him change his attitude.  Far from the media onslaught against Gbagbo over Human Rights, those French diplomats in Abidjan, who were not necessarily predisposed to liking him, had a much different reading of things, one closer to the reality.  The French Ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire judged that the new Chief-of-State, who had inherited a disastrous situation with regard to security and Human Rights, could not be considered guilty of crimes he had not committed:

    “Difficulties with the security apparatus, rivalries within the Army, the Gendarmerie and the Police.  The latter holding the feeling they had not received their rightful pay raises; a legacy of military officers involved in Human Rights matters:  Example, the mass grave at Youpougon for which Gbagbo could not be held responsible as the crime took place just two days after his swearing in.”

    This official French analysis was not shared by many Parisian journalists, who accused Laurent Gbagbo of responsibility for the mass grave at Youpougon.  But the French diplomat found the new Ivorian president demonstrated a serious weakness in the area of communications because he seemed to endure certain accusations without responding in an appropriate fashion:

    “. . . an incapacity for directing communications, for example, concerning the accusations of ‘child slavery’ or the law suits filed in Belgium for ‘genocide’ against General Guéï, which are self-evident, but against Gbagbo, as well.”

    The chief criticism by the French Ambassador, one that recurs in nearly all his reports, is of the “Ouattara problem.”  To him, not recognizing Alassane Ouattara’s right to political eligibility would weaken him both inside and outside the country.  The French Ambassador knew that the Ouattara case was the Achilles heel of the Gbagbo regime, even if he held a very low opinion of Alassane Ouattara as a man.

    Despite the general scorn and rejection publicly heaped upon the Ivorian president in Paris, French businesses did not slow their roll toward becoming a more important presence in the Ivorian market.  A good example of the cases that Laurent Gbagbo had to deal with on an urgent basis was that of the French corporation Thalès, a subsidiary of Thomson CSF.  Côte d’Ivoire under Konan Bédié had incurred a debt of 200 million French francs (30.5 million Euros) to ID-Matics, a subsidiary of Thalès, for the design and printing of Ivorian national ID cards and resident alien cards.  For more than two years, the French company tried to collect its money.  For naught.  The corruption eating away at the Bédié regime kept the State from respecting its obligations and assuming its responsibilities to outsiders.

    When Laurent Gbagbo took power, this case was returned to the bargaining table.  The French company wanted its money and, most likely, to renew its contract with the Ivorian government.  For the new regime, the confusion between foreign and Ivorian nationals fostered by the Ivorian government had been going on for a long time and was such that it became essential to act immediately to sort out who was Ivorian and who was not.  Among the elements that could have helped resolve this problem was the issuing of a national ID card for citizens and a resident alien card for foreigners.   To do this, it was first necessary to deal with the debt the Ivorian government owed to ID-Matics.

    A meeting was set for 19 April 2001 in Paris with the Interior Minister of Côte d’Ivoire, Mr. Emile Boga Doudou.  In the course of a discussion with Mr. Yann de Jomaron, CEO of Thalès International Africa, the Ivorian Minister told Mr. Jomaron that for the sake of State continuity, the new Ivorian authorities would recognize the debt contracted by the government of Côte d’Ivoire to ID-Matics.  However, the Ivorian State, which is a shareholder in this company, owning up to 49% of its stock, “has sought at its own expense an audit of the management of the interests of minority shareholders to be carried out by an internationally reputed accounting firm.”  The objective of the new authorities was to understand what had actually gone on in this case of State debt.  They also wished to know the precise elements making up the exact amount of the debt, so that the two parties would not destroy their relationship in negotiations based in endless bickering.  Moreover, this case was already under consideration by an arbitration panel.

    The very difficult relations with international donors that the regime of Laurent Gbagbo had inherited from both the Guéï and Bédié regimes, grew to be more demanding and rigid than they had been with the preceding governments.  The Ivorian State then proposed the services of the international accounting firm of Price Waterhouse to carry out the audit of ID-Matics.  The authorities wanted to resolve this problem quickly so they could deal with the registration of citizens, and all the other necessary administrative records in Côte d’Ivoire, before the end of 2003.  The presidential elections were scheduled for 2005, but no census had been taken to determine the exact number of eligible Ivorian voters before the next elections.  Time was bearing down, and there was a great deal to be ironed out, matters to be treated with urgency and in depth.

    On his return to Abidjan, Minister Boga Doudou sent a letter on 30 April to Mr. Yann de Jomaron telling him what had been decided at the meeting in Paris.  The Director of Thalès responded by stressing that the debt owed by the Ivorian State would “not be limited to the unpaid balance for services rendered by ID-Matics and billed to the State.”  But Jomaron figured that the interests of ID-Matics were more important and agreed to furnish the necessary records. What was most important and constituted a sticking point for the new regime was the fact that the Thalès chief considered that the audit called for by the Ivorian State must not “in any eventuality be carried out in the context of an analysis of the management of the interests of minority shareholders of the ID-Matics Company.”  Mr. Yann de Jomaron declared that there was no problem with management and that the accounts of ID-Matics had been, according to him, certified by the Comptroller and checked out by the Ivorian Internal Revenue administration (at the time of Bédié).  Under these conditions, what the Thalès CEO was demanding was nothing less than that the Ivorian State pay this debt prior to any audit or other investigation of it.

