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  • Nicoletta Fagiolo




Part I

A Propaganda Construct

As the International Criminal Court (ICC) trial Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé v the Prosecutor is about to resume, now in its ninth year, it is worth recalling Côte d'Ivoire‘s 2002-2011 regime change war, legitimized by humanitarian intervention propaganda, as well as dubious legal proceeding at the ICC.(1)

On 15 January 2019 the ICC Majority Judges acquitted Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé of all charges and ruled their immediate release, decision which was over turned by the ICC Appeals Chamber on 1 February 2019 into a conditional release under a “heavily restrictive regime,” a regime the Majority Judges, as well as experts in international criminal law, say clashes with the respect for fundamental human rights. These restrictions were kept for 15 months before being for the most part lifted on 28 May 2020.

Laurent Gbagbo, the former President of Côte d'Ivoire, known as the father of Ivorian democracy for his decades long non violent struggle against the one party dictatorship at the time, and his wife, Simone Gbagbo, led in the last century via the then clandestine political party, the Ivorian Popular Front founded in 1982, a successful fight to establish a multiparty democracy by 1990.

When Laurent Gbagbo, a socialist, historian and the father of Ivorian democracy, was sworn into office in 2000, he and his wife Simone had a personal history of over 40 years of non-violent struggle behind them. Gbagbo appointed what is known as the “government of professors” for the high amount of academics occupying government positions.

Gbagbo did openly engage in conflict – one in which civilian victims accumulated. He was fighting well-structured rebel forces, the Forces Nouvelles, which were behind attempts to destabilize Côte d’Ivoire as early as the 1999 coup organized against President Henrie Konan Bedié, and were responsible for a series of aborted coups (September 2000, January 2001) until eventually the 19 September 2002 attempted coup split the country in two.

France refusing to honor its 1961 Defense accord with Côte d'Ivoire, instead of helping to reunify the country in 2002, set up a buffer zone that effectively kept the country split in two. Nigerian diplomat Ademola Araoye reveals in detail in Côte d'Ivoire, The conundrum of a still wretched of the earth, the title echoing Frantz Fanon’s depiction of the Algerian struggle for national liberation, “how France’s diplomacy allowed the Forces Nouvelles rebels to broaden their demands, all while French media helped to strengthen perceptions of the legitimacy of the cause of the rebellion. It (France) engineered a military stalemate that not only fossilized the partition of the country, but also strengthened the bargaining positions of the rebels”, writes Araoye. (2)

Gbagbo’s government, elected in 2000, lasted a mere two years. Subsequently he was forced to reckon with a rebel occupation of sixty per cent of the country for the following eight years, and a UN US French illegal regime change in the aftermaths of the 2010 elections, which he most likely won contrary to the hammering of corporate media stories which state the opposite to this day.

Despite these extreme constraints effective steps were taken by Gbagbo’s government in democratizing in the fields of health, education, culture, human rights, trade union rights, press freedom amongst others, as well as introducing a decentralization of government.

An erroneous dominant narrative of recent Ivorian history was born as early as 2000, relentlessly targeting Gbagbo’s government as being a dictatorial one, spun by a wide range of actors from the United Nations, to major human rights organizations, academics, filmmakers, journalists and scholars. Yet this dominant narrative has crumbled both at the ICC trial, as well as through numerous books and testimonies that have surfaced since 2002.

The pursuit of a regime change in Cote d’Ivoire in 2011 required that certain agents within the country be cast in the role of the victims, and others as villains—the latter not just belligerents engaged in a war, but evil and murderous perpetrators of mass crimes (a radical dehumanization of the Other ) which, in turn, would legitimate military intervention.

In King Leopold's Ghost Alan Hochschild account of Belgian King Leopold II reign in colonial Congo there is a chapter entitled “Journalists that failed to deliver accounts”, on the necessary press manipulation which accompanied Leopold’s colonial occupation. A striking example mentioned is editor and travel writer Mary French Sheldon, hired so as to conceal the humanitarian horrors taking place, who wrote in 1905 in Times newspaper: “I have been a witness to more atrocities carried out in the streets of London that in the Congo.” (3) Today it is widely known that the Belgian King’s reign caused the death of ten million innocent Congolese.

