July 25, 2021

Michel Gbagbo, at the service of the father

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Michel Gbagbo in Abidjan, in June 2021.

Michel Gbagbo is a little upset. “As if by chance, I was stuck with a seminar of the defense and security commission from June 16 to 18 outside Abidjan”, breathes the new deputy of Yopougon, popular commune of the Ivorian economic capital, also secretary of the said commission.

His father Laurent Gbagbo must land at Félix-Houphouët-Boigny airport in the afternoon of June 17, after ten years of absence. “I will escape, I will go there, no choice”, he says with a mischievous smile.

Read also After ten years of absence, Laurent Gbagbo back on Thursday in Ivory Coast

The first son of the former Ivorian president (2000-2010), also a professor of criminal psychology and a writer, has remained intimately and politically very close to this father whom he admires. The two have not seen each other for almost two years due to the pandemic, “But we call each other almost every day”, he confides.

Arrested with the former head of state and dozens of his relatives in the presidential residence in which they were holed up on April 11, 2011, Michel Gbagbo was imprisoned and assaulted in Bouna prison (north-east) until August 2013. He had to wait until August 2018 and the amnesty pronounced by President Alassane Ouattara in favor of 800 opponents to recover his rights and finally see his father, then on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, accused war crimes and crimes against humanity during the post-election crisis which left more than 3,000 dead.

“Psychologically prepare the militants”

A few hours before the return of the former president, definitively acquitted on March 31, Michel Gbagbo is active. He comes out of three days of meetings in the main districts of his constituency, Yopougon, the largest commune in Abidjan and a stronghold of pro-Gbagbo.

“The idea was to psychologically prepare the activists, to confirm to them that he is coming back, to encourage them to come to the airport., he explains. There must be so many people that if you throw a bag of water in the air, it can’t fall to the ground. “

Read also Ivory Coast: the village of Laurent Gbagbo ready for the return of the “father”

Without giving in to violence. In these popular meetings of which Yopougon is fond, the son took up the message hammered for months according to which “Gbagbo is the missing link in reconciliation”.

Michel was born in Lyon from his father’s first union with a Frenchwoman and grew up in a very political environment. From high school, he is active in the French and Ivorian movements “Left and far left” : from Lutte Ouvrière with Arlette Laguiller to the youth of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), the first opposition formation founded underground in 1982 by Laurent Gbagbo, at a time when the single party of the first Ivorian president Félix Houphouët-Boigny was authoritative. An activism that the Franco-Ivorian has never really left.

“One president per family and per century”

After his release, this son, who is said to be shy, without great personality and crushed by his father’s aura, rose through the ranks of the party until he ran for the legislature at the age of 51. “It’s pretty late after all, but I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. Before, I had no ambition, I wanted to serve, that’s all. And it was after that I realized that at a given moment, when you are not the bearer of your proposals, you do not move forward ”, details the deputy who would also see himself mayor of Yopougon because “Ambition feeds ambition”. And head of state? No, “One president per family and per century”, he said.

Michel Gbagbo concedes it: his name and the cult devoted to the father by part of the population have helped him. A cult to which he is no stranger. If in the past, the son has never played the leading roles in the FPI, since his amnesty, he is one of the players in the rehabilitation of the former head of state.

Read also Ivory Coast: Laurent Gbagbo will return without thirst for revenge, assure his supporters

“Our job was to keep his name alive. That’s why we separated from Pascal Affi N’Guessan. We wanted to put ourselves in the position of the ANC guys [African National Congress, le parti de Nelson Mandela]. Just because Mandela was sentenced to life did not mean he had to be knocked out within the party. We stayed in this posture ”, he specifies.

And the activists have not forgotten it either. After ten years of boycott, the GORs (“Gbagbo or nothing”) have made a remarkable comeback in Parliament. The alliance Together for Democracy and Sovereignty (EDS), the pro-Gbagbo coalition, and the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) are today with fifty seats the second force in the National Assembly. Thousands of people are expected at the airport on Thursday.

Argue the “truth”

A popularity due to an image of a martyr cultivated during his ten years of exile and “To Ouattara’s liberal policy in a poor country which does not feel the fruits of growth in its womb”, assures his son. In the field, the “Memory work” led by party sections to promote the “Truth” Gbagbo camp also counted.

“I won’t hide it from you: we consider that it was Gbagbo who won the elections in 2010. You can laugh, but that is our perception. It is true that he gave somewhat strange orders, but he gave them as a head of state who was defending himself ”, develops Michel Gbagbo.

What about the breakage of the Central Bank of West African States, for which the Ivorian justice sentenced the former president to twenty years in prison? “A construction of information in case Gbagbo returns and runs for president”, he replies.

Politically, Laurent Gbagbo could become the future natural leader of the party he created, but he must first unite around him. “A way of saying to Simone [Gbagbo] and Affi [N’Guessan] : are you walking with me or are you going away? Everyone will have to choose “, thinks Michel Gbagbo.

Prison therefore does not seem to have tired him of politics. “His speech, his relationship with power and parties will be different, concedes his son. But he remains an ideologue. Once the virus is there… ”