    On 11 June 2001, a work-meeting was held in Abidjan between the French Ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire, the commercial attaché at the French Embassy, Mr. Cédric Plot, the CEO of Thalès, Mr. Jomaron, the representative of Sitel, and Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo.  The representatives of the Thomson CFR group, that is, the chief of Thalès and the representatives of ID-Matics, presented their request to the Ivorian president.  Since President Gbagbo had demanded a full inventory of the ID-Matics case before the meeting, he was able to point out that the data base on which the national IDs and resident alien cards had been produced was erroneous.  That is to say, the previous elections were held based on a voters pool that was suspect and unreliable.  So President Gbagbo did not want to reuse the same flawed data base that his predecessors had never questioned because it served them effectively in rigging the elections.  He also observed that the security of this process was technically far from perfect.  Clearly the President wanted to pay the debt owed to ID-Matics, but he also exposed the faults in the data base and the technical performance of this company.  He put forward the idea of contracting the production of national IDs and the carrying out of the census to a private Ivorian company.  His preference was for Mr. Bakou, the CEO of Ocide Finance.  This choice did not immediately sit well with the French, who did not want to consider the main part of the Ivorian president’s argument.  One of the participants in the meeting, Mr. Cédric Plot, stated in the report to the French Ambassador he wrote that same day:

    “The Ivorian State, in the person of its president, put forth the idea that the equipment was defective and that the existing data base was false, while the authorities had been well served for the last elections and all the data was furnished by the Ivorians, themselves.  Moreover, the Army’s inspection services last year gave a very positive evaluation of the installations and their security policy.  Finally, since this system is newer and more effective than the one used in France, the Ivorian party seems unaware of its quality.”

    The commercial attaché to the French Embassy added:

    “President Gbagbo stated that he now wanted to give the job of producing the cards and the census to a private citizen of the country, Mr. Bakou, CEO of Octide Finance, well known to our services for having been involved in ‘the business’ of cacao under the presidency of Konan Bédié.
    Mr. Bakou, who would profit from a government contract, has already presented the authorities with the technology developed by a direct competitor of Thomson in this field, the SAGEM company, which offers a system of cards with built-in computer chips, along the lines of bank cards.  A change in technology at this stage, when the representatives of Thomson assure us of the perfect functionality of their products and of the possibility that the State will not only pay its outstanding debt in two years but will also finance the computerization of the administration called for in the president’s program, would jeopardize the success of the next elections in 2003 if too much time is taken in the production of these national identity cards.”

    The French Ambassador then promised to get back to President Gbagbo to try and convince him of the need for his continued collaboration with Thomson CSF.  At the end of the 11 June work-meeting, an agreement on principle was reached with the Ivorian authorities.  A letter was then written to the director of ID-Matics telling him that:

    “The Thomson-ID-Matics group will be assigned the effective production of national identity cards and resident alien cards in the capacity of a provider of services to the concessionaire [Mr. Bakou, ed], all at the price for which the company previously produced them.  Furthermore, Thomson-ID-Matics and the State of Côte d’Ivoire agree to fix the participation of the State in the capital of ID-Matics at a maximum of 49%.  So the capitization of the company will be divided as follows:  the State of Côte d’Ivoire: 49%; Sitel: 4%; Thomson-ID-Matics: 47%.  The State and ID-Matics-CI agree to settle definitively the debt claimed by Thomson from the State of Côte d’Ivoire, solely on the basis of the cards produced but not paid for and to the exclusion of all other fees, notably royalties an other insured compensation.  On the instructions of the State as set forth in the concessionary contract, the concessionaire agrees to reimburse the State for this debt to ID-Matics-CI.”

    This affair, which was already before the arbitration board of the OHADA (Organization for the Harmonization in Africa of the Droit des Affaires [Business Law]), must find an amicable resolution according to Laurent Gbagbo.  In fact, the contract signed by Thomsom-ID-Matics on 3 July 1998 under President Konan Bédié was never respected.  The generalized corruption and systematic looting of the public coffers during the Bédié regime made it impossible for the Ivorian State to honor its debts.  When Laurent Gbagbo took power in 2000, he had to face a huge number of priority cases, but he also had in front of him all the problems caused by the negligence of the prior Guéï and Bédié regimes.  The ID-Matics case was an example of this kind of serious and complex problems left behind by his predecessors and inherited by Laurent Gbagbo.  The negotiations with the Thomson group would go on for quite a while, but in the end it was SAGEM that got the contract for the identity cards.

    Those who thought that Laurent Gbagbo was hostile to French businesses were wrong, and those who imagined he would give away the store to them were also wrong.  His goal was not to break everything or to change everything in coming to power.  As a historian and a political leader, he always considered and respected the fact that the history of Côte d’Ivoire did not begin with him nor would it end with his rule.  The consideration of managing the continuity of the State, of maintaining the various delicate balances and carrying out reforms without destroying in just a few days the old customs inherited from the singe-party, were regular preoccupations in his analysis.  Even while acting with a great deal of finesse and reflection, Laurent Gbagbo was not able to placate the malcontents, in Paris or in Abidjan.

