He was once dubbed the “general of the streets” for his ability to mobilise supporters of Ivory Coast’s former president, Laurent Gbagbo, during the country’s violent political crisis.
Today, acquitted of alleged crimes against humanity committed during the battles of 2010-11, Charles Ble Goude has told AFP he wants to help bring peace to his battered nation.
Known for his fiery rhetoric, which he was accused of using to fuel pro-Gbagbo riots, the former youth leader disavowed any interest in the highest office for himself, saying he wants to be a “statesman” instead.
In February, Goude and Gbagbo were found not guilty by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on four counts of murder, rape, and other “inhumane acts.”
Prosecutors alleged the crimes were part of a wave of violence sparked when Gbagbo refused to concede an election that vote counters and observers said was won by his rival Alassane Ouattara.
Some 3 000 people died in five months of violence before Ouattara prevailed in April 2011. Gbagbo was arrested in Abidjan with the backing of French forces.
After their acquittal, the duo were freed pending a possible appeal by the prosecution, on condition that they stay in an ICC member state during this time.
Gbagbo is living in Belgium, and his former aide Goude in the Netherlands, where he spoke to AFP.
‘Duty of peace’
The former leader of the Young Patriots, a group which violently backed Gbagbo’s victory claim and clashed with Ouattara supporters, said he would not seek election in a 2020 presidential vote.
“It is a duty to bring peace to Ivory Coast, this is the campaign I want to engage in,” asserted the 47-year-old, sporting a cowboy hat.
Under his ICC release conditions, he has the right to give interviews but not to talk about his case.
He does not wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and can receive visitors at his hotel in The Hague, where he is watched by police and private guards.
He had spent five years awaiting trial in a Dutch prison, where he said he had played football with former Democratic Republic of Congo vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba, since acquitted by the ICC on war crimes.
While behind bars, Goude says he also worked on his culinary skills, and enjoyed cooking a popular Ivorian rice dish that he shared with Gbagbo.
“Prison has been a teacher to me, and I want to share this experience to say that we have to prevent conflicts. I want to play this role in my country,” said the ex-minister of sport and youth under Gbagbo’s rule.
“I want to go back to participate in peace and in the reconstruction of my country. In reconciliation.”
Goude is said to have coined the slogan: “To each his white”, calling for the murder of white foreigners, particularly French citizens during the unrest.
But he denies being “anti-French”, and claims to have been the “victim of propaganda”.
Regarding his ally, Goude said Gbagbo should return home, where his presence could “bolster social stability.”
“He is a rallying force, I think he still has a role to play in Ivory Coast.”
But Goude is pessimistic about the 2020 elections, saying the same factors that led to violence ten years earlier were still in place, citing divisions in Ouattara’s ruling coalition.
To this end, he recommended launching a national “campaign of peace”. He said he was prepared to talk to the Ouattara government: “I want to be a statesman. I am ready to talk to everyone…”
While insisting he would “not be a candidate for anything”, Goude said he was preparing a conference to transform his Cojep movement into a political party to contest future elections, though not the 2020 presidential vote.
© Agence France-Presse