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Côte d’Ivoire: Laurent Gbagbo’s return to the political arena

Four months after returning home, Côte d’Ivoire’s former president, Laurent Gbagbo, has created a new party. What are the 76-year-old’s real aspirations?

Cheers from the crowd, an adrenaline-fuelled meeting, flashes that crackle, television cameras with all eyes on you… It has been more than 10 years since Gbagbo experienced such moments that define the life of a politician.

Thus, when he entered the Hotel Ivoire’s conference room on 16 October, the former Ivorian president was inevitably moved. Wearing a midnight blue suit, he waved to his supporters, walked slowly up the steps, took his place in front of the podium, then sat in a comfortable armchair.

There was a double meaning to this event. On that day, Gbagbo also launched his new party, the Parti des Peuples Africains-Côte d’Ivoire (PPA-CI), and returned to the political arena. Four months after ending a decade-long exile, he is once again at the centre of the game.

For a long time, Gbagbo had been thinking about creating a new political party. The idea began taking shape when he was still in power. He then pondered it during the first years of his detention in The Hague, mostly for strategic and personal reasons. “Although the Front Populaire Ivoirien [FPI] is the pure product of his guts, Laurent Gbagbo has never been a party man, a man of the apparatus. He always sees beyond. In his eyes, a party is only an instrument of conquest,” says one of his closest collaborators.

The internal quarrels finally convinced him that he could not wait any longer. In January 2020, Pascal Affi N’Guessan visited him in Brussels for the first time since the end of the post-election crisis. Following Gbagbo’s arrest, the former prime minister occupied the field and sought to take over from his former mentor. This provoked a leadership war in Abidjan.

He consults a lot, listens to everyone, but he never gives the whole story. He will never give you a yes or no answer.

Gbagbo only agreed to receive him at the insistence of some of his collaborators, who were convinced that Guessan wanted to make amends. However, this did not happen.

The man whom the Ivorian justice system considers to be the FPI’s president then offered him a deal: Gbagbo could get his seat back on the sole condition that he was appointed vice-president. “In that moment, he understood that he had to turn the page on the party. He did not want to give in to this blackmail and suspected that he would never win his case in court,” says a witness.

Would Gbagbo have decided to abandon the FPI otherwise? Those close to him believe that he would have, given that – for a long time – he had wanted to free himself from certain members of the FPI, who were dragging him down, and be its sole instigator.

Story Credit: The Africa Report

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