    Despite this extremely hostile environment, Gbagbo tried to move his country forward toward peace and reconciliation.  On 7 September 2001, he announced the opening of a “Forum for National Reconciliation” through which he wanted to bring together all the political forces, all the representatives of civil society and the non-governmental organizations.  He designated a former Prime Minister under General Guéï, Mr. Seydou Diarra, a Muslim from the North of the country, to preside over this forum.  A consensus seemed to form around this politician and Laurent Gbagbo was then seen as someone who was open and resolutely looking toward the future.  The coup d’État of which he was the target did not bring him to considerations of revenge or of fierce repression.  Would his political enemies, Konan Bédié, Robert Guéï and Alassane Ouattara, be capable of such an attitude after surviving a coup attempt?
Renaud Vignal

    The enthusiastic report of the French Ambassador, Renaud Vignal, on 20 August 2001, was most revealing on this subject:

    “From the perspective of the Forum, Laurent Gbagbo could expect three advantages:  he gave to the international community, most notably the European Union, the long- awaited sign of his desire for improved relations:  what governments would actually take the risk of opening a space for free debate, corum populo, televised, where the opposition could freely express its criticisms?  The pressure exerted on the ‘band of three’:  Bédié, Guéï, Ouattara, to chose between refusing to take part, and thereby appearing to reject reconciliation, or having their return to Abidjan, an uneasy unto threatening place, made to appear as their recognition of the legitimacy of Laurent Gbagbo.”

    The forum would turn out to be instructive and positive for the majority of Ivorians who wanted peace and national reconciliation.  Thanks to the sincere efforts of Seydou Diarra, who struggled to convince the principal political leaders to participate in this gathering, and to the political will of the Chief Executive, the Ivorian people received the impression that they have moved in a good direction.  The discrete aid of France to bringing the forum about was also significant.  It provided financial cooperation for the realization of the event as well as, through its ambassador in Abidjan, Mr. Renaud Vignal, coaxing the different players to modify their positions toward being more constructive.  President Gbagbo, at the end of the forum, would objectively express his gratitude toward France:  “France, who would not let go of us in times of great uncertainty . . .” and who was an “untiring advocate for us with international institutions like the European Union, the IMF and the World Bank . . .” while adding “these institutions are ready to give Côte d’Ivoire a chance.”  Once more, the Ivorian president tried to remain objective and courteous toward the French authorities, even as they saw in him only an enemy, a man to be brought down.

    If the sky seemed to brighten for President Gbagbo at the end of 2001, a great cloud darkened 2002.  A second coup attempt against him called all his efforts into question.  Paris stepped in again, not to pacify or conciliate the Ivorians, but to stoke the fires of unrest and aid the agitators in their anti-Gbagbo campaign.

[1] Gbagbo, Laurent, Côte d’Ivoire. Bâtir la paix sur la démocratie et la prospérité [Building Peace on Democracy and Prosperity], Abidjan, NEI/CEDA, 2009, 213 pages.
[2]  Cf. Libération of 5 January 2011 “Quand Alassane Ouattara était chez moi.” [When Alassane Ouattara was at my place]

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

[Part 5] Côte d'Ivoire, The Coup d'État, by Charles Onana--Chapter 3.

[In Part 5 we see the education, the 'formation', as the French foppishly put it, of an African revolutionary--in the true Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist sense of the term:  A real leader of his people and an intelligent and imaginative protector of his national patrimony: the sort of player with whom the IFIs cannot bear to share the geopolitical stage.--mc]

{In the Scheveningen prison, used in the 1940’s by the Gestapo, sits an African head-of-State: President Laurent Gbagbo: duly elected by the people of Ivory Coast in 2000; in 2011, after his November 2010 re-election was contested by opponent Alassane Outtara, he was overthrown in a coup arranged by the West, particularly by France and the USA; and, in April of that year, he was placed under arrest by French troops. He now languishes in the concrete cells of the International Criminal Court [ICC] in The Hague. First dragged before the ICC in November 2011, he has not yet gone to trial. In keeping with the Kafkaesque legal procedures at the ICC, the hearing to confirm that there was sufficient evidence to charge him and proceed to trial was not held until March 2013.  No surprise to those who know the facts, the judges at the ICC found the prosecutor had failed to present sufficient evidence to establish the charges.

But, instead of immediately releasing President Gbagbo, the judges ordered that his detention continue while the prosecutor tried to come up with some kind of evidence. Such a ruling in any common law or civil law system in the world would be seen as blatantly political—its purpose, to keep Laurent Gbagbo out of Ivory Coast politics for as long as possible.

Finally, more than a year later, on June 12, 2014, the ICC, based solely on hearsay evidence, confirmed the charges and ordered the Ivorian President to stand trial. In their decision, the judges did not once mention the principal role of French forces in the violence that took place.  However, one honest judge, Hon. Christine Van den Wyngaert, in her dissent, stated emphatically, "I am unable to join my colleagues in their decision to confirm the charges.... I am of the view that the evidence is still insufficient…. There is a considerable quantitative increase in the evidence submitted by the Prosecutor.... However, the previously identified problem regarding reliance on anonymous hearsay remains." She then found that, even taken at its highest, the prosecution had failed to meet the standard required, and that the evidence they had presented could not reasonably result in a conviction at trial.