Modern day Mary French Sheldons’ abound in the recent case of neo colonial intervention in Côte d'Ivoire: journalists such as Christophe Ayad, Stephan Smith, Vincent Rigoulet, Pierre Turqoui, Maria Malagardis, Judith Rueff, Geneviève Goetzinger amongst many others have contributed with their orientalist to say the least articles in legitimizing a violent and brutal rebellion which reflected no constituency or actual grievances but was fabricated ex nihilo with the sole purpose to eventually carrying out a regime change.

Journalist Stephan Smith of Le Monde newspaper was condemned by the Paris Court of Appeal in 2006 for defamation against Laurent Gbagbo and his wife Simone whom he accused, in a 2003, article of having “death squads”, an accusation that was established as being unfounded. Yet this Paris Court condemnation did not stop journalist Anna Sylvestre-Treine thirteen years later, in 2016, from using the same smear tactics in Libération newspaper: stigmatizing Simone Gbagbo as an Ivorian “Lady Macbeth", an "Iron Lady “ Paranoid and impulsive, Simone Gbagbo (…) was accused of being the head of "death squads." (4)

Professor in Constitutional Law Albert Bourgi mocks the unprofessional role of French media in the Ivorian crisis as he recalls the editor in chief of Radio France Internationale (RFI) dancing when it was announced that French troops had captured Gbagbo after a ten day bombing of the Presidential Palace in 2011. Biased reporting for Bourgi is worse than the françafrique​ network, he considers the role of many French journalists in the Ivorian crisis as “ slayers of political morality.” (5)

Franco-Cameroonian journalist Théophile Kouamouo left Le Monde newspaper two weeks following the 19 September 2002 coup attempt, after seeing his articles manipulated from the Paris head office to such a point they reflected the opposite of what he had investigated on the ground. He quit and set up his own newspaper. (6)

Despite twenty years of publications as well as a nine year trial a recent France24 english edition The ICC says ex-Ivory Coast president Gbagbo can leave Belgium ‘under conditions’, published at 10 pm on 28 May 2020 manages to make five factual mistakes in a seven sentence brief. Gbagbo is still depicted as a “strongman,” thus for someone unfamiliar with the story a negative stigmatization is evident and achieved. (7)

Psychiatrist, activist and political philosopher Frantz Fanon taught us that colonialism is also a Manichean simplified viewpoint of the Other It is worth citing an extract of Judge Tarfusser’s 96-page written reasons for the acquittal of 16 July 2019 (on the 15 January 2019 oral acquittal decision), a real j'accuse of international criminal justice and the extreme shortcomings of this case:

"12. As the analysis of the evidence in the Reasons makes abundantly clear, this is certainly (yet) another case where the evidence is ‘flimsy, inconsistent or otherwise inadequate’ to say the least, such as to never possibly envisage sending the case to trial, let alone sustaining a conviction. Day after day, document by document, witness after witness, the ‘Prosecutor’s case’ has been revealed and exposed as a fragile, implausible theorem relying on shaky and doubtful bases, inspired by a Manichean and simplistic narrative of an Ivory Coast depicted as a ‘polarised’ society where one could draw a clear-cut line between the ‘pro-Gbagbo’, on the one hand, and the ‘pro- Ouattara’, on the other hand, the former from the South and of Christian faith, the latter from the North and of Muslim faith; a caricatured, ‘one-sided’ narrative, ‘built around a unidimensional conception of the role of nationality, ethnicity, and religion (in the broadest sense) in Côte d’Ivoire in general and during the post-electoral crisis in particular’, progressively destroyed by the innumerable elements to the contrary emerging from the testimonies.

13. Witnesses from all walks of life have contributed to provide the Chamber with a picture of Ivory Coast simply irreconcilable with the one presented by the Prosecutor. “

Presiding Judge Tarfusser’s reasons are a harsh criticism of the Prosecution's case backed up by facts of its activities from the inquiry stage to the trial per se. Tarfusser called for a halt of the proceedings, also in the name of humanitarian law and respect for the accused, as years had elapsed since Gbagbo's as well as Blé Goudé's arrest.

