The former right-hand man to the ex-president was a key figure in post-electoral violence that swept the country in 2010-11.
Charles Ble Goude, a key figure in post-electoral violence that swept Ivory Coast 11 years ago, returned to the country on Saturday for the first time in more than eight years, AFP news agency reported.
A former right-hand man to ex-president Laurent Gbagbo was acquitted of crimes against humanity charges along with his erstwhile boss by the International Criminal Court (ICC) last year.
Ble Goude’s return is the latest in a number of high-profile political figures who had fallen out with the current administration since the conflict. In August, President Alassane Ouattara who won the 2010 election that Gbagbo refused to concede, pardoned the latter. The ex-president -returned to Ivory Coast last June – as part of a reconciliation drive ahead of elections due in 2025.
In July, the president also held a rare meeting with Gbagbo and Henri Konan Bedie, another political rival who was president from 1993 until his removal in a 1999 coup.
Gbagbo, 77, a fiery left-wing orator from a humble background who portrayed himself as a champion of the poor, was Ivory Coast’s president for 10 turbulent years.
In October 2010 he lost the election to Ouattara but refused to accept the result. Their showdown split the country along north-south lines, triggering violence in 2011 that killed an estimated 3,000 people.
At the time, Ble Goude was head of a pro-Gbagbo nationalist group called the Young Patriots – his nickname was “the General of the Streets” for his ability to raise and rouse angry crowds.
Some in Ivory Coast feared that his arrival could lead to a return to confrontation in a country still nursing the wounds of the 2010-11 conflict.
But Boga Sako, who heads his welcoming committee, told a news conference on Thursday that Ble Goude “wishes to make a sober return”.
In a statement to AFP on Thursday, Ble Goude said he was “very happy” to be returning to his home country, but also appealed for “discipline and a spirit of reunion”.
Ble Goude was issued a passport in May. On Saturday, wearing a suit and tie, the 50-year-old landed at the airport in the capital Abidjan after flying in on a commercial flight from neighbouring Ghana, according to an AFP reporter on the scene.
Around a dozen people including Simone Gbagbo – wife of the ex-president – had gathered to welcome him.
Security was tight around the airport, and a few hours before his arrival, police shooed away most journalists, and a planned press statement was cancelled, AFP said.
After Gbagbo was detained, Ble Goude fled to Ghana, where he was arrested in 2013 and transferred to The Hague. He and his former boss were placed on trial in 2016 for crimes against humanity. They were acquitted in 2019, a ruling that was upheld definitively in March last year.
Gbagbo still has a groundswell of support in Ivory Coast.
He donned the role of elder statesman to help “reconciliation” in a country shaken by deadly violence that erupted when Ouattara in October 2020 mounted a bid for a third term in office – a move that critics said breached the constitution.