The Prosecutor of the ICC is a former prosecutor at the Rwandan War Crimes Tribunal [ICTR] in Arusha, Tanzania, where it was standard practice to charge first and then concoct evidence later. We can see that these same extra-legal methods are being used at the ICC, and that in actuality we are observing the criminalization of International Justice. For those who wish to know why Laurent Gbagbo, Simone Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé are being held in the ICC prison, Charles Onana's comprehensive and dramatic account of the events in Ivory Coast is essential reading.  One can only hope that people around the world will wake up and stand up to call for justice for these political prisoners before their leaders, too, fall victim to what can only be described as “judicial fascism."

—Christopher Black, International Defense Counsel}


Gbagbo, the Historical Opponent

    Laurent Gbagbo is probably his own “best and most honest biographer.”  After having achieved a difficult political ascension by his own efforts, his deep convictions and his great perseverance, he has no trouble speaking about any this.  He is all the more proud for having passed such painful tests and braved such dangers.  Unlike his rivals, Gbagbo’s life has never been a “long, calm river.”  For a better understanding of his psychological make-up and the direction it has given to his political commitments, it seems right for us to look at the well-documented and educational film that director Henri Duparc dedicated to him.  Here we find an atypical, patient, humble, disconcerting, wily, determined Gbagbo risking his life in political battles while maintaining an honest faith in democratic values.

    Listening to him, one feels a little closer to the personality of someone who in 2000 became the President of Côte d’Ivoire.  While suffering repression throughout his long battle for democracy and enduring all the pain associated with this struggle, he has never considered having to use violence to achieve power or to govern.

    Born 31 May 1945 in Mama, Côte d’Ivoire, Laurent Koudou Gbagbo came into the world right on the Allied victory over the Nazis.  His father, Koudou Paul, was a valiant soldier in the French Army during this period.  Enlisting as a Senegalese rifleman in 1939, he left to fight in France against the German occupation.  Laurent Gbagbo tells the story of his father’s life at these difficult times for Europe and for France:

    “Because he knew how to read and write, he quickly became a sergeant. 
    “At that time, to know how to read and write allowed quick passage through the ranks.  He worked in Dakar, in the Army, in the communications services.  After two years in the military, he was discharged; but not for long, as the war broke out in 1939.  All the non- commissioned officers were called up from the reserves.  He left the service as a sergeant in Normandy, France, in a company led by a certain ‘Laurent’.  From whence comes my first name.”[1]

    Taking his father’s advice about the importance of always working hard in school if you want to succeed in life, Laurent Gbagbo applied himself from the moment he started at the seminary of Saint Dominique Savio de Gagnoa.  A passionate reader, he was interested in the magazines of the period:

    “At the seminary, a Catholic journal from Dakar, “Afrique Nouvelle,” was regularly distributed.  Reading in this periodical about the lives of those who shaped Africa’s destiny allowed me to discover Senghor.  It was there I learned that not only did he do brilliant work in his studies, but he was also a cultured man, and he led his country.
    One day, I told my music professor, who was also my friend:  “What makes me happiest is Senghor.  I want to be like him:  to be educated and to be president.”

    The ambition to one day become Chief of State became embedded in his mind.  But very quickly, he was confronted with the hard realities of a young Republic.

    “In 1963, I was in my last year of high school.  I had a scholarship, and I was at boarding school.  That year was, for my high school friends and me, a hugely troubling time, because we learned that some Ministers had been arrested for taking part in a plot.  Three years after the declaration of independence, these Ministers had become “demi- gods” to teenagers like us.  We thought they were untouchable.  If they had been arrested, that could only mean that they had actually taken part in this plot.  It must be said that we did not have the slightest reason to believe otherwise.  It also must be said that we had neither critical consciousness nor political awareness.  The more or less heavy social atmosphere, spoke to us of the fact that these “demi-gods” were but simple individuals and that there was no such thing as a man who was untouchable.”

    Laurent Gbagbo was, at this moment, far from imagining that he would bear the brunt of this system of political repression:

    “In June 1994, I went on vacation to my village, after having taken the France-African exams, a battery of tests designed by the French Ministry of Cooperation for the young people in senior, junior and sophomore years in high school, as well as those getting out of elementary school.  That year, I was one of the graduating class (. . .).  So when I was due to go to France as  part of the program that had just awarded me a prize, my father was arrested in my presence for complicity in the plot.
    At the moment he was about to be put in the gendarmes’ car, he told me:  “This plot does not exist.  If I, Koudou Paul, who is no one, who did not finish high school, am being arrested, it is because there is no plot!”  The arrests of Gris Camille and numerous other people from the Gagnoa region would follow.  Camille was our uncle, and his arrest was a shock to my mother’s family.  She suffered greatly, as did my grandmother, who later died over it.
        In my immediate family, my father’s arrest was incomprehensible.  I, too, could not understand it, because at 19, I did not know much about politics, apart from my declared ambition to emulate Senghor, to be educated and to be President.  That did not form a real political education.  So this arrest came along when I could not even pay my fare to Abidjan, where I was to wait to go to France.  It was thanks to the generosity of the wife of the director of the school at Gagnoa, a teacher, Mme Bamba, who gave me five- hundred francs that I was able to get to Abidjan.  Just back from summer camp, I found myself facing a real problem.  I had to do my senior year while my sister was doing her sophomore year in Bouaké.  My father was in prison, and my family was broke.  They had nothing, and I didn’t either.  My other half-brothers would not talk about it!
    I decided then to leave school to become an instructor in the private schools, since it was a little late to look for jobs in the public schools. Some friends advised me not to drop out.  I had to stick it out to get my high school diploma, which was required if I wanted to get a scholarship to go to college.  Among these friends I’d like to mention Dominique Kangah, who has always played a positive role in my life, and Auguste Denise Georges, “compagnero, vecino.”  What we called him.  We had an orchestra, “The Joyful High School Companions,” in which he sang with N’Doly Boni.  Their friendship surrounded me.  I finished the school year with my diploma and a scholarship.”