Judge Henderson is no less critical questioning more and more the very essence of calling the exercise justice as the trial unfolded. His arguments are detailed and convincing. (8)

No mention after a nine year trial in main stream media of the no case to answer pleaded for by the Judges who saw no case; no mention of the 2017 Ocampo leaks also corroborated by the majority Judges damaging written decision for the Prosecutor's case: no mention of the call for an immediate release of the accused or if the rights of the defence were breached and what a miscarriage of justice years of prison time for an innocent person means.

Judge Henderson’s nearly 1,000-page reasoning will surely become a classic reference point in the debunking of a ICC criminal lawfare trial where justice incarnates a dystopian agenda (whitewashing a regime change and legitimizing, a military takeover) and thus departing from its original purpose.

Charles Blé Goudé is one of the most extraordinary contemporary non-violent activists worldwide. It takes a lot of imagination as well as courage to embrace non-violence, especially when facing an extremely violent opponent.(9)

Challenging the propaganda construct’s dominant narrative on current Ivorian events is also difficult on the ground, as the Ivorian media suffers from monopolization practices. As we write Alassane Ouattara’s regime has plunged into the worst forms of authoritarianism, thousands of political prisoners have been detained since 2011.

Cyber activist Fiacre Franck Ebiba Yapo known as Serge Koffi the Drone reporting on a riot was brutally arrested on 7 May 2020 and his lawyer was not allowed to see him, his whereabouts remained unknown for days. There is talk of torture.

Such practices targeting press freedom were unheard of during Gbagbo’s government.

Notes :

1. On the following website a series of articles on the ICC trial (under articles)

2. Ademola Araoye, Cote d Ivoire, The conundrum of s still wretched of the earth, Africa world press, London, 2012. p 167 and p159

3.Alan Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost.

4. Anne Sylvestre-Treiner, Simone Gbagbo, la Lady Macbeth ivoirienne devant ses juges, Libération, 30 mai 2016 will remain on the record as an example of dehumanization of the Other and imperialist propaganda.

5. An interview of Professor Albert Bourgi can be viewed here

6.Kouamouo's astonishing and moving testimony can be viewed here

7. The five factual mistakes in France24 article: 1) In title: The figure 3,000 is based on what? In 2011 in the war between Cote d Ivories’ national army and US French backed rebels, the Forces Nouvelles and UN troops (including contingents not officially recognized) caused not 3,000 but more likely 16,000 people to be killed. The fiercest crime being the massacres of Duékoué: official International Red Cross speak of 800 to 1,000 people assassinated in one day, on 29 March 2011, as other first eye witnesses spoke of up to 5,000 victims targeted between the 27 and 29 March by Alassane Ouattara’s US French UN backed rebel forces which were invading Cote d 'Ivoire from the North heading south to take over Abidjan.Geneva-based International Red Cross has more precise information and statistics on the massacre yet has not released all its findings according to some sources. The Charles Banny supervised truth and reconciliation inquiry speaks of the figure of 16,000 deaths covering the post election crisis only (and thus excluding the 2002-2010 period were Forces Nouvelles criminal behaviour is well documented), yet this document was not released in public. 2) Gbagbo defined as “ex strongman" is misleading. Judge Cuno Tarfusser did mention a disturbingly Manichean viewpoint in the Prosecutor’s account of the Ivorian crisis which little reflected reality on the ground. Laurent Gbagbo is the father of Ivorian democracy, a historian, non-violent activist and socialist who “would not hurt a fly” , as many define him. What instead is the factual evidence for the use of such a description? 3) No they do not have to surrender identity documents and /or their passports but on the contrary they reacquired them and may travel where they wish in all ICC signatory countries. 4) No they do not have to report weekly to anyone that is one of the four restrictions, which were lifted 5) They also need no authorization to travel from the ICC. That’s five factual errors, including a poor characterization of President Gbagbo reduced to a "strongman" in just half a page. For someone unfamiliar with the story a negative stigmatization is evident and achieved.

8. Link to a August 2019 article, a short summary of the 16 July 2019 acquittal no case to answer decision:

9 A June 2013 article on Charles Blé Goudé’s activities as a non violent resistance leader

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