Laurent Gbagbo: “What is at stake now is the struggle for African countries, for their cooperation and their true independence”
You have just launched the Party of African Peoples-Côte d’Ivoire (PPA-CI). What is the difference with the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), founded underground in the early 1980s, and what meaning do you give to Pan-Africanism in 2021?
Laurent Gbagbo At the time, Côte d’Ivoire was in a one-party system and it was necessary to fight against that. It was our main goal. Today, this phase of the struggle is over even if we cannot say that we are still living in a democracy. What is at stake now is the struggle for African countries, for their cooperation and their true independence. We have indeed turned this new party resolutely towards Pan-Africanism, because our African States are too small in relation to each other and to their external partners. We must succeed in the Union of African States so that we can fight together. We do not weigh enough against the United States or China. Individually, we can only mobilize small resources. I don’t want to give an example so as not to offend anyone, but you can see that some countries are so tiny… When I was head of state, during an official visit to China, beyond protocol, to l inside of myself I felt the difference in power between our two countries. We represented two states, of course, but obviously not of the same size. In Africa, the countries we are talking about, those which manage to emerge, are Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Angola, etc. We are a succession of tiny states, and therefore we can do little for our own people, and in the concert of nations we are next to nothing.
Some powers fiercely fight this pan-African ambition. But we must resist and continue the fight, never give up.
Many African leaders had this Pan-African dream which never came true. How to carry it out?
Laurent Gbagbo It is true that people like Kwame Nkrumah (president of Ghana overthrown in 1966 – Editor’s note) tried it before us, or Nasser with pan-Arabism. A dream must first be said and formulated. Then you have to fight and fight. You say others have formulated it before me, that’s right, but see how they ended up! Almost all of them were brutally overthrown, whether it was Nkrumah or Modibo Keïta (president of Mali overthrown in 1968 – Editor’s note). Some powers fiercely fight this pan-African ambition. But we must resist and continue the fight, never give up.
In what state did you find your country after your long period of incarceration at the International Criminal Court (ICC)?
Laurent Gbagbo I cannot yet judge the record of my successor. I just arrived and my priority was to create my new party. Now I’m going to start poking my nose into the files. But one of my main concerns is the huge external debt. This is one of the points that any future power will have to consider seriously. We are also facing a very significant demographic surge which is particularly visible in Abidjan, the capital.
The explosion of debt, made worse by the pandemic, risks triggering new austerity policies. What solutions can a left and pan-Africanist party like yours put on the table?
Laurent Gbagbo I think that our African countries too easily have recourse to the financing of their economies by this external debt. It is necessary to adjust the capacities for mobilizing external public funds with the essential expenses to be made. This is an exercise that we had already done when I was in power. Then, we had negotiated with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) within the framework of the HIPC program (very indebted poor countries – Editor’s note), but we cannot spend our life doing that. Many African countries risk finding themselves in Argentina’s situation a few years ago. We are going to examine the situation, but what seems important to us is to reduce non-essential expenses.
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Do you think about military spending?
Laurent Gbagbo No, this is a real-false solution. Our countries must have armies capable of playing their role.
Another peril is brewing in West Africa and Côte d’Ivoire with this jihadist surge, some of whose roots go back to the rebellion which in 2002 separated your country between the North and the South. Can you confirm that this problem was already present when you were president, and how to deal with it?
Laurent Gbagbo This jihadist threat, I became aware of it in 1992, long before I was elected to head the country, when Malian comrades alerted me to this problem. It was also true in Nigeria with Boko Haram. It was reinforced in the Sahel with the assassination of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and the destruction of the Libyan state. To face it, we must mobilize all West African States, and not leave the resolution of this problem solely in the hands of the G5 Sahel. If Mali and Burkina Faso are threatened, it means that Ghana, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire or Senegal are too. We can’t pretend we don’t see what is out there, we are all in the same space, and these jihadists have struck here several times already. In 2002, we knew that there were non-Ivorians in the rebellion, and we also knew that neighboring states lent their soldiers to this rebellion. At the ICC itself, I was able to talk to fundamentalist elements who told me about their involvement in Côte d’Ivoire.
In the former African colonies, we are the only ones to whom France, when leaving, left behind a currency.
Your country is working on setting up the eco, supposed to replace the CFA franc, what difference do you make between these two currencies? Do you think this is a simple cosmetic change?
Laurent Gbagbo I was in prison when this issue was brought up. I would like us to have the eco in West Africa, but on condition that it is really an African currency and not a copy of the CFA franc. In the former African colonies, we are the only ones to whom France, when leaving, left behind a currency. The British did not create a copy of the British pound, neither did the Portuguese! It is the fight against colonization that continues through this project for a new currency which must concern all the countries of the ECOWAS, whether they are English-speaking, Portuguese-speaking, French-speaking …
The trial of the assassins of Thomas Sankara is currently taking place in Burkina Faso, what do you expect when the Ivory Coast of Félix Houphouët-Boigny is potentially involved and Blaise Compaoré, the main accused, has evaded justice to take refuge in your country?
Laurent Gbagbo I only met Thomas Sankara once, in 1984, in a hotel in Paris. He had come for a meeting and I was living there in exile at the time. Everyone talks about the complicity of the Ivory Coast, but I am waiting for the Burkinabe justice to do its job and establish the facts so that we finally get out of the hypotheses. Regarding Blaise Compaoré, he also played an important role in the formation and start of the rebellion which destabilized my country, but that is another story.
Another emblematic trial took place this year, that of the bombardment of Bouaké, in Côte d’Ivoire, by mercenaries supposed to belong to your army who had caused the death of nine French soldiers and resulted in the destruction of your air force in retaliation. Did you say everything about this case?
Laurent Gbagbo This trial was very useful for the French to realize what their state often does in its former colonies. The examining magistrate Sabine Kheris, in charge of the case, like M e Jean Balan, lawyer for the families of the victims, came to question me in The Hague. I had the pleasure of talking to these people who understood that the French government had played a very bad role in this story. Justice has at least made it possible to open our eyes to the actors in the shadows, to the fact that the pilots responsible for this bombing have been arrested and that France has stubbornly refused to hold them to account, before they are released into the wild. I said everything I know about this story. It is those who protected the rebellion that we must ask questions.
Emmanuel Macron organized an Africa-France summit, without inviting the heads of state of the continent, a device supposed to stop the rise of a powerful anti-French feeling in African countries… What did you think of this new device?
Laurent Gbagbo Meetings with civil society can be very interesting, it can lead to new ideas but there can be no binding decisions. As long as it does not bring together the heads of state and government, I think it was not a summit!