Ivory Coast: What the world should expect from ICC trial, Eric Edi

Gbagbo_2486173b

2016-02-17, Issue 762
http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/96631

The ICC Chief Prosecutor will attempt to establish the existence and execution of a secret plan to keep President Gbagbo in power. But the defendants will tell the world how global political actors, some African countries and some multinational companies destroyed Ivory Coast. They will emphasize that the “Ivorian crisis” is a crisis of globalization, sparked by Gbagbo’s plan to end the 1961 France-Ivorian treaty of cooperation.

At last, on January 28, 2016, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened the combined trials of President Laurent Gbagbo and Mr. Charles Blé Goudé after the defendants spent respectively four and three years in the ICC detention center, something that has never happened in the history of the Court. President Laurent Gbagbo and his co-defendant Mr. Blé Goudé are charged with crimes against humanity that they allegedly committed or instigated during the post-2010 presidential election violence in Côte d’Ivoire.

Although the trial started tardily, it is followed assiduously by millions of people in the world. Media and social networks report that hundreds of Ivorians and Africans travelled to The Hague to attend the opening session or hold rallies and press conferences in the vicinity of the ICC’s headquarters. The ICC’s authorities rightfully gave many of them accreditation to witness the trial, while countless followers in Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere in Africa have been glued to television and/or radio sets, computers and cellphones to have the latest news about the trial. Since January 28, 2016, television and radio channels and programs of all ranges and fame have highlighted the trial in their daily programs. They are challenged by millions of twitterers, Facebookers, and bloggers, who post instantly comments and news about the trial.

If there is anything that can be ascertained it is that the Laurent Gbagbo/Blé Goudé trial is an issue of global politics. It is not exaggerated to view the case through the lenses of global politics because it is the best way to understand the intricacies of what is unfolding under our eyes at The Hague. The parties that are involved in the trial and the questions they raise are located both in the Ivorian and international political spectra. The globalization of the trial is not just the result of attention given to it by the media, but also the results of concerns relating to how the ICC has handled the case. Thus, the questions about the Court’s fairness and ability to give way to the rule of law and ban political gimmicks from the bench are discussed everywhere.

Two weeks within the trial, which may last months if not years, there are three basic sets of concerns that stand out. The first concern is the implications of the trial for the ICC as an emerging institution. In other words, is the ICC going to be the “sanctuary” of global justice that it purports to be after it was established in 2002? The Court’s advocates believe that the trial is the opportunity to assert the validity of the ICC and therefore the idea that a global justice system is the utmost means to end crimes against humanity. Political liberals and advocates of global governance have repeated that the ICC is the best response to the vilest crimes against humanity that became recurrent in developing countries in the 1990s, with the Rwandese genocide and the Liberian crisis as points of reference. They also claim that the ICC is the best place to hold African heads of states accountable for the crimes they commit while in power. We will deal with this question in another reflection. But for now, we shall limit our comments to contending that the above are futile and that the trial epitomizes global injustice, neocolonialism and the negation of Africa’s agency in global affairs. If Africa’s agency really mattered, the ICC would have considered with diligence the letter that former heads of states of Africa wrote to demand the annulment of the trial and the release of the defendants. The letter was released just days before the trial opened. It echoes the call made to African countries to withdraw their ICC membership on the basis of the sacrosanct principle of sovereignty.

The second issue is the impacts of the trial on the process of national reconciliation and peace in Côte d’Ivoire. Since 2011, after the illegal ousting of President Laurent Gbagbo and the violent seizure of power by Alassane Ouattara, reconciliation has been more a matter of words than it has been factual. The calm that prevails currently in Côte d’Ivoire exists only because the regime of Alassane Ouattara severely represses all dissent. The trial is definitely counter-productive for national reconciliation because it has reopened the strong resentments, wounds, and pains that are deeply seated in Ivorian political behaviors for the past ten years. Will the trial boost reconciliation or stir more hatred and fresh violence? We will address this interrogation in another article. For now, too, let us just say that the trial is harmful.

It is the third issue – what the world should expect to see or hear from the trial, especially from the defendants – which is the focus of this paper. Whereas the prosecutor’s job will be to prove that Laurent Gbagbo and Blé Goudé are responsible for the crimes they are accused of, the defendants and their counsels are poised to demonstrate that there has never been an Ivorian crisis, but a global crisis. This is exactly what makes the trial historic. In fact, and the first interventions of the defense teams prove it, the trial actually brings to the bar the forces of Africa’s Renaissance against the forces Africa’s inertia, the Western countries’ interference in Africa’s affairs, the sovereignty of Africa’s 54 nation-states, the significance of France for those who wish to live a comfortable, peaceful, and autonomous life. The trial also brings to the bar the relations between France and Côte d’Ivoire and how global governance undermines Africa’s political institutions. The trial brings to the stand the United Nations peace-keeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire. The list may not be exhaustive but these concerns are fundamental to the trial.

It is true that if the trial is put off and that President Laurent Gbagbo and Mr. Blé Goudé are released, it will be, according to some, a huge relief for their biological and political families and an enhancement to national reconciliation. But it may also anger their foes including the regime of Alassane Ouattara and his cronies. Yet, regardless of where they stand on this spectrum, both supporters and detractors of the defendants have one thing in common. They all claim that they want to know the Truth about how their country got to a point of unprecedented societal and sociological fragmentation. Are these wants sincere? Do Ivorians want the truth that satisfies their interests or are they seeking after the Truth (note the capital T here).

