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Côte d'Ivoire

The elephants talk reconciliation

Historic foes – President Ouattara and ex-President Gbagbo – claim they want to put the past behind them

The first meeting in over a decade between President Alassane Ouattara and his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo next Tuesday (27 July) is billed as symbolising long-delayed national reconciliation. The two will meet in the presidential palace – a logical if unsubtle way for Ouattara to underscore who is in power. Presidential spokesman Amadou Coulibaly also told reporters that the pair had spoken over the phone in early July.

After the country was engulfed by violence after the disputed presidential election in 2010, French troops arrested Gbagbo in April 2011 and he was indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Gbagbo returned home triumphantly in June after his final acquittal by the ICC but his future plans are unclear. He retains strong grassroots support from his Front Populaire Ivoirien (AC Vol 62 No 13, Old foes re-enter the ring). Equally unclear is whether the incumbent President will try to thwart his political foe's attempts to contest future elections. Time might help the decision-making: Gbagbo will be 80 when the next elections are due.

Having faced much criticism for his political shortcomings, Ouattara is trying to position himself as the man to heal the country's wounds, having pardoned hundreds of opposition supporters, including Simone Gbagbo (the estranged first wife of Laurent Gbagbo).

The country's three political 'elephants' – Outtara, Gbagbo and Henri Konan-Bédié – think they can boost their standing by talking up the imperative of reconciliation. Earlier this month, Gbagbo and Konan-Bédié, former rivals, said they were committed to forging 'final and sustainable peace'. Many younger Ivorians think the best service this cohort of septuagenarian and octogenarian political chiefs can render would be to exit the political stage.



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