After ten years in the wilderness, the good news keeps coming for Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé. Definitively acquitted by the ICC on 31 March 2021, the two men have just received the blessing of the Ivorian President to return to Côte d’Ivoire.
The former Ivorian President, Laurent Gbagbo, and his minister, Charles Blé Goudé, recently cleared of all charges by the International Criminal Court (ICC) can now set foot on the soil of their native country whenever they want. The announcement was made on Wednesday by President Alassane Ouattara in person, at the opening of the first council of ministers of the new government of Patrick Achi, recently promoted to the post of Prime Minister.
« Mr. Prime Minister, members of the government, as you know, the ICC rendered its decision on 31 March on the prosecutor’s appeal on the trial of former President Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé. We take note of this. My heart goes out to the victims and their families. I would like to assure them of our compassion and support. The government will continue to provide them with assistance. As for Mr. Laurent Gbagbo and Mr. Blé Goudé, they are free to return to Côte d’Ivoire whenever they wish, » said President Ouattara.
Better still, « the travel expenses of Mr. Laurent Gbagbo as well as those of his family members will be covered by the State of Côte d’Ivoire. Arrangements will also be made for Mr. Laurent Gbagbo to benefit, in accordance with the texts in force, from the benefits and allowances due to former presidents of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, » the Ivorian premier said.
It remains to be seen what fate will be reserved for the two men who are facing a 20-year prison sentence for « robbery of the BECEAO », in the case of Laurent Gbagbo, and for « his role in the violence during the post-election crisis », in the case of Charles Blé Goudé. On this point, the Ivorian government spokesman gave a measured response: « I stand by the words of the President of the Republic, who said that Laurent Gbagbo and Blé Goudé can return whenever they want. It would be too much to say that he is taking care of their travel expenses so that they can return and then throw them in prison. What the President of the Republic said is quite clear. They will return when they want to and the independent judiciary will do its job.
This decision by President Alassane Ouattara, eagerly awaited by supporters of the former head of state, will undoubtedly give a big boost to the national reconciliation process underway for years. And it is not Kouadio Konan Bertin, Minister for Reconciliation who will say otherwise. « This decision facilitates the task of the Minister of Reconciliation that I am, » he said. Simplice Séri Zokou, one of Charles Blé Goudé’s lawyers, was in the same frame of mind, saying that President Ouattara was « in a position to move towards reconciliation and peace ». And the lawyer concluded: « We welcome this decision (…) likely to give new impetus to national reconciliation.