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Has Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé’s relationship finally come to an end?

“The party will not comment.” End of the chapter. Justin Koné Katinan refuses to revisit the episode that was commented on extensively in the press and on television last June. In front of journalists, the spokesman for the Parti des Peuples Africains de Côte d’Ivoire (PPA-CI) mentioned Charles Blé Goudé’s case. The former leader of the Jeunes Patriotes had received his ordinary passport a few weeks earlier and, in The Hague where he still resides, is now waiting for the green light from the Ivorian authorities to return to Côte d’Ivoire. Standing behind his desk, Katinan does not beat about the bush. “We say it without any hatred, we are not together,” he says. “On the political terrain, we are opponents. This must be made clear to Ivorians, to our supporters.”

Goudé’s decision to transform his movement, the Congrès Panafricain pour la Justice et l’Égalité des Peuples (Cojep), into a party in 2015 and his political ambitions, which he has made no effort to hide, inevitably place him in direct opposition to the PPA-CI, says Katinan. At the end of his speech, the man who also holds the position of third vice-president of the group that Gbagbo founded a few months after his return to Abidjan said he also found a statement attributed to Goudé to be “derogatory”: “I have never been a part of the group [the Front Populaire Ivoirien, FPI, founded by Gbagbo and now led by Pascal Affi N’Guessan]. I will not be part of the sub-group [the PPA-CI].”

Gbagbo’s legacy

Although months have passed, the ‘Blé Goudé case’ continues to make waves within the PPA-CI. It has reopened the sensitive debate on Gbagbo’s political “legacy”. Even though he refuses to have his agenda dictated to him, didn’t the former president state, when his party was launched, his “intention to leave”?

Since their acquittal by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was trying them for crimes against humanity, their ties have grown weaker. According to our information, the two men have not spoken directly over the phone for at least a year. But some within the large socialist family are surprised that Katinan has decided to openly broadcast the dissension.

“There is no fundamental rupture between Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé,” said a member of the PPA-CI. “In a way, they need each other. If leaders knock on Blé, it does not mean that a meeting stated their position on the party’s behalf.” Our interviewee concedes however that there are “differences” and that some fear “Charles Blé Goudé’s return will not benefit them.” He says the discontented can be found amongst “the generation that prepares for the next presidential election, and especially the following”.

Several sources say that Gbagbo has even called to order Katinan and Damana Pickass, the PPA-CI’s secretary-general, who was number three in the powerful Fédération Estudiantine et Scolaire de Côte d’Ivoire (Fesci) when Goudé led it in the 1990s.

“An heir in too much of a hurry”

“Charles Blé Goudé is an heir in a hurry,” said one of his former colleagues. “Laurent Gbagbo must be supported in his final political struggle. We do not claim the torch like that. You have to be part of the system. We won’t force Laurent Gbagbo’s hand.”

Especially since it is unlikely at this stage that the former president will choose to pass on his political legacy to his former youth minister who, since Europe, has been playing a unifying role and trying to get rid of his sulphurous image as a “street general.”

His early departure for Ghana at the height of the early 2021 post-election crisis and the rumours of negotiations with Abidjan that followed earned him the bitter enmity of many close to Gbagbo. Goudé devotes a chapter to this in his book, De l’Enfer, Je Reviendrai, which was published in 2016. He denounces the “manipulation and denigration” of which he has been the object. He is also very close to the former first lady Simone Gbagbo, who has become the head of his own party, the Mouvement des Générations Capables (MGC), which has caused almost as much annoyance as his repeated thanks to President Alassane Ouattara after obtaining his passport.

However, he refuses to take note of this separation from the PPA-CI. “For my part, I will not get involved in this conflict, I will not be at the rendezvous of this confrontation and I will talk with them when the time comes in Côte d’Ivoire. I refuse to acknowledge their so-called divorce. I am in a rallying mode,” he said during a recent interview with us.

“It’s all a question of discussions,” replied Hubert Oulaye, the executive director of Gbagbo’s party. “If we form an alliance with the PDCI [Henri Konan Bédié’s Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire], it means that everything is possible.” The PPA-CI and the PDCI, which teamed up for the 2021 legislative elections, are currently in discussions ahead of the 2023 local elections. The Ivorian political world is divided into three blocks, where victories are always obtained two against one.

“I used to shine his shoes”

“We did a lot for Charles Blé Goudé’s return, as well as for that of Guillaume [Soro],” adds Oulaye. “A special motion was even read out at our founding congress. He has his passport, what else can we do? We don’t think we have neglected his fate, quite the contrary.”

The former president and his former youth minister’s years of joint detention in the Scheveningen penitentiary, which were punctuated by sports sessions and services exchanged (“I used to shine his shoes”, said Goudé), seem to be long gone. Just like the wish that Gbagbo expressed when the PPA-CI was launched to “unite the Ivorian left”.

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