Laurent Gbagbo, the Ivory Coast’s former president, came home on Thursday, ten years after his refusal to admit loss in a presidential election led to the death of over 3,000 people in post-election violence.
In 2011, Gbagbo was extradited to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he has been awaiting trial on war crimes allegations for the past eight years. In 2019, a court found him not guilty, stating that prosecutors had failed to prove their case.
On Thursday, June 17, the 76-year-old arrived in Abidjan, the country’s economic center, on a commercial aircraft from Brussels, with throngs of fans allowed into the airport to applaud as the Brussels Airlines flight landed. Thousands of people also celebrated his return on the streets of Abidjan, where there was a significant security presence.
According to reports from the city, the hours leading up to Gbagbo’s arrival were heated as anxious fans who wanted to welcome him attempted to approach the site. The police cordoned off the whole area around the airport and deployed tear gas to disperse protesters in certain instances.
Gbagbo’s critics argue that he should be imprisoned in Ivory Coast rather than given a stateman’s welcome. A day before his arrival, several protested outside Gbagbo’s home in Abidjan’s Cocody district. The “impunity” he has enjoyed has been denounced by the organizations representing victims of the 2010-2011 post-election violence.
His supporters, though, argue that his return is required to restart a reconciliation process that stalled following the 2011 bloodshed. Ouattara’s government has also stated that he is welcome back to assist in reconciliation following last year’s presidential elections, which resulted in dozens of deaths. Ouattara issued a diplomatic passport to his old adversary and made the presidential pavilion at the airport available to him if he returned. He also offered him ex-presidential status and benefits, such as a pension and personal security.
It is unclear what will happen with the ex-other president’s outstanding criminal accusations. During the post-election turmoil in January 2011, Gbagbo and three of his former ministers were sentenced to 20 years in jail on allegations that they broke into the Abidjan office of the Central Bank of West African States to get cash.
Experts believe it is doubtful that the ex-president would be imprisoned in Ivory Coast, but it’s conceivable that the present government may impose restrictions on his return to avoid rekindling previous hostilities. Gbagbo’s homecoming is viewed as a test for the country and a people still reeling from the brutal conflict, with some experts fearing that it could further destabilize the West African nation.
There is very little doubt that the government of Ouattara, a man who is now in his third term as president, will be watching carefully, every move of Gbagbo’s. Reconciliation will continue to be threatened by the potential of Gbagbo to incite anti-government sentiments.