After ten years in exile abroad, the former president of Côte d’Ivoire Laurent Gbagbo touched down on home soil Thursday upon receiving permission to return from the government of longtime rival President Alassane Ouattara.
After making his way down the steps to the runway, Gbagbo made his way to a vehicle that was then surrounded by crowds as it headed toward the city.
Tensions between the jubilant crowds and security forces were high, with tear gas being used to disperse people coming to greet Gbagbo near the airport.
Gbagbo somehow managed to navigate his way around the frenzy of supporters via heavily security clad vehicles to his political party’s campaign headquarters in Cocody — where he expressed elation to be back in Cote d’Ivoire on the motherland.
“I’m happy about being back in Ivory Coast and Africa. Because (inaudible) I know that I am from Ivory Coast but in prison, I knew that I belonged to Africa, all of Africa, all of Africa supported me (inaudible) as well as my people, most of Africa.”
A decade ago, Gbagbo refused to concede defeat in a presidential election to current leader Ouattara.
His resistance to step down sparked months of violence that claimed the lives of over 3,000 Ivorians and resulted in his extradition to the International Criminal Court at The Hague in 2011.
After an eight-year wait for his trial on war crimes charges, a judge acquitted him in 2019, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case.
The verdict was appealed but upheld in late March, clearing the way for Gbagbo to leave Belgium, where he had spent the past two years.
While thousands celebrate his return, his opponents maintain he should not be given a statesman’s welcome. Some people even demonstrated outside Gbagbo’s residence in Cocody on Wednesday.
There are some observers who question what impact his return will have on the nation’s political stability.
Other victims and opponents believe he should face justice in Côte d ‘Ivoire for the 2010 electoral violence.
It is not immediately known whether the 76-year-old ex-president will seek to re-enter politics.
Nevertheless, Thursday was mostly a day of jubilation for Gbagbo’s supporters, who long have maintained his prosecution was unfair and politically motivated. The ex-president garnered nearly 46% of the vote in 2010 and maintains a strong base of supporters