Cote d'Ivoire: What Now for Côte d'Ivoire's Laurent Gbagbo?

L'ex-chef de l'Etat, Laurent Gbagbo
analysis

Acquitted by the International Criminal Court on 31 March, the former president of the Côte d'Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo, returns to Abidjan onThursday after ten years abroad. What role does he intend to play? What implications will his return have on the political scene? RFI's special correspondent in Abidjan, François Mazet, took a look at the mixed reactions to his return.

The return of the former president to the country is being accompanied by messages on social networks from people nostalgic for Gbagbo and urging him to consider a run for the presidency in the 2025 elections.

Leaving aside the questions over his candidacy given his current legal situation, those close to him are careful not to use the vocabulary of revenge in public, preferring those of reconciliation.

"Côte d'Ivoire will finally breathe with its two lungs, in respect of reconciliation," one supporter recently told the local press. Indeed, it is impossible to find anyone that will publicly dispute a move towards reconciliation for the sake of personal ambitions.

"Laurent Gbagbo remains popular because of his legitimacy as Houphouët's historic opponent," says sociologist Fahiraman Rodrigue Koné, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

"He knows that the posture he adopts on his return could strongly condition the success or otherwise of his return to the political game. But his capacity to mobilise is no longer the same, there is a great unknown on what could still be his militant base. "

Ivory Coast ex-leader Gbagbo heads home after war crimes acquittal. Gbagbo is returning to Ivory Coast after nearly a decade, since being cleared of crimes against humanity and his once-bitter rival is welcoming him back in the name of reconciliationhttps://t.co/oDefplSkv2 pic.twitter.com/Gr89fXLgik - AFP News Agency (@AFP) June 17, 2021

A faded militant base

Indeed, his party, the FPI, is now bloodless. Divided between, on one hand, the so-called "legal" branch with Pascal Affi N'Guessan, which cannot mobilise its support base (9.29 percent of the vote in the 2015 presidential election), and the "GOR", "Gbagbo or nothing", on the other hand, Gbagbo loyalists who have remained on the fringes of the electoral system until the legislative elections of last March. The "GOR", however, has just 17 seats out of 255 in parliament.

Even in the commune of Yopougon, for example, the former president's supposed stronghold in Abidjan, the turnout was only 18 percent, the FPI only elected two deputies and no longer has a parliamentary group.

As a result, if he wants to rebuild a political apparatus, the first task for Laurent Gbagbo will be to reunify his party. This is obvious to those close to him, who have told RFI that "everyone will come and kneel before him and it is too bad for those that don't do likewise".

The possible shift in the balance of power does not please Pascal Affi N'Guessan, president of the FPI party. He prefers to remain silent on how events are unfolding.

A Question Of Youth

Current leader Alassane Ouattara is 79 years old, Laurent Gbagbo 76. All are potential candidates in 2025. The problem, according to analysts, is that the parties are not institutions, but "tools built exclusively for one person, whose withdrawal would create a high risk of implosion," explains Sylvain N'Guessan.

"Aside from the battle of egos, and especially of a gerontocratic elite that does not at all represent the structure of the population (77.73 percent of the population is under 35 years old), there is a re-evaluation of the modalities of political participation," says Fahiraman Rodrigue Koné.

"Young people realise that they are only used as a brute force, an arm of the elders who abandon them once they rise to power. Young people finally want to take charge of their lives and no longer believe in the sincerity of politicians to change their destiny."

"Youth voter turnout has remained consistently low since 2010. Very few register to vote, although they continue to participate in the political debate, especially via social networks."

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