By Owei Lakemfa
IMMEDIATE past president of Cote d’ Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo was on January 28, 2016 hurled before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague charged with crimes against humanity. He had already spent five years in jail awaiting trial by a court that ordinarily has no jurisdiction to try him as the ICC is not the court of first instance. The ICC is a court of last resort trying only cases national authorities cannot or will not prosecute. This is not the case with Gbagbo whose wife, Simone has already been tossed into a 20-year jail, and son, Michel, to five years imprisonment. If Ivorian courts could try and sentence the Gbagbo family, they can try him also.
The timing of his arraignment was perfect; it was the same time Gbagbo’s former colleagues; African Heads of State were gathering in Addis Ababa for the annual African Union Summit.
The prosecutor said the specific charges against Gbagbo and 44-year old Charles Ble Goude are four; murder, rape, inhumane acts, and persecution.
The fact is that this is essentially a political case and Gbagbo is a Prisoner of War who was captured on April 11, 2011 by the combined forces of rebels, French and United Nations troops.
The Ivorian Question which sees Gbagbo in the ICC today, is primarily a colonial problem; the colonialists in their hunger for territory did not bother about the peoples of the colonies especially their historical, trade, political, linguistic, cultural ties. They simply imposed boundaries. For instance in dividing up states like Burkina Faso, Cote d’Voire and Ghana, they cut the same peoples into different countries. So Kwame Nkrumah for instance had part of his family in Nkroful sliced to French Cote d’ Ivoire and the other to English-speaking Ghana which gave rise to some Ghanaians claiming that this symbol of African unity was not a Ghanaian.
In what is now the north of Cote d’Ivoire, a lot of nationalities coalesce and before the colonial boundaries were put up, there was free movement of people. After independence, founding president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny was able to manage the National Question, but not so his successor Henri Konan Bedie. In 1995, Bedie excluded those he claimed are not full Ivorians from the presidential elections, thereby disqualifying Alassan Ouattara whose parents are from the north, and are alleged to be Burkinabes. In the crisis that followed, General Robert Guei in 1999, overthrew Bedei. In the elections of October 2000 where the academic, Gbagbo stood against the dictator, Guei claimed victory, but a mass protest swept him off, installing Gbagbo who was believed to have won.
When the Supreme Court subsequently disqualified Quattara on the basis that he is not a Ivorian, civil war ensued with the north breaking away and setting up capital in Bouake. French troops were accused of intervening. A peace accord was signed in January, 2003 but with the rebels refusing to disarm, Gbagbo ordered air strikes against them. However, France, claiming that six of its soldiers were killed in the air strikes, took out the Ivorian Air Force, destroying its fleet. Once again, the West showed that its sympathy laid with the rebels and Ouattara. But why is it against Gbagbo?
First, France regards Cote d’Voire its fiefdom; while Boigny and Bedie were not opposed to this, Gbagbo was. Secondly, Gbagbo was an academic and Pan Africanist who rejected the continued subjugation of his country and the continent. In contrast, Ouattara is a pro-IMF/ World Bank politician who would not stand up to France.
A new peace accord on March 4, 2007 between President Gbagbo and the northern rebel New Forces led by Guillaume Soro paved way for elections in November 2010. The President of the Electoral Commission announced results in the headquarters of the opposition candidate, Quattara, declaring him the winner with 54 percent of the votes. Gbagbo went to the Constitutional Court which held that elections in seven departments of the north were rigged, cancelled them and declared Gbagbo returned with 51 percent.
Both Gbagbo and Quattara were sworn in as presidents of the country. The UN Security Council recognised Quattara. Personally, I felt Gbagbo should concede, but opposed the plan of the West to intervene militarily. In my January 7, 2011 piece in VANGUARD Newspapers titled ‘MILITARY OPTION WON’T WORK IN ABIDJAN’ I wrote:
“Although the Gbagbo group should be condemned for tearing up the election results, but ECOWAS and the African Union ought to give more ear to Gbagbo’s demand for a recount of the ballot. I do not have any doubt that a military intervention will result in a dreadful bloodbath of Africans.
Another danger is that the military option is likely to result in the dissolution of the Ivorian armed forces and the police; the security implications for the country will be quite immense. If this happens, the core of the new armed forces is likely to be made up of the rebel army . This means that there will be serious ethnic and religious schism in the new military whose officer corps will be northern and Muslim.”
The military option was preferred; French and UN troops joined the rebels to sack the government. In the process, atrocities were committed by both sides who targeted opposing ethnic groups. But only the Gbagbo group is being prosecuted or persecuted; the victorious rebels are free. Targeting Gbagbo and his millions of supporters has not ceased. Hauling him before the ICC is merely a devise to take him permanently out of the Ivorian equation. Gbagbo is like a cockroach in the gathering of cocks; how can he be innocent, and how will the ICC realise that jailing him will hurt national reconciliation in Cote d’Voire?
What the country needs is national reconciliation, not a show trial. A country where all citizens will be equal, not one in which a part feels conquered. In keeping Nelson Mandela in South African jail, the Apartheid system was able to turn to him for assistance in national reconciliation, Cote d’voire should be able to do the same thing, not leave their former president in the hands of foreigners.