    So, Laurent Gbagbo decided to go to France to pursue his studies in classical letters because he wanted to become a professor of French, Latin and Greek.  He found a place to live in Lyon and there met the people who would define his stay in France:

    “At the end of summer vacation, I took off for Lyon where I met two people who greatly impressed me.  The first was a young woman, Jacqueline Chamois, who would become my first wife, and with whom I would have my first child, my eldest son Michel Gbagbo.  The second was Gérard Colomb, who later became a good friend.  He is today mayor of Lyon.
    In Lyon, where I was enrolled to study Latin and Greek, I realized that these subjects were very distant from African problems and the political concerns of Ivorians.  It was very uplifting to speak of Peloponnesian matters, but that did not teach me anything about the political life of Africa or of Côte d’Ivoire.
    It is at this point that my political career began to come into focus, with my beginning to attend African meetings and French political activities.  So I decided to change my major to History.  I wrote to the National Education Minister to indicate this change of direction. He indicated to me that this change would require my return to Côted’Ivoire.  Jacquiline and I were married and returned to my country.”

    After his return to Côte d’Ivoire, he became definitively involved in politics:

    “At the time I came back from Lyon, the country was at peace.  The plots were behind us, and the last political prisoners had returned to their families.  It was at this moment that a political consciousness was born within the National Students Union [known as the Union Nationale des Étudiants et Élèves de Côte d’Ivoire or UNEECI], which was occupied by two trends:  the allies of power and the opponents of power.  We were in a movement apart, but in solidarity.   For while we all carried on political battles with one another, we were especially attached to this union aspect because everyone got something out of that.  In the UNEECI congress of 1968, the partisans of President Houphouët-Boigny were totally removed from the presidential race.  Unhappy, the President of the Republic dissolved the UNEECI in July 1968 and created, at the beginning of the next school year, the MEECI (Mouvement des Élèves et Étudiants de Côte d’Ivoire) as a sub-section of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI-RDA).
      Noticing that the student movement had become a subordinate unit of the single-party, we called a strike to halt its creation.  Naturally, we were defeated.  What is a student strike in comparison to a real political force?  Nothing at all!  We were neutralized, then transported to the military camp at Akouédo where we spent two weeks.
    When we got out of Akouédo, the movement had become much more radical.  It was by suppressing the syndicalist tendency through which all the students could express whatever was their particular ideology, that the dominant power had radicalized the struggle.  By seeking unanimity within the student movement at any price, President Houphouët-Boigny led those who were not on his side to organize secretly and look for any ways or means take power.  To show our opposition, clandestine groups were formed, Marxists, Socialists, whatever.  I joined up with these groups.” 

    One day, while the young teacher was giving his History courses, in his own classroom he was confronted by the realities of the battle of East v West, and, especially, with the delicate question of the Middle-East:

