Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara on Saturday said he had offered a presidential pardon to longtime rival Laurent Gbagbo, as part of a reconciliation drive with his predecessors ahead of elections in 2025.
Ouattara made the announcement in a televised address on Saturday, a day before Ivory Coast’s independence celebrations. “In the interests of strengthening social cohesion, I have signed a decree granting a presidential pardon,” he said in his speech.
Gbagbo, president from 2000-2011, returned to Ivory Coast last year after being acquitted by the Hague on war crimes charges for his role in a civil war sparked by his refusal to concede defeat after the 2010 election.
Gbagbo still faced a 20-year prison sentence for breaking into a branch of the regional central bank during the country’s 2011 post-election conflict. The president said he has also asked that Gbagbo’s bank accounts be unfrozen and that his lifetime annuity be paid.
The decision follows a rare meeting in July between Ouattara, Gbagbo, and former president Henri Konan Bedie. The meeting was a reunion meeting to renew contact and exchange in truth their views,” according to a statement read by Gbagbo who served as the leaders’ spokesman at the end of the meeting.
The trio have dominated Ivory Coast's fractious political scene since the 1990s. Bedie was president from 1993 until his ouster in a 1999 coup. Gbagbo governed from 2000 until his election defeat to Ouattara in 2010.
In 2011, Gbagbo’s refusal to concede defeat to Ouattara triggered a six-month long standoff that paralyzed the economy and claimed more than 3,000 lives. He was acquitted by the International Criminal Court in 2021 of crimes against humanity.
Ouattara has presided over relative stability during his decade in power. But dozens of people were killed in clashes that broke out around the 2020 election, when he stood for a third term that Gbagbo and Bedie said was unconstitutional.
In his speech, Ouattara commended the support of all political parties, contributing to the “remarkable progress” Ivory Coast has seen in the past decade. Continued investments and reforms should allow Ivory Coast to see growth around 7% in 2022 and in the medium term, Ouattara said.
The president has not yet said whether he plans to run for a fourth term in 2025. He has said he would like to step down but also suggested he would need Gbagbo and Bedie to commit to withdrawing from politics in order to do so.