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Gbagbo: why ICC’s impartiality is questioned

Recently I found myself sitting in an outdoor café in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, sipping South African wine and mulling over the continent’s problems.

My lunch companion was a senior official with Monusco, the UN’s peacekeeping force in the Eastern DRC, who has spent the better part of his career trying to keep the peace in Central Africa. Having fought the daily rape of women in the Kivus for years, with the knowledge the UN was largely powerless to stop it, my UN colleague was all for holding the perpetrators of human rights abuses on the continent to account for their crimes.

epa05130943 Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo waits for the start of his trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, 28 January 2016. Gbagbo is in court along with a former youth minister Charles Ble Goude on charges of involvement in violence after 2010 presidential elections that left 3,000 people dead in Ivory Coast, once a haven of stability in West Africa. EPA/PETER DEJONG / POOL. Credit: EPA

But we both knew that within days the AU Summit would rally its member states to take tangible steps to extricate themselves from the International Criminal Court (ICC). This is exactly what happened on January 30, with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is wanted by the ICC, leading the charge. While my UN colleague and I lamented the circumvention of international justice, we remain convinced the ICC has become so discredited Africans cannot possibly have faith in its ability to dispense justice impartially.

It is not just the targeting of African perpetrators, but the fact that the big powers – France in particular – have largely succeeded in manipulating the ICC to pursue its own strategic interests on the continent. The commencement of the trial of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo in the Hague last month, after five years of incarceration, has brought the manipulation by France of the ICC to the fore. My UN colleague and I discussed how France had tried every trick in the book to neutralise Gbagbo, who came to power through democratic elections in 2000, and had sought to loosen France’s control over its former colony. Gbagbo had become the greatest threat to France’s domination not only of the Ivory Coast, but of the region, as his untying of the stranglehold of French corporations over the nation’s economy could be replicated across West Africa.

France allegedly planned five coups against Gbagbo, all of which failed, and France eventually dropped heavy ordinance on his presidential residence, using French special forces to capture him and his wife and hand them over to “their man”, Alassane Ouattara, backed by rebels assembled and armed by France.

It was former French president Nicholas Sarkozy who allegedly pushed for Gbagbo to be deported from the Ivory Coast and held by the ICC in the Hague in 2011. For five years ICC prosecutors investigated claims against him. Certain evidence brought against him by the prosecution in the pre-trial hearings was proven to be fabricated, with one video of his followers allegedly carrying out massacres having actually been shot in Kenya.

My lunch companion shared with me that it is no secret that George Soros, a major funder of the ICC, is a close friend of Ouattara and that France had funded most of the ICC’s investigations of Gbagbo.

In October last year, a presidential candidate in the Central African Republic, Pascal Bida Koyagbele, told me he had met chief ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at an awards dinner in the Netherlands, where he was receiving the African Leadership Award. He asked her about Gbagbo and, according to Koyagbele, she had said: “There is nothing serious against Gbagbo, it’s political pressure coming from France and I can do nothing.” Koyagbele contends that Bensouda had lobbied France to be appointed ICC chief prosecutor.

The key to understanding France’s need to neutralise Gbagbo as a political force is that he was determined to relax France’s control over banking, insurance, transport, cocoa trading and energy policy in the Ivory Coast. In his short time in office he had invited companies from other countries to tender for government projects. Gbagbo was appalled by the gross overspending on French projects, such as the bridge France was to build in the capital Abidjan for 200 billion CFA francs, a contract he cancelled when the Chinese said they could build the bridge for 60bn CFA francs in 2002.

More importantly, up to today, France maintains its colonial pact with its former colonies whereby the French treasury controls their currencies, capital reserves, and trade and investment policies. Under the agreement between France and its former colonies on the creation of the CFA franc, the central banks of its former colonies are obliged to keep 80 percent of its foreign exchange reserves in an operations account held at the French treasury. This has made it impossible for countries to regulate their own monetary policies.

The challenge Gbagbo presented to the status quo was in fact the most serious challenge that has emerged to French domination of the region in the post-colonial period. His incarceration at the Hague was a solution of last resort, when all other means to neutralise him had failed.

Such is the agenda driving the ICC’s dispensation of justice, at least as far as Gbagbo is concerned.

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