    “At this time in the History curriculum, as well as in general knowledge, the world was divided into two blocs.  One day, I gave a course in the division of the world.  After defining the blocs, I had to find specific examples.  I talked about the conflict in the Middle-East, saying that Israel was allied with the Western bloc while Nasser’s Egypt, and others, were allied with the Soviet bloc.  This was basic to my thinking, and it corresponded to the truth at that time.  The daughter of the Israeli Ambassador did not particularly appreciate this distinction because I had used the work ‘imperialist’ in describing the Western bloc.  She raised her hand and I called on her.  This was a very good student, the best in my senior social science class.  She wanted to speak out to defend the image of her country.  I refused, explaining that, at the beginning of the year, I had passed out the subjects for their reports, and she had chosen to report on the conflict in the Middle-East.  So she would be able to speak out then.  And that in this class, there are not two professors, but just one, and until proven otherwise, that one is me.  I then went on with the course.
    After a moment, she got up, and she still wanted to express herself.  I asked the class leader to go and look for Mr. Astar, the supervisor.  I had her taken out of the room by the supervisor.  I finished my course and went home.  It was a Friday.  On Monday, when I got to school, the students from every class were out in the yard.  They had decided to call a general strike!  I asked the reason and it was then I learned that it was because they had to put me under arrest.  The principal asked me to explain myself.
    While I was giving my account of events, the Israeli Ambassador showed up at the school, waving his nation’s flag, which aggravated the already over-excited student body.  Not being particularly concerned with this affair, I did not agree to see him.  I was asked to cancel the course.  I did that.  If I thought a student was misbehaving, I would ask her to leave the classroom.  I did not see where there was a problem.  Was it her being the daughter of an ambassador that caused the problem?
    After the Ambassador left, the Minister of National Education, Lorougnon Guédé, called me into his office.  He wanted to see me along with the principal.  He received us while surrounded by his colleagues:  his Cabinet Director, his Cabinet Chief, the Director of Instruction.  I did not understand a thing.  They put to me such incongruous questions as ‘What type of course do you give?’  I said that I did not understand the question.  The Minister then said, ‘You are accused of giving communist courses.’  My response was to ask them, ‘What do you mean by a communist course?’
    The air in the room was electric.  But what was even more dire was that during this time they had gathered up all my students’ notebooks from four classes to verify if I was actually giving communist courses.  They had even distributed sheets of paper on which the students could say what they thought of me.  It was my students who saved me.  When I was called in by the Minister, all the professors at the high school decided to call a strike to support me.  They had no idea that a professor’s sending a student out of his class could turn into a State matter.  So then I definitely joined the strike movement.  The next day, St. Marie High School, the technical school and the university, all joined the strike, followed quickly by all the schools in Côte d’Ivoire.
    President Houphouët-Boigny, taking notice of how big the movement had gotten, sent the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Usher Assouan, to interrogate me, and to interrogate the principal, the professors and the students.  When the Minister filed his report, Houphouët- Boigny tried to cool things off by dismissing the Ambassador and his daughter.  The course was reinstated.  A few weeks later, I was arrested and sent to the military camp at Akouédo.   My arrest came at the same time as those of the students who, in protesting against the MEECI, created another union, the UCCI at the University of Abidjan.  Among them were N’Dory Raymond, Sangaré Aboudrahamane, Kodjo Richard . . .
    We were arrested and jailed again in Akouéo when, one morning, M’Bahia Blé, the Minister of Defense, came to the military camp.  He got us all together on the parade ground and announced, ‘Mr. Gbagbo, Laurent, your wife is a communist from Lyon.  We have sent here back to France.’
    Admittedly the reasoning was laughable.  As if a communist from Lyon was more dangerous than a communist from Moscow or Peking!  She was sent back without a dime, with my two-year old son, and while she was working as a teacher here. I did not see them again until two years later when I got out of the army.”[2]

    Laurent Gbagbo has only excellent memories of his stay in the military.  He succeeded in gaining an understanding of how the army works under a single-party state and even met there the man who would later be his political adversary, General Robert Guéï.  It was during this period that he wrote a play with the provocative and prescient title, “The Lion Will Roar.”

    After spending fifteen months in the prison garrison at Bouraké, he was released in January 1973.  Despite his long incarceration, the professor did not get out so he could submit to authority.  More than ever, he wanted to get involved politically.  He decided to create a great revolutionary party with the goal of taking state power.  However, nothing is easy under a single-party government.  He had to dodge the political police, the repression of the armed forces and the threat of arbitrary imprisonment.  So, the struggle for democracy against the powerful regime of President Houphouët-Boigny, a struggle to which the young teacher was completely committed, began in secrecy.  In March 1982, in the apartment of a militant and friend of Gbagbo’s, the first opposition party, the Front Populaire Ivoirien, was created.[3]

    Among the founders of this new party, there were four men and a woman.  The lone woman in the group was Simone Ehivet.  She would go one to become Simone Gbagbo.  From its earliest existence this new party was engaged in fierce combat with the sitting power.  Laurent Gbagbo was then forced to flee to France where the sitting Ivorian President was very well-liked.

    Gbagbo’s arrival in France did not please everyone, least of all President Houphouët-Boigny, himself.  He was afraid that this enterprising young man would form friendly relations with influential people and then do his utmost to tarnish the image of his regime in France.  In reality, Houphouët-Boigny’s fears were unfounded.  There were a good many French people who looked generously on the image of the Ivorian President.  Some even looked for ways to cancel Gbagbo’s political file quickly, hoping thus to get fast relief for Houphouët-Boigny’s cares.

    In April 1982, the Ivorian oppositionist, who had filed an official request for political refugee status, was called into office of the chief of police.  He was told:

“Your father was in the French Army, he was a sergeant.  He was wounded and made a prisoner of war before escaping.  If you ask for French citizenship, in two weeks, you will get your national identity card.  That should work for everyone.  First off, because we can straight away take steps to get you into a French university where you can give courses.  You will be free and you can bring your wife and children over.  And that will work for the government, because François Mitterand has no desire to go up against Houphouët- Boigny.  In the end, this also works for Houphouët-Boigny, who knows you are not a political refugee.”

This presentation drove Laurent Gbagbo to distraction, as he recalls:

    “I did not come to France looking for work.  I came here to become a political refugee, and this is the response France gives me.  Either it finds the Houphouët-Boigny regime to be democratic and considers me a flake in telling me no.  Or it finds that the arguments I put forth are well-founded, that this regime is not democratic, and it tells me yes.”

    Even without gaining political refugee status, Laurent Gbagbo managed to create ill will and obstruct relations between French and Ivorian authorities.  In July 1982, political refugee status was refused and, instead, he was granted a temporary legal resident’s permit, renewable every three months.  Gbagbo made do with this delicate administrative situation and set about writing books and leading conferences.

