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Updated Feb 12, 2020

Tensions have been running high in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire as supporters and officials of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) anticipate the eventual return of former party head Laurent Gbagbo ahead of the presidential elections, set to take place in October this year. Gbagbo was acquitted in January 2019 by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity committed between 2010 and 2011 during the post-electoral crisis, during which more than 3,000 Ivorians died. Since his acquittal, Gbagbo has remained in exile in Brussels, Belgium, as he awaits an eventual appeal of the ICC’s decision.

The Rally of the Republicans, the ruling party in Côte d’Ivoire, has warned against letting Gbagbo return for fear of his presence destabilizing the country. Gbagbo has not ruled out making another run for the presidency should he return, which incumbent president Alassane Ouattara has said would compel him to run for a third term, a scenario that could replicate the heightened frustrations that gave way to the post-election violence seen a decade ago.

Gbagbo’s supporters, on the other hand, have been seeing a rejuvenation since 2016. FPI voters have boycotted every election since 2010, making it difficult to discern a hard number of actual supporters, although the FPI national bureau states that there are three million members among the country’s total population of twenty-six million people. In streets and small concourses of Abidjan and other cities, public gatherings–or parlements as the locals call them–of FPI supporters reminiscent of the ancient Greek agoras continue to draw crowds that have been growing in size.

Though Gbagbo has not once returned to Côte d’Ivoire in eight years, his support has hardly waned. Kouadio N’da, the president of the Youpougon-Gesco parlement in Abidjan, told Le Monde that whereas before many Gbagbo supporters hid their political leanings due to the negative attitude toward him and his cabinet in the aftermath of the civil war, more and more are now displaying their support openly. Whether he is allowed to return or not, Gbagbo’s presence still weighs heavily in Côte d’Ivoire, and it remains to be seen what the impact of this will be on the elections.

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