Scores of Ghanaians and other African nationals have demanded the immediate release of former Ivorian President, Laurent Gbagbo, from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
The call was made at the official launch of the ‘Free Gbagbo Campaign’ at the Teachers Hall in Accra.
President Gbagbo was arrested at the Presidential Palace in La Cote D’Ivoire by French Special Forces, following the second round of voting in the disputed Ivorian General Elections of November 2010 in which he was declared winner by the Constitutional Court.
The Constitutional Court’s declaration was in accordance with Article 94 of the Ivorian Constitution, which both determines disputes in and proclaims the results of Presidential elections.
Since his arrest and subsequent extradition to the ICC on November 30, 2011, protests have taken place across the world, including France, in fierce opposition to the attempt to impose an illegitimate government on the people of La Cote D’Ivoire.
The Editor of the Insight, Mr Kwesi Pratt Jnr, at the launch said he considered the continuing incarceration of President Gbagbo a part of the coercion of progressive African leaders whose governments sought to take their countries out of the grip of imperialism.
According to him “President Laurent Gbagbo is before the ICC because he saw through the machinations of the imperialists and worked to ensure that the situation in which the foreign reserves of Francophone Africa was kept in the central bank of France is brought to an end.”
Mr Pratt condemned the attempt by, what he described as, “foreign forces and their local collaborators,” who sought to introduce conflict between Ghana and La Cote D’Ivoire over the ownership of oil resources in the waters of the two countries.
He urged West African leaders to come together and float one common company owned by all the governments and the people of West Africa to exploit oil and other resources of the region for the benefit of all.
According to Mr Pratt, President Gbagbo is being held at the ICC in spite of the fact that the prosecution has failed to provide sufficient evidence to warrant his trial.
“The ICC must be a very strange court, because my little knowledge of the judiciary and judicial processes is that when the prosecution fails to prove its case, the accused person is acquitted and discharged, but that is not the case at the ICC,” he maintained.
“The court itself sat and came to the conclusion that the evidence of the prosecution was not enough to sustain the charge against Laurent Gbagbo.”
Mr Pratt, therefore, explained that, “at that moment the court should have freed Laurent Gbagbo, but rather, the court said the prosecution should go and look for better evidence.”
According to Mr Pratt, in spite of the absence of “proper evidence” President Gbagbo will be kept in detention at the ICC until the prosecution is able to find or manufacture some evidence, but called for mass action to campaign and expose the injustice and the corruption of the ICC as an organ of the West, fashioned to stifle the advancement of the African people.
Paa Kwesi Adu, President of the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) contested the charges against Laurent Gbagbo when he said: “President Laurent Gbagbo is not a criminal. He is a true son of Africa who seeks the interest of the suffering people of his country and on this continent (Africa) and we demand his immediate release from the International Criminal Court (ICC).”
According to the President of NUGS, Laurent Gbagbo as a teacher of history and as a leader of the union of teachers, “taught Africa how to struggle and free its resources from the hands of the neo-colonialist and imperialist forces.”
He noted that Laurent Gbagbo is in detention at the ICC, because the very forces that imposed slavery and pillaged the resources of Africa were still at work.
“We are left in no doubt that the assassination of Patrice Lumumba of The Congo, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea Bissau, Captain Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso and several others, including the coup that toppled the regime of Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah in 1966 was a clear attempt to curtail the forward march of a united Africa, where every African will live a dignified life and contribute towards the achievement of a new society based on the principles of social justice and equality for all” he emphasised.
The former Deputy Registrar of the Ghana School of Law and the chairperson at the function, Mr John Yaw Opoku, considered it “disgraceful that the residence of the head of state in La Cote D’ Ivoire is a property of France, for which rent was paid.”
He added, “I feels proud that President Gbagbo took adequate measures to fight for the independence of La Cote D’Ivoire and establish control over Ivory Coast.”
According to Mr Opoku, it must be a blot on the conscience of every African that “…our oil and minerals and every other resources, are not exploited for our benefit and what is sad is that we have our own Africans who help to take them away for nothing and this is why, for me, Gbagbo is my hero, because he sought to bring an end to this massive rape of his country.”
Justin Katinan Kone, a former minister in the Gbagbo regime said President Laurent Gbagbo undertook a vast programme of electrification and safe water supply to rural communities, instituted a comprehensive health insurance for all people living in the country and extended scholarships for the poorest students at the university.
Mr Kone revealed that in January 2001, about four months after Gbagbo took office, militias allied to Allassane Quattara and protected by Blaise Campoare, attempted a coup against the newly elected President, but failed.
On September 19th, 2002, while on an official visit to Italy, another coup was planned against him, but that also failed. Even so, 300 people, mostly civilians, lost their lives in resistance to the coup. Among the dead, was the Minister of the Interior and many other officers.
According to Mr Kone, it was President Gbagbo, who in his quest to save La Cote D’ Ivoire from civilian war, initiated peace talks under the supervision of ECOWAS, adding that as soon as all the parties were about to agree to a common position, the French government manipulated the peace talks, stopped it and summoned another conference in Paris, where it invited all the parties except President Laurent Gbagbo.
The outcome of that conference was that, President Gbagbo was asked to replace the Prime Minister with another person who was close to the rebellion, with a further demand being that the President appoint another member of the rebellion as Minister of Interior and Defense. Unfortunately, that arrangement proposed by France was viciously opposed by the civilian population.