        He wrote a book in the winter of 1982 with the provocative title, “For a Democratic Alternative.”[4]

    The change in his status came into play in 1985, after which President Houphouët-Boigny, himself, made the error of revealing, in a speech he gave in 1983, that he held assets and money in Swiss banks.  In France, this speech caused a scandal, not just with the truth of what he said, but because he spoke publicly of a reality before then known only within “circles of authority.”  The unexpected effect of this speech was to speed up the granting of refugee status to Laurent Gbagbo.  Nevertheless, this new status did not spare Gbagbo from difficulties.  The socialist Guy Labertit explains:

    “Sunday, 18 February 1984, in the middle of the day, we went down to the Associated Students Union, at 177, rue de Charonne, in the 11th arrondissement, where professor Laurent Gbagbo was to give conference debating the subject, ‘the responsibility of the Ivorian in the face of public affairs.’  Surprise!  Several bus-loads of CRS were lining the walls of the conference room and a yellow poster announcing the initiative to be discussed at the entrance to the Students Union was barred by a white banner stating:  ‘This meeting has been forbidden (in red letters) by the Police.’  Organized by the Nanterre Club, this initiative was, according to the Paris Police, likely to be detrimental to public order and to do harm to French diplomatic relations!”[5]

    In 1986 after the legislative elections, there was a change of government in France.  The right won a majority of seats in the National Assembly and Socialist President François Mitterand was forced into a cohabitation with the new Prime Minister Jacques Chirac.  Chirac was a great admirer of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, and the situation with his Ivorian opponent, Laurent Gbagbo, under the Chirac government, was no better than it had been in previous years.  One day, Gbagbo got a call from a police commissioner inviting him to come in and discuss Côte d’Ivoire.  He went in with his friend, socialist Guy Labertit.

    On getting to the commissioner’s office, Gbagbo was surprised to hear:
    “We don’t want to have another Ben Barka affair.  President Houphouët-Boigny got in touch with the French government, he informed us of your decision to return home.”

Gbagbo’s response was short:

    “It is my greatest wish to return to my country, just not right now.  For the moment, I’m working on how to establish a democratic government there.”

The meeting with the French police commissioner was a dialogue of the deaf.  He obviously had been instructed to lead the Ivorian oppositionist in a direction contrary to all his objectives and concerns.  They parted without reaching any compromise.  Laurent Gbagbo then had an idea.  The next day he went to the offices of the French daily, Libération, to tell the story of his adventure to a journalist.  An article was published under the humorous title:  “Gbagbo, the Ivorian Who has No Coast.”  The effect was immediate.  His popularity increased among Ivorians, and different people began to spy on him, either for Houphouët-Boigny or for the French authorities who were trying to keep an eye on him. 

    Conscious of the turn of events, Gbagbo decided, in 1987, to publish “A Program of Government,” written with colleagues who had stayed behind in Côte d’Ivoire.  For him, the publication of this document was a sign that his mission in France had come to an end.  He returned home on 13 September 1988.  This marked the beginning of a new struggle and a new concern.  After he got back he could see that the single-party system was not about to change.

    “As soon as I set foot in Côte d’Ivoire, I became aware that there was great distrust between Houphouët-Boigny and me.  He thought I had returned because I was tired of fighting and that, naturally, I would stand with him, be in the PDCI, abandon all ideas of questioning and opposing his authority.  But I returned home because I had completed the first stage of the work I had been assigned in Europe.  I came home to continue the struggle.”

    Laurent Gbagbo and his comrades decided to organizer a constitutive congress to create a founding document and a set of by-laws for their party, the FPI.  They had to meet and inform their members.  Under the single-party government, such an initiative was risky.  So a militant of the party put his hometown at their disposal, and each member traveled there under an assumed name.  They were also required to limit the number of participants so as not to attract attention from the authorities.  Twenty people were finally chosen to attend this historic congress.  At the end of the session, some members were arrested, and the secret struggle of the FPI took a different turn.

    The PDCI, the main party of the State, in seeking to hold on to control over the whole country, called a meeting of its political bureau at the presidential residence.  Laurent Gbagbo was called to attend.  In the course of this meeting, President Houphouët-Boigny became so irritated with the agitation provoked by the young oppositionist Gbagbo that he tossed him right out:  “You, Gbagbo, you are nothing, you have nothing, and you will always be nothing in this country.”  At the end of the meeting, Laurent Gbagbo and his companion, Simone Ehivet, were taken to the offices of the national police for questioning.  They were allowed to return home, but they swore, then and there, no longer to remain in secrecy.

    Laurent Gbagbo began to give interviews and to broadcast political statements.  Several times he was placed under house arrest for political reasons.  The young couple’s personal life was severely strained by the permanent harassment of the authorities and the police presence around their home.  In 1989, they decided to marry discretely at the city hall of Cocody.

    While the Ivorian constitution anticipated multiparty elections, no one dared to take a step in that direction under the rule of Houphouët-Boigny.  Fear kept most Ivorians loyal to the single-party system.  Laurent Gbagbo and his comrades were seen by their countrymen as being truly irresponsible for trying to confront a system that was so strong and so hostile.  Early in April 1990, the militants of the FPI felt that the moment had come to fight with their masks off.  They demanded the official legalization of their party, and it was Laurent Gbagbo who was given the duty of leading the act of legalization.  On 3 April, they received a notice recognizing the FPI as a new political party, just behind the PDCI-RDA, in Côte d’Ivoire.  The birth of multi-partyism established an incontrovertible reality in the political life of the country.

