Former Cote d’Ivoire president Laurent Gbagbo visited his home village, Mama, this week, just days after he returned to the country after a 10-year absence. Having being acquitted at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, he has hinted at a return to politics.
Gbagbo met with more than 200 traditional leaders and local officials of his Ivorian Popular Front party in his private residence on Tuesday. Some 400 people entered his 17-hectare wooded park, protected by a pink enclosure wall, according to RFI’s special correspondent, François Hume-Ferkatadji.
Guests included more than 160 chiefs from the department of Gagnoa and 46 from the department of Oumé. As is the tradition in such circumstances, they came to "hear the news" from their local boy, the former president.
He sat facing the audience onstage, saying a few words in the local language before recounting his eight years spent in pre-trial detention in the Netherlands.
"I made new friends," he said, "I didn't see the time go by."
The money came from his current companion, Nady Bamba, he said.
“She fed me. She was the one who gave me money every month, because the food we were served in prison was not good," he added.
Gbagbo had announced he was divorcing his wife Simone Gbagbo when he arrived back in Cote d’Ivoire less than two weeks ago.
Dismissive of ICC process
Speaking of the ICC, he said the legal process was "not serious".
"I was troublesome, an unwelcome rival, so they put me over there," he told his supporters by way of explaing his time in The Hague. "I'm not a criminal."
The prosecution, he said, failed to get all the witnesses it had promised to testify against him.
“In November 2018, we were promised 135 witnesses on the prosecution side. 82 have died. The judge asked the prosecutor: ‘Do you still have witnesses?’ and he said ‘No, it's over’. The others didn't want to come," he added.
Most of the judges who acquitted him were white, he said.
“Even the whites who don't know us, who don't know about our little quarrels, know that I am not a criminal," he said.
Return to politics?
Laurent Gbagbo hinted he would return to politics.
He also explained how, after meeting Henri Konan Bédié - president of the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI) - in Brussels, a man from a Belgian ministry asked him not to go back into politics since it was one of the conditions of his release.
"You brought me here because of politics and you don't want me to be in politics? What got me here will get me out of here," he told the unnamed diplomat.
“Don't go thinking I'm not going to do politics, I'm always doing politics," he added.
Gbagbo, now 76, was arrested in 2011 following post-election violence which killed 1,500 people.