Simone & Laurent Gbagbo,
le droit à la différence
Simone & Laurent Gbagbo, the right to difference
Pan-Africanists from the west African country of Côte d'Ivoire, Simone and Laurent Gbagbo, are the leading founders of democracy with a personal history of over 40 years of non-violent struggle to achieve democratic reforms in their country.
When in 1980 Ivorian dictator Félix Houphouet-Boigny allowed voting within the one-party system Laurent Gbagbo, a student activist, protested: to have the freedom to vote only within a single party was for him a “dangerous statement because it represses the right to be different, a right essential for the evolution of a country.”
The right to difference – whether in the field of trade unions, political parties, ethnic identities, economic models or the press – is the cornerstone of the non-violent struggle developed by Simone and Laurent Gbagbo since both were in their teens.
In 1982, defying the one-party dictatorship at the time, Simone and Laurent founded a political party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) and developed a non-violent protest movement, later known as “la révolution à mains nues”- unarmed or empty handed revolution- which called for democratic reforms.
Laurent Gbagbo was born 31 May 1945 in a modest family in Mama near Gagnoa in western Côte d’Ivoire. His father, Paul Koudou Gbagbo had participated in World War II as a sergeant in a battalion commanded by a certain Laurent whom Gbagbo is named after. He was wounded and imprisoned by the German army. Later he became a policeman. In 1964 he was accused of one of the many false plots during the dictatorial regime of Félix Houphouët-Boigny and imprisoned. Gbagbo’s mother, despite the loss of her husband’s support, did not want her son to abandon his studies. Gbagbo first specialized in classics, and then in contemporary history. As a student he fought for the existence of a student union that was not subjugated to the one-party union, the Mouvement des Elèves et Etudiants de Côte d’Ivoire (MEECI). In 1969 he was arrested for the first time for 15 days, along with 400 other students, who were calling for a plurality of voices within the student union.
Simone Ehivet Gbagbo is the mother of Ivorian democracy and one of the founders of the non-armed resistance movement as a strategy for reform. She began already in her teens as a student activist in her school demonstrating for social reforms. Simone Gbagbo is also an established scholar of African oral literature and culture.
In 1980 Laurent Gbagbo became Director of the Institute of History, African Art and Archaeology at the University of Abidjan. Accused of being the instigator of a plot against Houphouët-Boigny, “a Libyan spy” and worse “a militant separatist from the ethnic Bété group” Gbagbo in 1982, eager to deny these charges, protect himself and raise awareness of the Ivorian issue fled in exile to Paris, where he remained until 1988. Before his exile he had already visited three quarters of Côte d’Ivoire’s villages, but the work of “conscientization” continued in exile with the creation of a network of party structures in Europe and the publication of a political program, Côte d’Ivoire, for a democratic alternative. During his exile, his wife Simone Evihet, who in the words of Gbagbo, “carried out 60% of the work” and other members of the FPI worked underground to broaden the party base.
Simone and Laurent Gbagbo arrested in 1988 while calling for democratic reforms under the one party dictatorship
When Gbagbo became President in 2000, he and and his wife Simone had 30 years of nonviolent struggle behind them and had witnessed the achievement in 1990 of the first point of their democratic reform program, a multi-party system.
Laurent Gbagbo, sworn in as President in 2000 and Simone who became First Lady soon faced an aggressive international defamation campaign targeting them and their movement's leaders - and involving established NGOs, filmmakers, journalists, lawyers as well as politicians and academics. All depicted Gbagbo as a dictator, Simone Gbagbo as a iron lady and youth activist Charles Blé Goudé as a militia leader. Such reporting has been uncritically cited by major news outlets.
Following a contested election in 2010, were many believe Gbagbo had won, a regime change was carried out on the part of France with United Nations backing in April 2011, imposing Alassane Ouattara as President. A two-part film of video testimonies on the 2010 elections, as well as the five months post-election crisis Part I here Part II here.
Laurent Gbagbo was held in detention for eight months and then deported to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague and accused of crimes against humanity.
Today Laurent Gbagbo, after having undergone 8 years of prison at the International Criminal Court, as well as Charles Blé Goudé, a leading non-violent protest leader, who has undergone five years of imprisonment, were acquitted of all charges in the joint trial on 15 January 2019, as ICC judges Judges Herderson and Tarfusser asked for their immediate release in respect of their right to liberty.
