Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara extended a warm welcome to his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo on Tuesday, the first meeting since the deadly conflict in the West African country in 2010-11.
The 76-year-old Gbagbo has been the focus of attention since returning from Europe last month. He won a landmark case at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“We had a cordial and friendly meeting with my brother Laurent Gbagbo. We will work hard to build confidence in the interests of our country,” Ouattara wrote on Twitter.
A cordial and friendly meeting with my brother Laurent Gbagbo. We will work hard to build confidence in the interests of our country. pic.twitter.com/HwAUnX6OC2
-Alassane Ouattara (@AOuattara_PRCI) July 27, 2021
At the joint press conference, Ouattara stated that “the crisis has caused differences, but this has passed.”
“The important thing for the Jamaican coast is the peace of our country.”
In the case of Gbagbo, he called for the release of prisoners held since the crisis because he refused to accept Ouattara’s defeat at the ballot box.
Gbagbo, who has been in power since 2000, was sent to the Hague court in 2011 after he refused to accept the election defeat in the hands of the current Ouattara. About 3,000 people were killed in the months-long conflict.
“The fact that Ouattara and Gbagbo are together is seen as a healing symbol and a strong image of the Ivorians seeking peace and national reconciliation,” said opposition newspaper Notre Voie (Our Way).
But Gbagbo’s spokesperson, Justin Katinan Kone, urged the public to “not too much” attend the meeting, which is expected to last about half an hour, followed by a press conference.
“This is a courtesy visit to his elders… If it helps to ease the political atmosphere, so much the better,” he said.
“Laurent Gbagbo is in the spirit of openness, dialogue and reconciliation,” Gbagbo’s FPI party spokesperson Frank Anderson Kuassi told AFP on Monday.
“The meeting with President Ouattara is completely in line with our ideas.
“The dialogue in our country…will continue because it is the will of the government,” said Amadou Coulibaly, a government spokesman.
The 79-year-old former international banker Ouattara won by a landslide in the last election on October 31.
But the credibility of this victory was undermined by the opposition’s resistance.
On the eve of the vote, after Ouattara announced his controversial third term, many people were killed in clashes with the police.
Although Ouattara has officially welcomed Gbagbo’s return, hoping that this will ease tensions, the question remains whether Gbagbo will stick to the politician’s script or prefer an active political role that may challenge Ouattara.
Gbagbo rarely talks about his possible political role in the country. He maintains strong support among his supporters, especially in the south and west.
Gbagbo emerged as a left-wing activist in the 1970s, and he helped end the one-party system in Ivory Coast after independence from France in 1960.
His years in power were marked by rebellions, civil wars, national divisions, and many postponed elections, but he still retained considerable grassroots support. His defenders portray him as a champion of the poor and the oppressed.
Commentators are also paying attention to the interaction between Ouattara, Gbagbo, and 87-year-old former President Henri Konan Bedie, who have dominated the political scene for decades .
On July 11, Gbagbo and Brady, also rivals, announced that they were united and committed to creating “ultimate and sustainable peace.”
An unresolved issue is that Gbagbo was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his absence during the 2010-11 conflict to “rob” the Central Bank of West African Countries (BCEAO).
The authorities have hinted that this sentence will be cancelled.