If everybody wants to know the Truth, they must agree that Truth exist regardless of numbers. Mahatma Gandhi says it eloquently that “even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.” Therefore, Truth is unique because it stands alone and because it consolidates national cohesion and nation-building. W.E.B. Du Bois[1] confirms the centrality of Truth by saying that that history should be written to “establish the TRUTH on which Right in the future may be built.”

At this very moment, what is Right for the future of Côte d’Ivoire is, first the country’s sovereignty and, second, the rule of law. More than just President Laurent Gbagbo and Mr. Blé Goudé and more than just their supporters and their detractors, it is the entire country, its neighbors, friends and partners all over the world, who need to know what happened between 2002 and 2011, if we do not want to kiss goodbye to the desires and efforts to rebuild the social fabric of the country.

Based on their philosophy and past experience, we can comfortably say that the defendants are not at The Hague to talk about their modest personalities. They will shift the attention from them to all the factors, which contributed to the chaos in Côte d’Ivoire. On December 5, 2011, President Laurent Gbagbo already set the tone of what the world should expect of this trial. When he told the judges of the Preliminary Chamber 1 that “he was ready and willing to get to the bottom of this affair,” he simply meant that he was ready to tell the world how France and its allies plotted against his regime and how they are the real culprits of the Ivorian cauldron. Mr. Blé Goudé also vowed to go in the same direction.

Thus, on one hand, the ICC prosecutor will be busy establishing the existence and execution of a secret plan to keep President Gbagbo in power. On the other hand, the defendants will tell the world how global political actors here France, the United States, the European Union, the United Nations (Mr. Ban Ki Moon and Young Choi Kim), some African countries, some multinational companies (Bouygues, Bolloré) destroyed Côte d’Ivoire. President Laurent Gbagbo and Mr. Blé Goudé will emphasize the fact that the “Ivorian crisis” is, indeed, a crisis of globalization or the crisis of the relations between France and Côte d’Ivoire in the 21st century. Evidently, the crisis was sparked by Laurent Gbagbo’s proposal to reconsider the 1961 France-Côte d’Ivoire treaty of cooperation.

The world should expect to hear President Laurent Gbagbo speak of his intriguing rapports with the Elysée. What did he mean when he said that he slept better when President Jacques Chirac[2] left power and was succeeded by President N. Sarkozy? President Gbagbo will explain why he said that President Sarkozy was impudent. He will explain why he warned on December 4, 2010[3] that he would never compromise the sovereignty of Côte d’Ivoire, and why he refused to speak with President Obama in the heat of the post-election 2010 violence. Mr. Ble Goudé will talk about why he asked young people to prevent the French and UN troops from circulating in Abidjan and the role they played in the November 04, 2004 massacre at Hotel Ivoire.

Though the Prosecutor refuses to talk about the 2010 presidential election, President Laurent Gbagbo and Mr. Blé Goudé will not elude it because the Representative of the UN Secretary General, the European Union, French and US ambassadors, and the ECOWAS clearly tampered with its results, creating in such a way, the biggest confusion ever witnessed in the country’s electoral history. Finally, the world should expect the defendants to speak about their visions and works for democratization, social justice, and sovereignty. Can it be otherwise? Will the question of Côte d’Ivoire’s sovereignty be tossed away?

Assuredly, the answer to this question is no. It is no because well-known analysts claim that the Ivorian crisis is a crisis of international political economy[4] , a crisis of geopolitics related to the future control and distribution of the oil and gas fields located along the Gulf of Guinea[5] , or a crisis born of the Euro-American quest for exceptionalism[6] .

* Eric Edi, PhD, is Executive Secretary of the US-based COMITÉ D’ACTIONS POUR LA CÔTE D’IVOIRE ETATS-UNIS – (C.A.C.I-USA). Email: caci.usa2012@gmail.com Blog:http://lecomitedactionusa.blogspot.com

END NOTES

[1] Du Bois (1935), Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880. USA: The Free press, p. 725.
[2] French President Jacques Chirac ruled from 1995 to 2007. He was known for his aversion of President Gbagbo that he might have plotted to oust from power.
[3] On December 4, 2010 President Gbagbo was sworn into office for a second term. During his inaugural speech, he accused foreign forces for interfering into matters of national interests and said he would not yield to any force that attempted to deny Ivorians the rights to choose their own leaders.
[4] Nicholas Agbohou, professor of Economy in France has spoken extensively about how the Franc CFA has been used to maintain Africa under the yoke of neocolonial France. He cautioned African countries that still use the currency to abandon it.
[5] Pierre Peant addressed the question in his book: Gbagbo in the in the whirlwind of the Gulf of Guinea. Malian activist Aminata Traoré has been a leading voice in denouncing the role of Western power, especially France in the Ivorian debacle.
[6] Martial Fredenthie, a professor of Francophone studies at Appalachian State University recently published, From Lumumba to Gbagbo: Africa in the Eddy of the Euro-American Quest for Exceptionalism, 2016.

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