When a Prosecution Witness Appears to Defend the Accused

Sam-the-African was the fifth witness in the Gbagbo / Blé Goudé trial. A staunch supporter and advocate of former President Laurent Gbagbo, he was called to testify as a prosecution witness. Here is a summary of his first day of testimony at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In The Hague, after a three-week break, the trial of Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé resumed. Outside, it was snowing. At first, this snow was the subject of conversations by many Gbagbo supporters who came to the ICC for this trial, but the subject quickly turned to the witness who was about to appear. His name? Sam Jichi Mohammed, better known as Sam-the-African.

He was among those whose names had been leaked during the episode of the accidental uncovering of witnesses. However, before the witness appeared in the courtroom, Judge Cuno Tarfusser addressed Gbagbo’s defense team’s challenge regarding the prohibition of the use of the title “President” in the courtroom.

The presiding judge considered that the defense’s request to appeal was unfounded because his oral decision was simply a “direction…given only to make us focus on the facts.” He also thought that one of the defense’s arguments, accusing the chamber of being biased was simply unacceptable; consequently, he no longer in future wanted to hear such words, whose only effect was to “undermine the legitimacy of the trial in the public eye.”

Sam, the lover of Africans

After the witness took his place, he stated his identity and explained briefly that he is from the North, a Muslim, and the leader and founder of a political party close to Gbagbo called NACIP (New Alliance of Côte d’Ivoire for the Country). Sam-the-African, whose nickname was given to him at the age of 14, said he loves Africa, Africans, and is here to tell the truth.

The lead prosecutor, Eric Macdonald, first asked the witness what motivated him to come and testify in court. The politician, of Lebanese origin, then told how the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) came to him in October 2011 and detailed his vision of peace in Côte d’Ivoire. “They [the OTP investigators] thought I was a co-author in the crisis,” he said. He added that today he had come just because “it was the Ivoirians who maybe were the victims of our naivety or our way of doing politics…Africans are too much victims of barbarism…the African people are peaceful and gentle…but unfortunately this is politics…really this has to stop one day.”

He also discussed his motivation to create a political movement that originated in the 2002 attempted coup and the beginning of the war – a division that, according to him, had “no sense” and was orchestrated by France. His intention was then to unite the Ivorians.

Attachment to Laurent Gbagbo

The questioning then turned to the role of the witness’s political party before the crisis. Sam-the-African said that before the campaign, his movement was part of the patriotic galaxy and, in view of the 2010 election, the NACIP had joined Laurent Gbagbo’s presidential majority.

He detailed his vision of the rebellion, referred to people who had taken up arms,” “divided the country,” and took part in “teacher hunting parties” in northern Côte d’Ivoire.

The businessman then explained that he was opposed to the peace agreement leading to the arrival of rebels in the government, including Guillaume Soro as Prime Minister. However, he thought, with his comrades, that Laurent Gbagbo was doing it in the interest of Côte d’Ivoire. He appealed to those who later would be out to get him,” the witness said.

In the public gallery, the Gbagbo supporters rejoiced and clapped hands. They were reprimanded by security.

Sam-the-African emphasized his attachment to the former president whom he regards as a father. “I supported President Gbagbo with all my strength,” he says when asked about the 2010 campaign.

A hostile witness?

MacDonald then turned to the slogans used during the 2010 campaign. The debate focused on “we win or we win” and “there’s nothing on the other side; it’s child play.” According to the witness, these were not violent slogans but simply “campaign words” just “to have a bit of fun.” This started a discussion because MacDonald wanted to hear the witness say something he had probably said before. The lead prosecutor was thinking of declaring the witness hostile (i.e. recalcitrant to giving proper answers to questions), at least for that part of the testimony. Judge Tarfusser was annoyed and wanted to move on. The slogans would return to the table another day.

MacDonald then presented lists with names of people, political parties, and associations that supported Laurent Gbagbo in the presidential election. On this list is a well known name: Charles Blé Goudé. The prosecutor asked: “Before the elections, what was Mr. Blé Goudé’s title?”

The witness replied, “He was the Chairman of COJEP [Pan African Congress of Young Patriots] and leader of the Patriotic Galaxy.”

A somewhat embarrassed witness

However, when asked about the Group of Patriots for Peace (GPP), Sam-the-African had some difficulty answering. He does not hesitate to describe the GPP, led by Zéguen Toure as a “defense group,” but he gave no clear answers about the methods used by this group to defend themselves. He simply said that they “defended their motherland in their own way.”

The businessman then explained his embarrassment: We hear nothing about how the others came to attack…this makes me very uncomfortable.” When finally pressed to answer by Judge Tarfusser, he said, “We were under attack by armed men, and they [the members of GPP] were defending the nation with weapons too.”

Sam-the-African then answered questions on agoras and parliaments, these meetings that were held to defend the homeland, not by arms but by word of mouth, through “explaining to the people.”  His last sentence of the day was on the role of one of the accused when MacDonald asked him how the meetings at Place de la Republique, at the Sorbonne in Plateau, or again Place CP1 in Yopougon were organized: “President Blé Goudé would issue a call, name the place, and the people would mobilize.”

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.