Why does James Inhofe still support Gbagbo?

Why does James Inhofe still support Gbagbo?

Even after his arrest and forced removal from power, former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo still has one strong ally in Washington, Senator James M. Inhofe (R-OK).

Inhofe, who has been calling for the State Department to investigate what he asserts was massive fraud in the election that eventually brought Alassane Ouattara to power, took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to decry the treatment of Gbagbo and his wife, Simone. He called on the Obama administration to reverse its support for Ouattara and he showed several gruesome photos of the violence in the commercial capital of Abidjan as evidence that U.N. and French troops fighting on Ouattara’s side were "killing untold hundreds or thousands of people."

"These forces have caused countless deaths in the densely populated city of Abidjan, a city of 4 million people. I hope every President of sub-Sahara Africa is watching right now. What happened there could happen to any country in sub-Sahara Africa," Inhofe said on the floor.

Inhofe’s role as the defender of Gbagbo and several other African regimes has been a long time in the making. He has known Laurent for over 10 years, he told The Cable, and he has known Simone for over 15 years, dating back to when she was a parliamentarian, before she married the future president.

"Through my years of knowing him, I know him to be a good person who’s been abused and has withstood all kinds of attacks in the past," Inhofe told The Cable in a Tuesday interview.

But Gbagbo is only one of many African leaders that Inhofe has spent over a decade building relationships with. Since 1998, he’s traveled to Africa almost two dozen times, almost always as part of an official U.S. delegation funded with taxpayer money.

"I know a lot of the presidents in Africa, I’m kind of the official Senate point man for Africa," Inhofe said. Inhofe has come under criticism for occasionally admitting that his trips to Africa sometimes mix official business with missionary work on behalf of his evangelical Christian faith. "I have had a mission there for many years. It is more of a Jesus thing, but I have spent a lot of time in Africa," he said at a congressional hearing in 2005. Gbagbo and his wife are both evangelical Christians. Ouattara is Muslim.

Inhofe also has longstanding ties to Douglas Coe, the founder and leader of the "Fellowship Foundation," sometimes also known as the "Fellowship" or the "Family." That group, which hosts the annual national prayer breakfast in Washington and has 33 members of Congress as members, is known for cultivating personal relationships between its members and influential world leaders who share its spiritual compass. Coe sponsored Infofe’s first trip to Africa in 1998.

Inhofe said that the Fellowship has been demonized by Coe’s enemies.

"When you start using the words ‘The Fellowship’ or ‘The Family,’ that’s used by a bunch of people who hate one person who’s probably the most moral person I’ve ever met in my life, and I find that very offensive," he said, referring to Coe.

But Inhofe admitted that Coe and the Fellowship Foundation have been instrumental in his ability to make connections with leaders in Africa. He said he doesn’t see any conflict between his role as senior senator on official business and his efforts to forge spiritual bonds with world leaders.

"I’ve gotten to know a lot of the African presidents that way, but the same thing is true all over the world," he said. "I pray with them, I do this wherever I go."