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Former President Laurent Gbagbo (pictured here left with his defence team in ICC Courtroom on 19 July 2017) has since been acquitted by the ICC but is awaiting a possible appeal in Belgium to be able to return to Côte d'Ivoire/Photo: ©ICC-CPI

African Court orders Côte d’Ivoire to allow Gbagbo contest presidential election

The African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Court) ruled on Friday to reject the exclusion of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo from the country’s upcoming presidential elections of 31 October — ordering the Ivorian state to “take all necessary measures to immediately remove all obstacles” hindering his participation in the race.

The Ivorian Constitutional Council found the absence of Gbagbo’s signature on the candidacy form – filed by supporters on his behalf given his current exile in Belgium, inadmissible.

The African Court, which also ordered the Ivorian state to “suspend the mention of the criminal conviction or the criminal record” of Gbagbo, had already passed a similar ruling — condemning the Ivorian state for preventing the participation of another opponent of President Alassane Ouattara (78), former rebel leader and former Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, whose candidacy had also been rejected by the Constitutional Council ostensibly because he had been convicted by a court.

Acquitted at a court of first instance of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, Gbagbo, 75, is awaiting a possible appeal in Belgium to be able to return to Côte d’Ivoire — whose authorities refuse, according to his lawyers, to issue him a passport.

Côte d’Ivoire announced that it was withdrawing from the African Court, based in Arusha, Tanzania, in April 2020, after the tribunal ordered the government to suspend an arrest warrant for Guillaume Soro. This means that it does not recognise the verdict of the court.

Côte d’Ivoire will go to the polls on 31 October and Ouattara, running on the platform of the ruling Houphouetist Rally for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), is seeking a third term against the displeasure of many Ivorians who say the amendment of the constitution last year was in bad faith.

Ouattara, 78, announced in early August that he would contest the 31 October presidential election – a move that came after his anointed successor Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly died of a heart attack.

They have been street protests against Ouattara’s candidacy leading to several deaths.

Ouattara’s main opponent in the polls is Henri Konan Bedie, an 86-year-old former president who is running on the platform of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI).

Gbagbo’s party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), has yet to name a candidate. Gbagbo was cleared of crimes against humanity this year by the International Criminal Court, although prosecutors are appealing the ruling.

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The election is taking place in a country still scarred by a low-level civil war that erupted in 2011 when former President Gbagbo refused to cede power to Ouattara after losing elections.

The ensuing unrest claimed some 3,000 lives and split the country along north-south lines.

Other presidents in Africa have also tampered with their countries’ constitutions to extend their stay in power in recent decades. The list includes Togo (2002), Gabon (2003), and most recently Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had already removed the two-term limit from the country’s constitution in 2005. Although Uganda’s parliament reinstated presidential term limits in 2017 but Museveni, who has been in power for 34 years, can still run again.

Analysts say these frequent changes of constitution does not help to entrench democratic rule as it encourages incumbents to seek to stay in office perpetually thereby truncating peaceful transition of power.

Adira Kallo

About the African Court

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Court) was established through a Protocol adopted in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on 9 June 1998 and which entered into force on 25 January 2004. Its decisions are final and binding on state parties to the Protocol. The Court’s jurisdiction applies only to states that have ratified the Court’s Protocol.

Altogether, 30 states have ratified the protocol so far: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Lesotho, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Mauritania, Mauritius, Nigeria, Niger, Rwanda, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, South Africa, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, and Uganda.

Côte d’Ivoire withdrew from the court in April 2020 after the tribunal ordered the government to suspend an arrest warrant for Guillaume Soro.

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