In the past week, two African heads of State have granted amnesties to their opponents.
In Côte d’Ivoire, the decision was announced on August 6 by President Alassane Ouattara during a speech to mark the 58th independence anniversary of this former French colony.
Among the 800 people granted amnesty is former First Lady Simone Gbagbo, whose husband Laurent is currently on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands. Simone Gbagbo was jailed after the bloody post-election crisis that left some 3,000 people dead in 2010-2011 and the military defeat of her side by the current president. She was sentenced in 2015 to 20 years in prison for “endangering State security”. Two days after the amnesty was announced, she left prison all smiles, although visibly marked by the years of detention. This reputedly devout evangelical Christian was greeted at her home in a wealthy part of Abidjan by a crowd of joyous supporters.
Ouattara’s move was hailed by a broad spectrum of the political class as a gesture for reconciliation, but victims of the 2010-2011 crisis see it as endorsing impunity. Simone Gbagbo is nevertheless still under an ICC arrest warrant, which the Ivorian government refuses to implement.
Amnesty too in South Sudan, which has for five years been plunged into a civil war triggered by political and ethnic rivalry between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar. In a decree dated August 8, Salva Kiir granted amnesty to his main rival and other rebels, a decision that comes less than a week after the signature in Sudan of a power-sharing accord between the government and the rebels. This agreement should notably allow Riek Machar to return to the post of vice-president. The war in South Sudan broke out at the end of 2013, when Salva Kiir accused Riek Machar of fomenting a coup d’état. The conflict has already left tens of thousands of people dead and millions displaced.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country that has never since its independence from Belgium in 1960 had a peaceful handover of power, 23 candidates have filed their candidacies to succeed President Joseph Kabila. They include Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, chosen on August 8 as the candidate of the presidential majority. Kabila has thus designated his “heir” after being long suspected nationally and internationally of wanting to run for a third term in violation of the constitution. Among the main opponents of the presidential camp is former vice-president and ex-warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was acquitted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on June 8. Bemba is still awaiting the ICC’s verdict in a related case.
The Central African Republic is another African country in search of peace, justice and reconciliation. In connection with this, French jurist and former diplomat Didier Niewiadowski analysed for JusticeInfo the possible implications of Russian soldiers’ and Russian companies’ presence in this country as well as the military mission of the European Union and the United Nations force. “Whilst the official Russian line is that they want to re-establish the authority of the State and strengthen the capacities of FACA (Central African armed forces), on the ground the employees of private Russian companies often make deals with the rebel leaders,” says this former diplomat to Bangui (2008-2012). “Russia’s eruption onto the Central African scene complicates the task of the African Union and the UN and hampers coordination of the different efforts, notably within the G5 (UN, African Union, European Union, United States, France),” he adds.