Protests and violence in Ivory Coast have remained at a fever pitch for months, since President Laurent Gbagbo lost a presidential runoff Nov. 28 to challenger Alassane Ouattara. But Gbagbo still refuses to step down from office.
From the Washington Post: “In Ivory Coast, a nation of 22 million that was once the most prosperous in West Africa, Laurent Gbagbo has for four months violently contested his loss of a presidential election, at the expense of at least 400 lives and as many as 1 million refugees.”
Gbagbo may be ousted soon, though. Ouattara and his supporters have overrun almost 80 percent of Ivory Coast, according to the Associated Press. And the regular army has put up “almost no resistance” during a four-day offensive this week, launched by supporters of the man who won the election
U.N. peacekeepers have gotten involved too, securing the airport in Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital, and a fierce standoff could be in Ivory Coast’s future once Ouattara supporters reach the presidential palace.
As the world waits for a resolution to the enduring conflict, here’s a quick rundown on both men.
Gbagbo came to power in Ivory Coast in 2000, after spending more than 20 years in the political opposition. Nicknamed “Cicero,” due to his penchant for Latin during his youth, Catholic Gbagbo was born on May 31, 1945, near Gagnoa, when the country was a French colony known as French West Africa.
He received a PhD in history in Paris Diderot University. Soon after his return to Ivory Coast, Gbagbo became a vocal opponent of the country’s first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, and he was jailed in the early 1970s for “subversive” teaching. He also spent six years in French exile during the 1980s.
Later in that decade, he led the fight for multi-party democracy and helped form the Ivorian Popular Front. Two years after becoming president in 2000, a civil war broke out in Ivory Coast between the mostly Muslim, rebel-controlled north and the government-controlled south. A 2007 peace deal brought rebels into Gbagbo’s administration.
Gbagbo’s wife Simone, is also a politician. The couple has two daughters.
Ouattara was born in 1942 in Dimbokro, French West Africa. He has a PhD in economics from the University of Pennsylvania, and he worked previously as an economist at the International Monetary Fund. In 1990, Houphouët-Boigny appointed Ouattara as chairman of the Interministerial Committee for Coordination of the Stabilization and Economic Recovery Programme of Ivory Coast. Six months later, he was appointed prime minister, a role he held until Houphouët-Boigny died in 1993, after 33 years as president.
In the resulting power struggle, Henri Konan Bedie, then President of the National Assembly, won out over Ouattara to become president.
To keep Ouattara from another campaign, the National Assembly passed in 1995 a law forbidding candidates with foreign-born parents from running for office in Ivory Coast. (Ouattara’s father has roots in Burkina Faso.) He became leader of an opposition party, the Rally of the Republicans, in 1999, and in the same year, provided documentation that both of his parents were born in Ivory Coast. He was accused of forgery and was disqualified from running in the 2000 election.
In 2007, Gbagbo cleared Ouattara to stand in the next election, after which both men would claim they won and take two separate oaths of office.