In his regular coverage of West Africa, Desmond Davies reports on what appears to be the selective jailing of supporters of the former President of Côte d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo; and the mounting threat of terrorists in Burkina Faso.
Côte d’Ivoire: Victors’ justice still prevails
Six years on and 83 trials of alleged war criminals later, reconciliation is far from being achieved in Côte d’Ivoire. This is because all of those tried for committing offences during the 2010/2011 post-election violence come from the camp of former President Laurent Gbagbo. By January, the accused had been sentenced to jail for a total of 588 years; this includes Gbagbo’ s wife, Simone, who was sent down for 20 years in 2015.
About 3,000 people were killed after Gbagbo, who had been in power since 2000, refused to concede defeat to Alassane Ouattara in the December 2010 presidential election. Backed by French soldiers, who grabbed Gbagbo, Ouattara eventually prevailed and has been President since April 2011.
What Ivorians are not happy about is the apparent selective nature of the trials, whereby no one on Ouattara’s side has been called to account for the hundreds of deaths caused by his forces. It is a case of ‘victors’ justice’ to disaffected Ivorians.
Ouattara and the current President of the National Assembly, Guillaume Soro, headed the New Forces rebellion that controlled the north of the country. After the post-election violence, the National Commission of Inquiry said New Forces had been responsible for 727 deaths and that government troops had killed 1,452 people. But the UN and international human rights groups said the figures for both sides were higher.
“From the moment we had selective justice after the post-election crisis, the entire process towards real peace in Côte d’Ivoire was flawed,” Aboudramane Bamba, a political analyst, told The Inside Story on Emergencies (IRIN). “Judges have been endlessly convicting to keep the government happy. But they haven’t realised that they have distanced the country from reconciliation by pushing it further into uncertainty, which could reignite the same problems we’ve had in the past.”
The focus is now on the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, where Gbagbo has been languishing in detention while the Prosecutor, the Gambian Fatou Bensouda, and her team scurry around looking for evidence to nail the former Ivorian leader. Even the trial in absentia of Gbagbo failed to convict him of war crimes. The best the court in Abidjan could do was to find him guilty of looting the Central Bank of West African States and several commercial banks in 2010.
Gbagbo has always spoken out strongly against France’s continued stranglehold on its former colony, and his supporters believe that is the reason why he is still being held in The Hague. Last July, the ICC’s Appeals Chamber ordered a review of the decision to continue to detain Gbagbo, who is accused of four counts of crimes against humanity. The ICC’s Trial Chamber 1 had ruled that Gbagbo, who is charged alongside his former Youth Minister, Charles Blé Goudé, should continue to remain in detention.
Series of errors
Gbagbo’s lawyers appealed, and the judges ordered a review of his continued incarceration, noting that the Trial Chamber “committed a number of errors”. The ruling said that the Trial Chamber was wrong to use Gbagbo’s advanced age, 72,
against his release because “it is generally more appropriate for age to be considered in a [supportive] manner rather than as a factor that could evidence a motivation to abscond”.
The Trial Chamber also failed to consider the length of time Gbagbo had spent in detention and the state of his health, according to the Appeals Chamber. “Furthermore, despite the presumption of innocence and Mr Gbagbo’s right not to be compelled to testify or to confess guilt, the Trial Chamber erroneously relied on the fact that he has denied responsibility for crimes with which he is charged,” the ruling said
In this regard, the Appeals Chamber reversed the decision to keep Gbagbo in detention and sent the matter back to the Trial Chamber for a new review, adding that it was in no way “suggesting or predetermining what the outcome of the Trial Chamber’s new review should be”. The trial of Gbagbo, the first African leader to appear before the ICC just as his mandate ended, and Blé Goudé began in January 2016.
But the ICC is in a bind over this matter. Gbagbo’s lawyers point out that most of the crimes that their client is accused of took place in Abidjan. Nothing has been said about the mayhem caused in other parts of the country by rebel forces. Thus, thousands of victims in other regions of the country are not included in the ICC’s investigations. Indeed, critics of the ICC accuse it of not sufficiently being close to the people it is supposed to protect.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that the ICC’s proceedings are complex, lengthy and difficult to understand, using language and judicial rhetoric that could confound ordinary citizens. “In the end, the ICC, as an important bastion for justice and reconciliation, would benefit from reviewing its stand on Côte d’Ivoire by being more mindful of balance in the prosecution, thus giving a more definite impact to its actions,” a defence lawyer told New African.
Burkina Faso: Jihadist attacks escalate
The recent attacks by jihadist groups on the army headquarters and the French embassy, both in Ouagadougou, appeared to have been better organised, involving heavier weapons and were more sustained than anything seen so far in Burkina Faso, experts noted.
In yet another former French colony, violence is escalating while government forces appear ill-prepared to meet the challenge. Just as in Côte d’Ivoire in 2011, French soldiers intervened. They were used to bolster the defence of Ouagadougou.
Since 2015, Burkina Faso has witnessed terrorist activities in the areas that border Mali, where jihadists have been operating with increased ferocity after snatching sophisticated weapons from Libya following the removal from power and death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Security experts mainly blame a local group, Ansar ul Islam, founded in December 2016, for the most recent attacks.
These same experts claim that Burkina Faso’s defences have been exposed since President Blaise Compaoré was kicked out of the country in 2014. Various crack forces loyal to Compaoré were disbanded, weakening the country’s armed response to such attacks.
Government facing dilemma
Terrorist attacks in Africa as a whole have increased greatly. Rex Tillerson, the recently sacked US Secretary of State, made this point before his first and last official visit to Africa last month. He said that from 300 attacks in 2009, there were more than 1,500 in each year from 2015 to 2017.
West Africa seems to be receiving the brunt of these attacks. “In the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and other groups are adaptable, they’re resilient, and capable of launching attacks throughout the area,” Tillerson said. “Regional cooperation is crucial to disrupting those attacks and denying them the capability to plan and carry them out in the future.”
The Group of Five Sahel nations (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger), as well as the Multinational Joint Task Force created by Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Benin, and Cameroon, are battling to deal with the terrorist threat to the region. It is a complicated situation because members of the security forces in Burkina Faso have been accused of supporting the insurgents.
The government in Ouagadougou appears to be facing a dilemma. “The attacks could, in any event, have significant economic and social consequences,” notes a recent report by Crisis Group. “The more Burkina Faso is under attack, the more the government will be tempted to spend on the military. The less the government spends on development, the less it is able to answer the strong social demands for better public services and governance that emerged after Compaoré’s departure. Its continued failure to meet those demands risks provoking street protests and perhaps even riots.” NA