By Brian Obara Nearly eight years after violence rocked Cote d’Ivoire’s 2010 election, many young people in the country feel that Laurent Gbagbo and Simone Gbagbo have paid the debt for their part in it, but should not rejoin politics just yet. The former first lady was released from prison this month as part of a presidential amnesty amid expectations that her husband, former President Laurent Gbagbo, could soon also be a free man if judges at the International Criminal Court decide to end his crimes against humanity case. The Gbagbos’ decade-long rule of Cote d’Ivoire ended in ignominy in 2011 when they were captured by forces loyal to President Alassane Ouattara, bringing an end to a four-month conflict triggered by Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to cede power. The former president has been at the ICC’s detention centre for the past seven years as his trial at The Hague court dragged on. Simone Gbagbo was spared a similar fate by the Ouattara’s refusal to surrender her to the ICC though she was subsequently convicted of “endangering state security” in a domestic trial. The Ivorian leader in 2016 said that the country would “no longer send” any of its citizens to The Hague because the country has a “functioning justice system.” President Ouattara has been under intense pressure to foster national reconciliation. Simone Gbagbo was among 800 people granted amnesty in early August. The list of those pardoned also includes several close allies of the Gbagbos, among them the former defence minister Lida Kouassi, who was serving a 15-year sentence for conspiracy, and the former construction minister Assoa Adou, who had been sentenced to serve four years in prison . The timing of the amnesty, announced on the eve of the West African country’s independence day, couldn’t have worked out better for Simone Gbagbo. Ivory Coast’s Supreme Court in late July overturned an acquittal decision handed down for charges of crimes against humanity related to the post election violence in 2010. Either by chance or design, President Ouattara has spared Simone Gbagbo the prospect of another taxing criminal trial in which her part in the violence that claimed 3000 lives would have been re-litigated . News of the pardons was fortuitous for another reason. It came barely a week after lawyers representing Laurent Gbagbo at the ICC submitted a request for his immediate acquittal and release. “The elements presented by the prosecutor are insufficient to prove the charges against Laurent Gbagbo beyond a reasonable doubt,” wrote the defence lawyers in their filing. The stars are aligned Gbagbo couldn’t, seemingly, have chosen a better time to make a bid for freedom. After the acquittal of Congolese warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba following an appeal decision quashing his conviction at the ICC, the stars couldn’t be more aligned in Gbagbo’s favour. His wife’s release suggests the omens are present, and given that the dissident wing of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) , the party the Gbagbos founded in the 1980s, recently chose Laurent Gbagbo as its leader , it definitely looks like there is still a sizeable group of people pining for his release. The Gbagbos shouldn’t be pegging their hopes on a triumphant return to politics, though. Young Ivoirians polled through social media expressed a varying intensity of feeling, but were in agreement that they wouldn’t want to see the Gbagbo name on a ballot: “If Laurent Gbagbo was released, he would be welcomed as a hero. But it would be difficult for him to rise on the political scene because the country will soon experience changes in the generations of leaders,” said Yaya Dembele. “It would be stupid to believe that Laurent Gbagbo can still be President,” he added. The sentiment that Ivorian politics had moved past the influence of the Gbagbos was repeated again and again. Jean Gnonson said that although nothing prevents Gbabgo from “doing politics”, he and his wife should know that “nothing” would come from their return to public life. Réné Ndzié meanwhile said that Gbagbo should not “consider taking power” and should instead “put himself at the service of the reconciliation of his political party, the FPI.” Joined at the hip Looking at the feedback from young Ivoirians, it was hard to escape the sense that they consider Laurent Gbagbo’s acquittal to be a fait accompli. It is easy to see why they think Simone Gbagbo’s pardon makes her husband’s acquittal a virtual certainty. The Gbagbos have always been joined at the hip, metaphorically speaking. They formed a political party together. They braved the ravages of political opposition together. Ultimately, when FPI swept into power after the elections in 2000, Simone Gbagbo made no secret of the fact that it was a co-presidency: “All the ministers respect me, and they often consider me above them. I’ve got what it takes to be a minister,” she told the French weekly news magazine L’Express in 2001. The charging of husband and wife has few parallels in history. The Gbagbos have the dubious honour of being the first couple ever to face charges of crimes against humanity before the ICC. Laurent Gbagbo is accused of having individual criminal responsibility for four counts of crimes against humanity related the post-election violence in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, jointly with members of his inner circle and through members of the pro-Gbagbo forces . The charges against Simone Gbagbo are no less severe. She is wanted at the ICC on a warrant of arrest as an indirect co-perpetrator for four counts of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the context of post-electoral violence in the Côte d’Ivoire between 16 December 2010 and 12 April 2011 . Many of young Ivorians like Ndzié mentioned the “wish for reconciliation” that is now being championed by Ouattara. In that spirit they believe that the ICC should let the Ggabos be: “The ICC cannot be above the laws of a country. An amnesty has been [given] by the head of state, so all is okay,” argued Aka Papouya. Expecting Ouattara’s intentions for national reconciliation to have any effect in The Hague would be taxing his powers. The ICC has said “no dice” to any suggestion that it will withdraw the warrant for Simone Gbagbo’s arrest based on the pardon she has received back home: “Any amnesty granted has no impact on the workings of the ICC,” read a statement from the Court. The ICC says the case against Simone Gbagbo will remain in the Pre-Trial stage until she is transferred to The Hague. Some Ivoirians, like Réné Ndzié, however concede that President Ouattara can only do so much: “The release of Simone Gbagbo does not affect the situation of Laurent Gbagbo, her husband. President Alassane Ouattara is unable to impose his will on the ICC,” said Réné Ndzié. However, until Gbagbo is released, Ivorians only have their eye on one Gbagbo. Many hope that the stint in prison has changed Simone Gbagbo, who previously had a reputation for being a practitioner of dark political arts . As Sarah Ouattara (no relation) put it, “I hope that this woman will remain as wise as she was in prison, because she really brings back bad memories for me.”But a charm offensive on her fellow Ivorians will have to wait. According to her lawyer Rodrigue Dadje, Simone Gbagbo wants to first convince the ICC that the charges against her should be dropped. “In September, Simone Gbagbo’s defence team will begin a procedure at the ICC to annul the charges against her,” Dadje told AFP . Will realpolitik win the day at the ICC? The Gbagbos hope so.