By Eric Beauchemin
The trial of Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of Ivory Coast, opened at the International Criminal Court on 28 January 2016. Gbagbo is accused of crimes against humanity for his role in the post-election violence in Ivory Coast 2010-2011. He is standing trial together with his former minister Charles Blé Goudé.
Since the trial is not being broadcast on Ivorian television, Justice Hub’s sister site, Ivoire Justice, is organising one of the only public screenings of the first day of the trial. A group of young bloggers was invited to attend the session.
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The trial began at 8:30 that Thursday morning, but since the video is streamed with a half hour delay, the screening was only due to start at 9 a.m. local time. With only a few minutes to go, less than a handful of bloggers have arrived. The organiser of the event, Daouda Coulibaly, is wringing his hands. He keeps on repeating “I told them to make sure they were on time. But don’t worry. They will come.” He works his cell phone non-stop. People tell Daouda they are stuck in traffic, or they call because they can’t find the venue.
Ivory Coast today is at a decisive turning point in its history. Responsibilities will be determined.
When the judges finish their preliminary statements, the prosecution begins reading out the accusations against Gbagbo and Blé Goudé. More and more bloggers keep trickling in.
[Such a long trial]
The first challenge for Gbagbo and Blé Goudé is not to die of boredom, given all the prosecution’s gibberish.
About an hour and a half into the trial, Daouda flips off the video link and gives the floor to a panelist, who explains the importance of this trial not only for Ivory Coast but for the entire continent. Some of the bloggers make it quite clear to Daouda that they are not interested in speeches. They are here to see every single second of the proceedings in Courtroom I of the ICC in The Hague.
By lunchtime, Daouda is beaming. Over 40 bloggers and members of civil society have filled in his sign-up form. “I told you they would come”, he whispers.
Ivoire Justice had only planned to show the morning session, but after the lunch break, many of the bloggers stream back into the conference room to continue following the proceedings. It’s often hard to tell whether they are actually watching because most of them are staring intently at their laptops and cell phones and furiously ticking away.
When the trial ends at 3 p.m., many of the bloggers stay on to take part in a debate. Well, a debate of a kind. The speakers often hold monologues of up to five minutes to explain their position. Some of the bloggers, for instance, explain that this is only the first trial of an Ivorian leader at the ICC. There must be a second one to try the other side, the supporters of incumbent Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, who are also accused of serious human rights violations during the post-election violence. The speakers are all passionate about their positions.
When the day comes to an end, the bloggers exit the venue, many of them with smiles on their face. Regardless of whether they are pro- or anti-Gbagbo, they are all aware that this was indeed a momentous day for their country.
Screenshot: Event in Abidjan (Eric Beauchemin/Ivoire Justice)