Ivory Coast’s Charles Ble Goude, key figure in the post-election violence, to return quietly

Charles Ble Goude, a key figure in the post-election violence that swept Ivory Coast 11 years ago, wants to make a low-key homecoming this weekend, his representatives said Thursday.

The former right-hand man of ex-president Laurent Gbagbo will fly back on Saturday morning after being acquitted last year with his then head of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

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Some have feared his arrival could spark a return to confrontation in a country still nursing the wounds of the 2010-11 conflict, which claimed thousands of lives.

But Boga Sako, who heads the welcoming committee, told a press conference that Ble Goude “wants to make a sober return”.

“The welcoming committee calls on friends, relatives, activists, admirers or sympathizers to carefully observe security measures and Mr. Ble Goude’s wishes so that this return is part of the process of national reconciliation and cohesion,” he said.

“There’s no use going to the airport,” he warned. In a statement to AFP, Ble Goude said he was “very happy” to return to his homeland, but also appealed for “discipline and a spirit of reunification”.

Gbagbo, a fiery left-wing speaker from a humble background who portrayed himself as a champion of the poor, was Ivory Coast’s president for 10 turbulent years. In October 2010, he lost the election to Alassane Ouattara but refused to accept the result.

Their showdown split the country along north-south lines, sparking violence in 2011 that claimed an estimated 3,000 lives.

At the time, Ble Goude was the head of a pro-Gbagbo nationalist group called the Young Patriots — nicknamed “The General of the Streets” for his ability to raise and rouse angry crowds.

After Gbagbo was arrested, Ble Goude fled to Ghana, where he was arrested in 2014 and transferred to The Hague. He and his former boss were put on trial in 2016 for crimes against humanity. They were acquitted in 2019, a verdict that was upheld last March.

Gbagbo, 77, who remains widely supported in Ivory Coast, negotiated his return with Ouattara and returned home in June 2021.

He took on the role of elder statesman to help “reconciliation” in a country rocked by deadly violence that erupted when Ouattara in October 2020 made a bid for a third term – a move critics said violated the constitution.

Low Profile

Ble Goude, 50, received a passport in May, but his return is also written by contacts behind the scenes. Sako said Ble Goude would arrive on a regular commercial flight and exit through normal channels, not via a presidential or ministerial suite. He will be greeted by about 10 people, including former first lady Simone Gbagbo, he said.

He will then go to Yopougon, a working-class area in Abidjan, “for a party, not a (political) meeting,” he said. Ble Goude, like Gbagbo before him, also has the shadow of legal proceedings over him.

In 2019, shortly after his acquittal by the ICC, an Ivorian court sentenced him to 20 years in absentia on charges of murder, rape and torture in the 2010-11 violence.

Gbagbo had been given a 20-year term in absentia for the “looting” of the local branch of the central bank of the West African states during the crisis. He was pardoned by Ouattara in August.

(AFP)

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