    As the economic crisis weighed more heavily on the country, the oppositionists counted on the public discontent to make their voices heard.  Demonstrations grew and spread, as did repression.  A peaceful 1992 march, organized by Laurent Gbagbo and his comrades to demand the release of fellow party members who had been jailed, got out of hand and was met with an impressive military response.  Gbagbo describes the events:

    “Some soldiers came.  They encircled me.  There was one who took out an automatic pistol and pointed it at me.  I looked at him with great detachment and pity.  Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do.  Right away a group of gendarmes showed up and started shoving the soldiers away.  They surrounded and protected me.  The gendarmes took me out of the basement and led me to theit high command, which was not far away.  The soldiers were left yelling,  “Kill him!  Kill him!  We want to kill him!”
        When I saw them yelling, I said to myself,  “This is how it was when they killed Lumumba and Ben Barka.”  This was my only thought.  That day, I thought that the soldiers were going to take power, because if they had killed me, there would have been a response from the street.  To avoid being judged, they were going to have to take power to protect themselves.  My wife told me later that at the same moment someone yelled,  “Kill her!”  She was beaten until she lost consciousness.  Taken to Camp Gallieni, she was savagely beaten even more.  When she came to, she was in the hospital with her cervical vertebrae damaged.  She joined us later in prison wearing a neck brace.  That day was very sad for me, thinking of Côte d’Ivoire, but it was also a glorious day for those of us who were fighting for freedom and democracy.  I was convinced that this was the price we had to pay for political power and democracy.  I understood on that day that I would be president of the Republic and that nothing could keep me from that.”[6]

    Simone Gbagbo paid a very high price throughout these events.  She recalls in her autobiography:

    “We found ourselves separated, Laurent and I.  Laurent and some of our friends had taken refuge in the basement of an office building.  Pushed back by the soldiers whose main objective was to kill him, he was saved only by the arrival of the gendarmes, who snatched him from the soldiers’ clutches.  With other party members, I took refuge in the offices on the upper floors of the building.  The soldiers from the FIRPAC (Rapid Intervention Force of Para-Commandos, created by General Robert Guéï) removed us after going through the building with a fine-toothed comb, room by room.  They took us to Camp Gallieni.  From the time we left the building, the troops armed with truncheons got on the officer who found us for treating us too delicately, tore us away from him, and then the thrashing began.  At Camp Gallieni, a savage cry greeted us:  “Here comes the meat!  Send it in!  Kill them, kill them!”  An officer, who has since repented, stopped me and said,  “Simone Gbagbo, you know who I am . . . You are here instead of being in the kitchen.  You march and mix everything up in this country.  We are going to carry out the final assault on you today!”
    Then he gave us over to the soldiers.  The clubbing resumed.  The blows rained in and rained in.  On my head, on my back, in my stomach.  Until I collapsed and passed out.  I have never been beaten that badly in my life.  Once again, it was the gendarmes who saved us, their radios helped them find us.  They transported us in this condition to the gendarmes’ camp at Agban.
    I was in very grave condition, I kept going in and out of consciousness.  The gendarme duty nurse, after bringing me around with the umpteenth application CPR, took it upon himself to evacuate me to the Emergency Hospital in Yopougon.  I was hospitalized for 18 days.  My cervical vertebrae damaged, they put me in a neck brace.
    They transported me to the MACA (Maison d’Arrêt et de Corrections d’Abidjan [Central Prison]), where I was reunited with my husband and more than a hundred other comrades.”[7]

    The Prime Minister during this period of great repression was none other than Alassane Ouattara.  At a press conference, a European journalist reminded the Prime Minister that troops had burned out Mr. Gbagbo’s automobile, and he asked him what he was going to do about it.  The PM’s reaction was, to say the least, brutal:  “Five soldiers burned Mr. Gbagbo’s car.  Did you see them, were you there?”

    On that day, Mr. Ouattara used heavy-handed tactics against the demonstrators who had, nonetheless, been very careful to avoid confrontations with the forces of order.

    Imprisoned and tortured, Laurent Gbagbo and his wife let Ivorians see and understand what the struggle for freedom and democracy was really all about.  Two decades later, they would again have to face off with Alassane Ouattara.  Once again, Ouattara ordered violence and brutality against those who, in 1992, rose up against the single party, injustice, and the rule of the arbitrary.

[1] Cf. Duparc, Henri, Laurent Gbagbo : la force d’un destin 1945-2000,
documentary film, 120 minutes, produced by Focale 13, Abidjan, 2004.
[2]  Cf. Duparc, Henri, Op. Cit.
[3] Cf. Gbagbo, Laurent, Pour une alternative démocratique, Paris, L’Harmattan, 1982.
[4]  Cf. Gbagbo, Laurent, Pour une alternative démocratique, Paris, L’Harmattan, 1982.
[5]  Cf. Guy Labertit, Adieu Abidjan-sur-Seine ! Les coulisses du conflit ivoirien, Paris, Editions Autres Temps, 2008, pp. 136-137.
[6] Cf. Duparc, Henri, Op. Cit.
[7] Cf. Gbagbo, Simone Ehivet, Paroles d’honneur, Paris, Editions Pharos et Ramsay, 2007, 510 pages, pp. 141-142.