The Gbagbo-Ouattara meeting: what future for Ivory Coast

On July 27th, President Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo met in Abidjan for the first time since the civil war ten years ago. Is this get-together between current and former President of Ivory Coast a step forward into reconciliation?
They were holding hands, smiling, and hugging. The positive atmosphere marked the first meeting since the Presidential elections in October 2010. “We have decided that it is important to restore confidence and reconcile Ivoirians,” Ouattara stated to the media at a joint press conference with Gbagbo after the meeting at the presidential palace in Abidjan. Ouattara welcomed the meeting, which, he said, the population waited “with great impatience” and took place in a “cordial and fraternal” manner.
Ouattara and Gbagbo also decided to meet occasionally and integrate other stakeholders into these meetings with the aim to strengthen national cohesion and reconciliation. Gbagbo expressed his gladness with the arrangement and wished to hold other similar meetings to reduce political and social tensions in Ivory Coast. The former head of state also urged Ouattara to release the prisoners held during the electoral crisis between 2010 and 2011 and still in detention.
The meeting took place after Gbagbo returned to Ivory Coast, nearly ten years after his extradition to The Hague to stand trial for alleged crimes against humanity. Gbagbo was arrested in 2011 and was sent to The Hague to stand trial in the ICC. The former president was released two years ago but lived in Belgium while awaiting the outcome of the appeal by prosecutors to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
After being extradited to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the ICC eventually acquitted Gbagbo in 2019, permitting him to return to Côte d’Ivoire. Despite a 10-year absence, Gbagbo still has a strong following – especially in the southern coastal regions, where he has a reputation for defending the poor and the oppressed people.
Succeeding a country with a precariously balanced peace, Ouattara convincingly won a second election in 2015. However, in 2020, dozens of people were killed in pre-election clashes with police after Ouattara controversially advanced his candidacy for a third presidential term, when the Constitution allows only two.
Therefore, for many Ivorians, resolving the differences between Ouattara and Gbagbo is fundamental to overcoming the country’s major crises. Guillaume Soro – former prime minister of Ouattara, right-hand man, and a critical figure in Ouattara’s military support in 2010 – was recently sentenced to life in prison for undermining state security.