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  • Writer's pictureNicoletta Fagiolo

The birth of MGC, a pan-Africanist party whose motto is solidarity, freedom and labor rights

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

Photo: Simone Ehivet Gbagbo

A new left-wing political party was born in the Ivory Coast, the Mouvement des Générations Capables (MGC, Movement of Capable Generations) whose extraordinary General Assembly was held on 19-20 August 2022, sponsored by Simone Ehivet Gbagbo, a party which wants to oppose the ultra-liberalism prevalent in West Africa and put solidarity, labor rights and freedom at the center of its program.

Who is Simone Ehivet Gbagbo?

Simone Ehivet was born on 20 June 1949 in Moossou, in the department of Grand Bassam in the Sud-Comoé region, into a family of 18 brothers and sisters. Her father, Jean Ehivet, a policeman, had to travel extensively for work and this allowed the young Simone Ehivet, who accompanied him, to be in contact with many different ethnic groups, more than 60, which the country houses. Simone was fascinated by the richness of this diversity - the dances, games, stories, cosmologies and songs - a wealth that she later studied at university, specializing in oral history. From 1974 to 1980 Simone taught modern literature at Abidjan’s classical high school before turning to research.

For a continent that is often branded by Western scholars as ahistorical, the events and traditions gathered through oral history restore this denied historicity. After graduating in linguistics at the University of Abidjan Simone Ehivet wrote a for her master's in modern literature at the University of Villetaneuse in France on The Imagine of the Woman in the Tales of the Abouré and for her Diploma (DEA) in Literature at the University of Dakar The Abouré drum language. In addition, from 1972 to 1980 she directed the Research group on oral tradition, traveling the country collecting proverbs, fables, myths, songs, poems, local history and traditional pharmacopoeias.

But Simone Ehivet Gbagbo is more than anything else recognized by many Ivorians to be the mother of Ivorian democracy.

"The world was not frozen; we could shake it" writes Simone in her autobiography Paroles d’Honneur (Words of Honor) recalling the atmosphere of her youth. From the young age of 16 Simone organized students at her high school in Abidjan through the association she headed, Young Catholic Students, organizing protests demanding that the high school student’s union be independent from the one-party union that at the time was the only one recognized in Ivory Coast; they also demanded freedom of expression, improved training, an Africanization of programs, more public schools. For this struggle she was often arrested. At university, Simone worked in the independent trade union movement, the National Union of Higher Education (SYNECI) and later headed the National Union of Research and Higher Education (SYNARES) before founding in 1982, together with four other comrades, an underground political party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI).

The aim was to achieve a political shift through elections, not weapons. In 1990 the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) managed to get President Félix Houphouet-Boigny to accept a multi-party system and the official recognition of the FPI.

When her husband, Laurent Gbagbo, a socialist, historian and father of Ivorian democracy, became President in 2000, Simone and her husband had a personal history of over 40 years of non-violent struggle. They had managed, through demonstrations, strikes, debates and conferences, not only to impose multi-partyism on the one-party regime, but countless other reforms which laid the foundations for authentic democracy in Ivory Coast. Their political program opposed privatization, preferring the restructuring of state-owned enterprises; called for a free health system for all; administrative decentralization; the guarantee of freedom of expression as well as a special attention to cultural production, by establishing the Palace of Culture, the Academy of Sciences, Culture and Arts of Africans and the African Diaspora (ASCAD) and also the National Conservatory of Arts and Music (CNAM).

Their victorious and virtuous path came to a halt with the 2002 coup carried out by rebels without a political vision, the Forces Nouvelles, supported by external funding and coming from Burkina Faso (a rebellion that divided the country in two for 8 years), followed by a French-UN regime change in April 2011 that brought the country under the ferocious dictatorship of Alassane Ouattara, supported by the West, particularly by France and the United States of America. In addition to Western military and political support, unfortunately Ouattara was also assisted by Western academics and journalists who hammered out a relentless campaign of discrimination.

For example, the journalist Stephan Smith of French newspaper Le Monde was convicted by the Paris Court of Appeal in 2006 for defamation against Simone and Laurent Gbagbo whom he accused, in a 2003 article, of having "death squads", an unfounded accusation. Yet this Paris court sentence and Simone’s acquittal by both the International Criminal Court and the Court in Ivory Coast of all charges against her did not prevent French journalist Anna Sylvestre-Treine, in 2016 from using the same defamatory tactics in the newspaper Libération: stigmatizing Simone Gbagbo as an "Ivorian Lady Macbeth", "paranoid and impulsive", an "Iron Lady", and writing that "Simone Gbagbo (...) was accused of being the leader of death squads." A 20 August 2022 article by France 24 about the birth of the MGC, taken up by other news agencies, 16 years after the Court of Paris sentence, again repeats, without shame, this unfounded accusation.

Journalists and academics who have lent themselves to this petty and harmful propaganda are numerous, in Italy Giulia Piccolino stands out, but also the former Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Mario Giro, who despite being aware of French interference and the instrumentalization of the International Criminal Court (ICC), still writes falsehoods about the Ivorian crisis in the Italian geopolitical magazine Limes. Instead, Italian film director Silvestro Montanaro was fired by Italian state television RAI for his film La Francia in Nero (Black France) which the Ouattara regime wanted to see withdrawn, something Montanaro refused.

Ouattara in 2011 had Simone Gbagbo and thousands of FPI sympathizers arrested and sent her husband to the ICC in the Hague. Uopn the release of Simone Ehivet Gbagbo from prison in August 2018 (Simone was acquitted in Ivory Coast of crimes against humanity after seven years of imprisonment and by the International Criminal Court months after the acquittal of Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé,) thousands of civil and political associations as well as individuals came to visit her, encounters she documented in her book Ma sortie de Prison (My Release from Prison, the Beginning of a Reconciled Ivory Coast). Everyone urged her to create a movement, the movement which is now a political party.

Despite the painful and humiliating 20 years suffered by the Ivorian people, the MGC intends to work for the construction of a strong state, so as to overcome the often very fragile states on the African continent; a socialist vision with a focus on a strong welfare state; to give breath back to culture inspired by the manifesto of pan-Africanist culture published in 1969; to be a party that is laic and addresses all Ivorian ethnic groups and religious beliefs.

From a movement that brought together many civil associations in eleven months the party is now present in all of Ivory Coasts’ regions and also abroad. MGC delegations came to Abidjan for the occasion from Tunisia, Switzerland, Italy, England, France and the United States. National and international political parties were present amongst which Affi N'Guessan's FPI, Henri Konan Bédié's PDCI-RDA, Éric Cahier's AIRD, Charles Blé Goudé's COJEP, international leftist parties and associations. The Italian party, Marco Rizzo's Communist Party, sent a letter of support.

The burdensome legacy that Alassane Ouattara is leaving, still in power despite the country’s Constitutional two-term limit, following the elections boycotted in 2020 by all other main political parties, elections that prompted the European Left to ask for a turnaround in European diplomacy, will be difficult to overcome: the country has yet to initiate a true national reconciliation policy; many political prisoners are still incarcerated since 2011; Ouattara ignored the rulings of the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights on the necessary reforms of the electoral institutions, and has left the Court; a repression of civil and political opposition movements whose leaders are continuously arrested; an economic disaster where today 51% of the country’s budget is used to repay its debt as the country ranks 162 out of 185 in the human development index.

The political struggle of Simone Ehivet Gbagbo, who was elected President of the party at this General Assembly, is a striking example for any person who wants to take up real change even when facing chilling obstacles. The MGC also embodies this.

Nicoletta Fagiolo

Originally written for La Riscossa, Italy.

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