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Humiliating Gbagbo

  • 14 April 2011

It looked like an episode that was going to drag on to its bloody and tragic denouement, another African calamity for those eager voyeurs of violence. But the fall of the Ivory Coast's Laurent Koudou Gbagbo was less mighty than perplexing (mostly for him).

Pictures released to papers and television stations show the defeated leader and his wife Simone sitting on a bed at the Hotel du Golf in Abidjan, surrounded by soldiers loyal to Alassane Ouattara. To the victor go the spoils, and the spoils were on full view for local and international consumption.

Journalists taking account of the scene vary in their accounts, though there seems to be a running theme of gloating, an unhealthy note of satisfaction at power tarnished and defeated. 'His cheek swollen from the slap he received from a soldier,' writes Martin Argyles of The Guardian, 'he wears the shocked expression of a loved child who has just had his favourite toy wrenched from his grasp.'

Then, the hyperbole — the attempt to find some grand historical villain to compare: 'Mussolini and his mistress hung upside down in Milan by Italian partisans. Ceausescu and Elena, joint rulers of a cowed Romania, hastily shot by his own soldiers at the end of a kangaroo military court, she screaming "My children, my children!"'

The Ghana Business News shows a more modest creature who posted his impressions on Twitter even as the crisis was unfolding. It takes note of Gbagbo's credentials — the template for African and Asian despotism: a French education minted in part at the Sorbonne. He 'had a long, momentous, and remarkable history behind him. He is a teacher by profession, he holds a PhD in history from a French University.' Nor can we ignore his time spent at the university of hard knocks, the ever accommodating prison cell.

While at the University of Lyon in the 1960s, he earned the nickname of 'Cicero' for his love of Latin. Sessions were duly spent at the Sorbonne and then at the Paris Diderot University. In fact, this humiliated figure might well have been something greater. He may well have become 'a Colossus, a political enigma in Ivory Coast but for his intransigence and strong headedness'.

Instead, he was a traditional figure of power who spent time in the groves of academe and the dust of conflict, finding it difficult to work with opponents and seeing enemies everywhere.

His term of office was