Former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo on Saturday launched a new political party, officially severing ties with those who led his former party as he spent years facing war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court.
Gbagbo, 76, returned home in June after his acquittal was upheld, announced a few months later that he would set up a new party to avoid legal battles with his former ally, Pascal Affi N’Guessan.
Gbagbo was extradited to The Hague in 2011 and his Ivorian Popular Front party split three years later – with a faction led by N’Guessan, while former first lady Simone Gbagbo played a leading role in the other.
Organizers say the proposed name of Gbagbo’s new party is the African People’s Party – Côte d’Ivoire, abbreviated to its French acronym, PPA-CI.
On Saturday, Gbagbo welcomed a crowd of more than 1,600 delegates to Abidjan, many of whom were holding small flags in his image. The ex-president is expected to address his supporters on Sunday, organizers said.
The creation of Gbagbo’s new political party comes as questions persist about his future political aspirations. He was president from 2000 until his arrest in 2011 after refusing to admit defeat to Alassane Ouattara. The post-electoral conflict has claimed more than 3,000 lives and brought the country back to the brink of civil war.
Ouattara eventually prevailed and has been the president of Côte d’Ivoire ever since. Ouattara won a controversial third term late last year after the opposition claimed many of his candidates had been disqualified, including Gbagbo.
On Saturday, the executive director of the ruling party, Adama Bictogo, was among those present at the party congress.
“For us, coming to witness the birth of a new party led by President Laurent Gbagbo strengthens the existing democratic vitality and this will contribute to the advancement of democracy,” he declared.
Notably absent, however, was the former first lady, Simone Gbagbo, who had visited the Congo. Charles Ble Goude, Gbagbo’s former youth leader who was also acquitted at the ICC, was also not present.
Laurent Gbagbo spent eight years awaiting trial for war crimes. A judge acquitted him in 2019, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case. The verdict was appealed but was confirmed at the end of March, paving the way for Gbagbo to leave Belgium, where he had spent the past two years.
While some feared that his return would trigger further unrest, Gbagbo was received by Ouattara himself and mostly kept a low profile. Some opponents of Gbagbo, however, maintain that he should have been imprisoned in Côte d’Ivoire on his return and not be welcomed by a statesman.