The Republican Guard Commander appeared as a witness in the trial of Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé on Thursday, September 22, at the International Criminal Court (ICC). At the time of the post-election crisis, Colonel Edouard Kouaho Amichia held the position of Commander of Group No. 1 in the Republican Guard.
A prayer to help him tell “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Colonel Edouard Kouaho Amichia asked God for help before beginning his testimony this Thursday at the opening of the hearing. “United in faith, we shall bring peace,” he promised before being questioned by lawyers from the Office of the Prosecutor.
The prosecution first examined the hierarchy within the Republican Guard at the time of the post-election crisis. This unit’s main mission was to protect the president, institutions, and high authorities. The witness was the Commander of Group No. 1, which covered the area of Abidjan from the Treichville command post. He then was under the orders of Captain Dogbo Ble, the former Head of the Republican Guard.
“It dawned on me that because of my ethnicity, I was not a man to be trusted”
Colonel Kouaho Amichia talked at length about how the lines of the chain of command had shifted during the crisis. One particular incident was a turning point. Mid-December 2010, the Commander learned that the training of recruits was about to begin, led by his adjutant, Captain Blé Kouaci. The witness said he was “surprised” because he had not been informed of this decision. The training of these recruits, young men from the Kru ethnic group, in the words of the Commander, had been “negotiated with the police chief to strengthen the staff.”
Only later did Colonel Kouaho Amichia get any explanations about his sidelining during a visit by General Dogbo Blé and his chief of staff, Commander Yakba Kipré at the Treichville camp. “Yakba Kipré told me Kouaci was asked not inform you of this training because we do not trust you,” the witness said.
“I realized that it was most likely I would never be associated with decision-making, and I was proved right by what happened next,” Kouaho Amichia explained. “My hierarchy never told me what was wrong with me….It dawned upon me that because of my ethnicity, I was not a man to be trusted,” the witness said, noting that the ethnicity of his wife, a Dioula, could also “explain this exclusion.”
According to the Colonel, it was Captain Blé Kouaci who directly received orders from that time on and conducted operations alongside Chief Warrant Officer Mathias Kokobo Gokou. The two men were conducting field missions to fight the rebels, leaving the camp with tanks and coming back, without reporting to the Camp Commander.
Among the men who took part in these missions, there were members of the Republican Guard but not only them. Colonel Kouaho Amichia told of how a hundred men had arrived at the camp without him being informed. Men aged between 25 and 35, in civilian clothes and armed with machine guns. “They obeyed Kokobo and Blé Kouaci” said the Commander. “Judging by their accent and what they said in English, I told myself that they could be auxiliaries from Liberia,” he added.
Tensions within the Republican Guard
The witness explained that he never challenged his eviction from the chain of command because of the “atmosphere” that prevailed at the time. “Men looked daggers at each other and it seemed there were two camps,” he said, adding that all the ethnic Dioula elements had left the scene “because their lives were threatened.”
“I understood that one had to be careful…I feared for my life,” the Commander said. As to why he remained there: “I could not abandon my men, it would have been kind of cowardly,” he justified.
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.