Is Ivory Coast’s ex-President Laurent Gbagbo a Hero or a Criminal?

laurent gbagbo

Former President of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo, who is currently standing trial at the ICC.


Last week marked the beginning of what many specialists believe to be a mockery of human rights on an international level. Some argue the charges brought against the former president of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, justify neo-colonialism on the African continent.

Without any back-story, Gbagbo’s case at The Hague’s International Criminal Court (ICC), reads like any other corrupt African politician, hungry for power, poisoned with greed and hands bloodied with the deaths of his countrymen he vowed to serve. Charged with four counts of crimes against humanity in Ivory Coast – for ordering, soliciting and inducing murder, rape, attempted murder and persecution – Gbagbo stands trial for the ICC’s highest profile case yet.


Of the 10 cases that have been investigated since the establishment of the ICC in 2002, nine have been aimed at prosecuting Africans. Despite international cries of human injustice, Africa appears to be the European located, “independent” body’s core focus.


Gbagbo’s trial marks the second high profile case and the ICC’s second attempt to prosecute an African president. In 2010 Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was accused of war crimes, but the case came to an end after the ICC faced diplomatic lobbying from the president’s African allies.


Gbagbo’s case also stirs harsh criticisms from some African allies and other persons from the international community.


Some accuse Gbagbo of being a power hungry politician who refused to accept losing the 2010 presidential election to Alessane Outtara, and who spurred post-election violence that resulted in 3000 deaths, according to Reuters. Others argue the results of the 2010 elections were falsified, and protest the unjust persecution and jailing of a progressive African leader, who dared to place his nation’s interests above those of its former coloniser, France.


Evidence shows that Outtara’s and Gbagbo’s troops as well as UN troops were responsible for deaths during what became Ivory Coast’s Second Civil War. Taking place from 28 November 2010 to 11 April 2011, ending when French and UN peackeeping troops captured Gbagbo in Abidjan, securing Outtara in the presidential office, in the midst of election rigging. By the end of the war Outtara’s troops had taken over most of the country, with the support of France and UN peacekeepers.


Gbagbo has been jailed at The Hague since November 2011, and the ICC has repeatedly rejected requests for temporary release, for fear of him being a flight risk. After five years in detainment, Gbagbo’s trial at The Hague finally began last week, but some worry it could reignite tensions in the now unified country.


His supporters argue that the court selectively charged only Gbagbo and his allies and unjustly disregarded crimes committed by Outtara, his Ivorian allies and France. Although last week Wednesday, the court prosecutor Fatou Benouda says she has intensified investigations into Outtara and his allies. As of yet no charges have been brought.


Last Wednesday the ICC also launched its first investigation into a non-African country, with an examination of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Although many remain wary of the organisation’s motivations, due to their short history and extensive prosecution of Africans despite the many grave human rights violations on other continents.


The perceived bias of the ICC further points to the existing neo-colonial systems, sometimes posing as organisations that continue to stifle African development, for example international court systems, international trade agreements, and Western organised coup d’états on the African continent.


These neo-colonial systems justify systemised racism on a global level and perpetuate an unbalanced dependency that many African countries have with former colonisers. When colonisation began many western leaders argued that their invasion was a bid to civilise the lesser human race. Despite extensive architecture, culture and advancements present throughout different parts of the African continent in the 1800s, unrelated tribes were grouped together on the basis of their supposed inferiority. Perhaps more so for the convenience of the different competing Western powers that devoured Africa like hungry, unruly school children roughly slicing a pizza.


Colonialism set the stage for Ivory Coast’s political unrest, and the subsequent persistence from French governments to maintain their economic stronghold on Ivorian industries decades after “independence”, further forged a wedge between the nation’s different ethnic groups and nationalities as well as the predominantly Christian south and Muslim north, resulting in civil unrest in the West African republic.


To gain independence from France in 1960, Ivory Coast submitted to a range of undesirable terms and conditions where France maintained a monopoly of important industries such as water, ports, energy and oil. France also required and requires countries still using the CFA Franc to put 65% of foreign reserves and an additional 20% for financial liabilities in the French treasury.


In the early and mid 2000s the relationship between France and Ivory Coast shifted.


In 2004 during the heat of the first Ivorian Civil War, French and foreign citizens were accidentally killed when an Ivorian government bomb targeting rebel strongholds caused collateral damage, souring relations between former partners, resulting in a six-day war with France, according to high-level Ivorian politicians and French citizens living in Ivory Coast at the time.


In 2004 the United Nations, European Union and international community framed a potential solution to the country’s first civil war. Rebel forces in the North and Gbagbo’s government came to an agreement that people hoped would bring peace: free democratic elections in a year’s time on 15 October 2005 (elections only took place in 2010 and they reignited a second civil war). The agreement also required Muslim rebel forces to disarm at the end of October 2004.
On 4 November 2004 the Ivorian military received permission from their government with agreement from France to disarm rebel forces after the deadline passed and they had yet to disarm themselves.


French support abruptly ended. On 4 November 2004, an Ivorian Air Force bomb targeting rebel strongholds resulted in collateral damage, killing eight French people, eight American civilians and 23 Russians.


Ivoirians asked themselves if these lives could have been saved if French and UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast at the time enforced the UN’s set election date and disarmament for the rebels. Why did they not react then? Mamadou Koulibaly, former member of the Ivorian National Assembly explained in the documentary La Guerre de Six Jour de la France Contre le Cote d’Ivoire that France’s military actions during the first civil war and the inability to have any real conversation with rebel leaders, suggests that rebel forces were puppets for former French president Jacque Chirac.


On 6 November 2004 France responded to collateral deaths of their citizens with what became a six-day war that began with the French destruction of the Ivorian national air fleet, explained the  ex-Prime Minister of the  Ivory Coast, Pascal Affi N’guessan in the documentary La Guerre de Six Jour de la France Contre le Cote d’Ivoire. Suddenly friends became enemies and a privileged partner became a punitive force.


During the six-day war French troops went on to occupy Abidjan’s international airport. On 8 November 2004, 120 French tanks mobilized just one kilometre from President Gbagbo’s residence. Young protestors that gathered before them to challenge French occupancy were met with bullets. What French troops claimed to be warning shots left 1353 wounded and 64 dead. The average age for the wounded was 21 and for the dead was 23.


The six-day war was a demonstration of French power in Ivory Coast. From the time Gbagbo became president he voiced his desire to open up the country’s industries to international competitors. Many believe France saw this as an imminent threat that they immediately targeted using rebel forces to overthrow a government that would not serve their interests as well as they would have liked.


Is the former lover doing all they can to keep their ex from getting in bed with someone else?


In 2008 the ICC was yet to be formed, so perhaps this is why Jacques Chirac and France have not also been investigated by the organization’s courts. Though, the organisations history suggests that if the incident were to repeat itself today, charges would likely be brought against Gbagbo. The 2011 civil war was not the only time civilians were caught in the crossfires of war.


Just last year the United States bombed a Doctor’s Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan killing many innocent workers and gave little to no real explanation as to why. Why were they not brought to court at the ICC? Why prosecute one wrongful mass killing and not the other?


Will West African strides for autonomy always be met with aggression? How would an organised, economically powerful African country tip the balance of international power?



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