The recent conviction by an Ivorian court of the wife of former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, Simone Gbagbo and his son from a previous marriage, French-born dual national, Michel Gbagbo, ought to serve as a lesson for all those who instigate violence by words and deeds in any part of the world, but particularly in Africa. For too long, the rest of the civilised world has consigned Africa to the status of a jungle where anything goes. The world watched the Ivorian tragedy play out until it could take no more and the sit-tight regime of Laurent Gbagbo, which was refusing to bow to the wishes of the people expressed in the elections, was booted out in ignominy.
It took the intervention of international forces acting under a United Nations (UN) mandate and led by former colonial power France, to bring the nightmare to an end and make way for the real winner of the presidential elections, Alassane Ouattara, to mount the saddle. During the crisis, brother killed brother; ethnic groups that had lived side by side in peace and harmony suddenly became sworn enemies, having been incited by the president, his family and their cronies. Nearly 3,000 souls were sent to their early graves in the senseless bloodletting.
It was alleged that when it was clear that Laurent Gbagbo had lost the election, his wife activated various armed gangs under her command and unleashed them on political opponents. A key issue in her trial was whether she played any part in directing the death squads that carried out targeted killings in the weeks after the disputed election. While the judges unanimously sentenced Simone to 20 years in prison, Laurent Gbagbo’s son Michel got away with five years’ incarceration for his role in the violence. “We showed that impunity in Ivory Coast must not continue,” said state prosecutor Soungalo Coulibaly.
In her day, Simone was known as the “Iron Lady”; her word was law. She interfered directly in matters of state as if her country’s presidency was an essential part of her marital vows. A prosecutor, Simon Yabo Odi, told the court how the 65-year-old woman participated in the composition of armed gangs that transmuted to an insurrectional movement. For hours on end, Mrs Gbagbo was confronted by her accusers, including witnesses who said they’d seen her distributing arms to youths in Abidjan.
Laurent and Simone Gbagbo were arrested in April 2011. While she stood trial at home (Ivory Coast), her husband is waiting to stand trial in July for crimes against humanity, at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. He, too, is likely to bag a long sentence. Old age spent in misery and confinement looms before the couple. Will all the other ‘Gbagbos’ on the continent learn anything from this?