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  • Writer's pictureNicoletta Fagiolo

Orientalism in Africa? The ICC and the case of Laurent Gbagbo

Let us imagine for a moment that at the November 1945 Nuremburg trials, which were held so as to condemn those responsible for instigating World War II and the Holocaust, a Prosecutor decided, by distorting the historical account of the wars' events, to press charges for crimes against humanity during WWII against Franklin Delano Roosevelt[1]. There were surely crimes committed by American soldiers fighting the Nazi regime, yet would this make Roosevelt a just target for crimes committed during World War II? A similar historical and thus juridical incoherence is currently being played out at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague in the case the Prosecutor vs Laurent Gbagbo.

Laurent Gbagbo, the father of Ivorian democracy and the former president of Ivory Coast did engage in a conflict which saw civilian victims succumb, yet he was fighting a well-structured rebellion, the Forces Nouvelles(New Forces), which had been attacking his regime since 2001, and had occupied the Northern part of the country, splitting it in two since 2002. Gbagbo’s government, elected in 2000, did not even last two years, as he was forced to come to terms with the rebel occupation for the following eight years.

Prior to the French brokered peace agreement of Linas-Marcoussis/Kléber in January 2003, African leaders mediating the crisis thought the rebels could ask for their military grievances to be addressed, but had no right over political revendications. France’s diplomacy changed this. In fact Laurent Gbagbo, after a day of discussions in Paris with the rebels, as well as then President Jacques Chirac and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, tired and returning late at the Hotel Meurice on the 24 of January confined to his friend Guy Labertit the evening before the official signing of the Marcoussis-Kléber peace accords: “ the headquarters of the coup d’état is the Quai d’Orsay”[2], the French Foreign Ministry. This peace accord forced Gbagbo to incorporate illegitimate, and often illiterate, rebels in his government.

All the subsequent peace accords called for the reunification of the country and the disarmament of the rebels, as well as of the self-defense groups which sprung up to defend themselves from rebel incursions.[3] Whereas these self defence forces, often wrongly described as pro-Gbagbo militias, did disarm and Gbagbo granted an amnesty to both sides as early as 2003 and again officially in 2007, the Force Nouvelles never disarmed two months before the elections, as all eight peace accords, spanning almost a decade, had called for. The 2010 elections were thus held “with one of the candidates, Alassane Ouattara, having an army in the North. Such an election is rigged from the start”, Ivorian reggae musician Serge Kassy explained.[4]

In April 2011 five months after the 2010 contested elections between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, while Gbagbo had called for a recount of the votes, the UN and France, siding with the Force Nouvelles rebels, bombed the Presidential palace and arrested Gbagbo. At the UN Security Council India decried the “regime change” policies of the UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast; Russia denounced the illegality of French and UN military actions; Thabo Mbeki wrote What the world got wrong in Ivory Coast[5].

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