Gbagbo “is Not a Criminal,”Says Sam-the-African Before ICC Judges

The third day of testimony from Sam-the-African was marked by a speech tinged with emotion in which the witness advocated reconciliation and dialogue, reaffirmed his attachment to Laurent Gbagbo, and noted his appreciation to some of the people in the Ouattara government.

It was after a question posed by Eric MacDonald, the lead prosecutor, who asked late in the day why Sam-the-African had seen Laurent Gbagbo twice during the crisis, that the witness started a very personal speech.

“You’ll excuse me, Mr. Prosecutor, he began, but President Gbagbo is like a father to me…And do you really need a purpose to go to your father?” He continue, “This gentleman has always been good to me…I will just give a small example…My mother was ill…I was traveling with the President…There were his advisor and his ministers…my brother phoned with the news that my mother was having a heart attack, a cardiac arrest. ”

With his frail voice, Sam-the-African continued: The president felt that I was not feeling good…He asked me why, I explained and he stood up.” Facing the judges, Sam-the-African also rose. In tears, he narrated: “He ordered a doctor to call my brother so that my mother could be taken care of…It was this man who took care of her!” He then pointed to the accused Gbagbo and assured that he will always stand by this man because his mother asked him to never let him down. According to him, “he is not a criminal.” The witness stated: “It is true there have been deaths, but it was not planned.”

“President Alassane did not plan it”

He continued his presentation and also defended [current Côte d’Ivoire president] Alassane Ouattara, “In the west…there were 1,000 dead, but President Alassane did not plan that. It all happened in a mess.” However, according to Sam-the-African, maybe President Gbagbo did not take “a decision at the right time” while ”we all saw the danger ahead…Even Blé [Charles Blé Goudé] in the end…maybe he [Gbagbo] did not make the right decision, but he knows that himself.”

The witness ended his speech by calling for a debate focused “on the real problem in this crisis,” pointing to Nicolas Sarkozy’s France and the role of the international community. He also thanked those who had captured Gbagbo because “they could kill him” but “they did not, they protected him.” He concluded with a pious hope for reconciliation, supported by thanks, including to the President of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) and to the Interior Minister of Côte d’Ivoire: “Today, security is getting back to normal…the only thing left is reconciliation…If we don’t have reconciliation before Alassane goes, what will happen again in Côte d’Ivoire?”

ADO’s supporters? Beaten up, killed, or driven away

The rest of the hearing was quieter. Although lively discussion on procedure took place, the hearing was not as emotionally charged as Sam-the-African’s concluding speech.

The answers given by the witness covered several items listed on the document containing the charges and were the subject of considerable criticism and discussion when they were raised by the prosecution on the first days of the trial.

For example, regarding the grigris [talisman or lucky charms], Sam-the-African said indeed that “fetishes were associated with rebels” and that in Abidjan “if you were seen [wearing a grigri] they would hit you, they would burn you.” He stated that was the reason why many northern people “were leaving, catching buses to leave the town.” He said he himself had to intervene once, for two hours, with pro-Gbagbo youths to let threatened people from the north get out of Abidjan.

One can understand that the position of Sam-the-African, who was a leader of the Patriotic Galaxy but also a Northern man, gave him both the desire to protect northerners perceived as pro-Ouattara and the ability to do so through the authority he held with the patriots. “They burned people,” he explaind before adding, “but it was not planned.” He also adds that among the people mentioned there were “many citizens of our sister countries…almost all from ECOWAS.” In summary, he said that Ouattara’s supporters were either beaten up or killed or driven away.

It was necessary to prevent the march on the RTI

Regarding the day of the December 16, 2010 march, the witness repeated that “it was necessary to prevent the march on the RTI” and that there were roadblocks around the Golf Hotel (he made a sketch with the roadblocks). MacDonald then asked if “the FRCI [Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire] were blocked” in the Golf Hotel because of these roadblocks and the witness replied that indeed “they could not get out.”

Concerning the Patriotic Galaxy, the witness said that bonuses were paid to many leaders of the movement, and this was done directly in the Presidential Palace. But he said, for example, for Blé Goudé to receive a bonus was something “normal” because the meetings had to be prepared.

We also learned that in the opinion of the witness, roadblocks and murders did not need to be ordered “we were at a stage where there was no need to put out slogans.”


Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé are charged with four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and other inhumane acts, or – in the alternative – attempted murder and persecution. The accused allegedly committed these crimes during post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire between December 16, 2010 and April 12, 2011.

This summary comes from Ivoire Justice , a project of Radio Netherlands Worldwide(RNW), which offers monitoring and commentary on the ICC’s proceedings arising from the post-election violence that occurred in Cote d’Ivoire in 2010-2011. It has been translated into English for use on International Justice Monitor.