Earlier on Tuesday, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara posted on his Twitter: “Cordial and fraternal meeting with my young brother Laurent Gbagbo. We will work to build confidence for the benefit of our country.”
Following the meeting, Ouattara expressed his joy and expressed his wish for peace in the West African nation.
“We can congratulate ourselves on having had this meeting which was cordial and fraternal because Laurent is my young brother and my friend,” he said. “Of course, there was this crisis, there were differences, but that is behind us. What matters is Ivory Coast and peace in our country. We have to move forward for the next generations.”
Gbagbo, for his part, has called for the release of detainees detained since the start of the crisis, which was started by his refusal to recognize Ouattara’s victory at the polls.
This came after Ouattara embraced his successor Gbagbo warmly on Tuesday when the rivals met for the first time since the West African country’s horrific conflict in 2010-11.
Prior to his return, Ouattara gave his old foe a diplomatic passport and offered him the presidential pavilion at the airport if he returned. He also promised him ex-presidential status as well as perks like a pension and personal protection.
Since returning from Europe last month, when he won a historic case at the International Criminal Court(ICC), Gbagbo, 76, has been thrust into the limelight. Gbagbo, who has been in power since 2000, refused to accept Ouattara’s victory in the 2010 presidential election. More than 3,000 people were murdered in the months of warfare between troops loyal to the two men until Gbagbo’s arrest in April 2011 and subsequent transfer to the International Criminal Court to face accusations of crimes against humanity, for which he was acquitted.
Because of the turmoil, Ouattara’s formal welcome to Gbagbo’s homecoming might help to calm things down.
Following Ivory Coast’s independence from France in 1960, Gbagbo rose to prominence as a left-wing campaigner who helped abolish the country’s one-party system.
Gbagbo was allowed to return to Ivory Coast by Ouattara in April. He didn’t say whether Gbagbo had been pardoned from the outstanding criminal accusations. During the post-election turbulence in January 2011, Gbagbo and three of his former ministers were convicted to 20 years in prison on charges of breaking into the Central Bank of West African States’ Abidjan headquarters to get money.
The authorities have suggested that the sentence may be lifted.
Gbagbo’s spokesperson, Justin Katinan Kone, cautioned the public not to “over-interpret” the meeting. “This is a courtesy visit to his elder … If it helps to ease the political atmosphere, so much the better,” he said.
While Ouattara has publicly welcomed Gbagbo’s return in the hopes of reducing tensions, it is unclear if Gbagbo would keep to the script of statesman or desire a more active political role that may put him in conflict with Ouattara.
Gbagbo’s base of followers, notably in the south and west, continues to be strong. His years in power were marred by insurrection, civil war, national divides, and elections that were repeatedly postponed, yet he still has sizable grassroots following. His supporters present him as a protector of the oppressed and poor.
For the first time in ten years, Gbagbo’s FPI fielded candidates in parliamentary elections earlier this year. Its candidates ran on the same list as Henri Konan Bedie’s Democratic Party for Ivory Coast, which endorsed Ouattara in the 2010 and 2015 elections.
Commentators are also keeping an eye on the interactions between Ouattara, Gbagbo, and former President Henri Konan Bedie, 87, three men who have controlled the political stage for decades. Gbagbo and Bedie, who were formerly adversaries, stated on July 11 that they were united in their pursuit of a “final and sustainable peace.”
Nevertheless, this meeting remains a sign of hope for Ivory Coast, with desires to put an end to a decade of tensions.