For­mer ivory Coast ‘iron Lady’ jailed

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

ABID­JAN — Ivory Coast’s “Iron Lady” Si­mone Gbagbo, who was sen­tenced to 20 years in pri­son Tues­day, basked in her role as the power be­hind the throne dur­ing her hus­band Lau­rent Gbagbo’s regime, but to foes she was a piti­less killer.

Ms Gbagbo is wanted for crimes against hu­man­ity by the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC), where her hus­band al­ready faces jus­tice, but she has in­stead been on trial in Abid­jan, along­side 82 of­fi­cials from the for­mer rul­ing party.

On Tues­day, the for­mer first lady was jailed for 20 years for “un­der­min­ing state se­cu­rity” dur­ing post-elec­tion vi­o­lence in 2010-2011 that left nearly 3 000 dead.

She had been ac­cused of ac­tively sup­port­ing Lau­rent Gbagbo in his bid to keep power af­ter his elec­toral de­feat in Novem­ber 2010 ended a tur­bu­lent decade in of­fice.

The cou­ple were ar­rested in April 2011 by forces loyal to new Pres­i­dent Alas­sane Ou­at­tara dur­ing a French-backed mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion, af­ter five months of fight­ing that claimed at least 3 000 lives.

Fer­vently Chris­tian but ruth­less by rep­u­ta­tion, Si­mone Gbagbo has never sought to deny ex­er­cis­ing po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence af­ter her hus­band rose to power in 2000 elec­tions in which for­mer prime min­is­ter Mr Ou­at­tara was barred from stand­ing on the grounds he was a for­eigner.

“All the min­is­ters re­spect me, and they of­ten con­sider me above them. I’ve got what it takes to be a min­is­ter,” she told the French newsweekly l’ex­press in 2001, jus­ti­fy­ing her stance af­ter a life she said had been ded­i­cated to ac­tivism.

“I en­gaged in po­lit­i­cal strug­gle against the for­mer regime along­side men. I spent six months in pri­son, I was beaten, mo­lested, left for dead. Af­ter all those tri­als, it’s log­i­cal that peo­ple don’t mess with me.”

Legal sys­tem tested A key is­sue in her trial was whether she played a part in di­rect­ing the death squads that ran amok in the weeks af­ter the dis­puted vote.

Ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties ar­gued that the pro­ceed­ings were a test of the West African coun­try’s ca­pac­ity to con­duct a fair trial, while con­tribut­ing to na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

As ob­servers noted at the De­cem­ber 26 open­ing of her case — when Ms Gbagbo ap­peared in a bright yel­low dress, care­fully plaited hair and a de­fi­ant air — she is not in­clined to wilt in the face of ad­ver­sity.

Born in the pre­dom­i­nantly Chris­tian south in 1949 as one of 18 chil­dren of a po­lice­man, she stud­ied lin­guis­tics and his­tory be­fore be­com­ing a trade union ac­tivist.

Her mil­i­tancy led to a jail term in the 1970s for openly crit­i­cis­ing then Pres­i­dent Felix Houphouet-boigny — Ivory Coast’s first leader af­ter in­de­pen­dence from France in 1960 -- when he re­jected op­po­si­tion calls for multi-party elec­tions.

She and Lau­rent Gbagbo mar­ried in 1989 af­ter found­ing the op­po­si­tion so­cial­ist Ivo­rian Popular Front (FPI), and she was later elected to par­lia­ment in the world’s lead­ing co­coa pro­ducer.

Her hus­band sought to change re­la­tions with for­mer colo­nial mas­ter Paris, ar­gu­ing that pre­vi­ous regimes had been servile, and the first lady proved a fierce critic of “neo-colo­nial­ism”, once fa­mously de­scrib­ing France’s for­mer pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy — a main mover in her hus­band’s down­fall — as “the devil”.

Death squads and prayer meet­ings Sup­port­ers of Si­mone Gbagbo’s com­mit­ment to po­lit­i­cal causes hailed her as “the Hil­lary Clin­ton of the trop­ics”.

But for de­trac­tors, the “Iron Lady” be­came the “Blood Lady”, amid al­le­ga­tions by hu­man rights ac­tivists that the regime used teams of killers to deal with op­po­nents.

Those con­cerns were re­in­forced when she was im­pli­cated by a French ju­di­cial in­quiry into the sin­is­ter dis­ap­pear­ance of FrenchCana­dian jour­nal­ist Guy-an­dre Ki­ef­fer in Ivory Coast in 2004.

Ms Gbagbo fre­quently min­gled pol­i­tics with the evan­gel­i­cal faith she prac­tised af­ter “mirac­u­lously” sur­viv­ing a car crash and start­ing prayer meet­ings at the pres­i­den­tial palace.

“God is on our side, God is with us,” she told a joy­ful crowd af­ter her hus­band re­jected elec­toral de­feat. “God has al­ready given us victory.”

Fam­i­lies of vic­tims have said pre­vi­ously they can­not win even if Gbagbo is con­victed by a do­mes­tic court, while rights mon­i­tors had been keen to see how far the trial may ven­ture in tack­ling crimes against hu­man­ity on home ground. — Daily Mail

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