That same day, on 15 January 2019, late in the evening ICC Prosecutor filed an appeal and arrested Gbagbo and Blè Goudé again. They spent an additional two weeks in detention (as acquitted individuals) and were released only on 1 February, yet with severe restrictions which breach all principles of international human rights law.
The reasons for the acquittal were published on 16 July 2019- Judge Henderson https://www.icc-cpi.int/RelatedRecords/CR2019_03857.PDF and Judge Tarfusser: https://www.icc-cpi.int/RelatedRecords/CR2019_03857.PDF
Laurent Gbagbo's wife Simone was imprisoned in Cote d'Ivoire by the Alassane Ouattara dictatorship although she was acquitted in her trial in Abidjan for crimes against humanity. On 8 August 2018, after 7 years in prison, former Côte d’Ivoire First Lady Simone Gbagbo left her jail cell and today is a leading figure for peace and reconciliation.
Charles Blé Goudé represents the next generation that followed in their footsteps, calling for change through non-violent means.
Blé Goudé stopped four armed regime change attempts by France, as thousands followed his calls to protest with bare hands. Charles Blé Goudé also underwent a year in prison in Cote d'Ivoire and 5 years of detention at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague in the joint trial with Laurent Gbagbo. Blé Goudé, like Laurent Gbagbo, still faces strict restrictions of mouvement while residing in a hotel in Holland, restrictions set by the ICC which many say are breaching basic human rights law.
This form of neo-colonial interventionism has been corroborated by the very International Criminal Court trial which shed light on the true patterns of violence on the ground. In 2017 the Ocampo leaks revealed the French diplomacy's use of lawfare to achieve regime change in Côte d’Ivoire.
Fearing no ridicule, despite the extreme vacuity of the evidence (and the 1,100 page arguments which analyse in detail the trial’s findings) by now under review for eight years, the ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda decided to go forward with the appeal in September 2019 and asked for a mistrial.
An article on the summary of the acquittal. ICC judges dismissed the prosecutor’s evidence and called Laurent Gbagbo a responsible president. https://www.iol.co.za/news/opinion/icc-judges-dismiss-prosecutors-evidence-call-laurent-gbagbo-a-responsible-president-31157569
On June 17 2021 Laurent Gbagbo returned to Côte d’Ivoire.
Through video testimonies on Côte d’Ivoire's recent history from politicians, academics, journalists, artists and other first-hand witnesses, the documentary film project Simone & Laurent Gbagbo, the right to difference, developed by independent filmmaker Nicoletta Fagiolo since 2011, wants to give voice to this untold story of injustice and neocolonialisme, as well as document a active civil disobedience movement which uses non-violence as its main means of expression in its call for positive change and pushes for democratization processes.
Download article from South African magazine THE THINKER
The dangerous idea of non-violence in the history of Côte d’Ivoire
THE THINKER Volume 69 / 2016 INTERNATIONAL
Listen to what Italian ambassador to Côte d'Ivoire Paolo Sannella
has to say on the Ivorian crisis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6A36OjLKGu4&feature=youtu.be
Listen to what former South African President
Thabo Mbeki has to say on the Laurent
Gbagbo case and the ICC here
-Simone Gbagbo is the mother of Ivorian democracy
- Founder of a non-armed resistance movement as a strategy for reform
- Scholar of African oral literature and culture
- One of the five co-founders in 1982 of the clandestine version of the political party, Ivorian Popular Front ( FPI ) under the then one party dictatorship
- First Lady of Cote d’Ivoire (2000-2011), former vice-President of FPI and House Representative of Abobo at the Ivorian National Assembly
-Since 2000 she has been the target of a major smear campaign orchestrated by main stream media, western NGOs and institutions
-Simone wrote her biography in 2007 Paroles d'honneur
-Imprisoned in 2011 following a western backed regime change orchestrated by Alassane Ouattara her trial for crimes against humanity was held in 2016 and she was acquitted in 2017 of all charges war crimes and crimes against humanity, but that decision was overturned in July 2018.
Although in seven years no charges were found against her, nor any evidence of crime, the International Criminal Court (#ICC), in what some call beaching double jeopardy, are still calling for her transfer to The Hague
- Simone Gbagbo was also accused of attempting to destabalize the state (although she was at the time First Lady) and was condemned to 20 years in prison. Till this day she does not know for which specific facts she is accused.
Charles Blé Goudé, the leader of Pan African Congress of Young Patriots (COJEP) holding a two day prayer sit in with a mattress calling for a peaceful resolution of the crisis on 25 of March 2011, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire as the rebels were advancing from the North.