Who is Laurent Gbagbo?

Laurent Gbagbo biography

A Catholic from the south of the country, Laurent Gbagbo was born in 1945 in the town of Gagnoa, and spent much of his early professional life in opposition to the regime of President Felix Houphouët-Boigny.

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In the 1970s he reportedly spent time in jail for ‘subversive’ teachings, before living for several years in exile in France in the 1980s, plus participating in union-led strikes.

A French-educated history professor, Gbagbo founded the FPI – the Ivorian Popular Front – in 1982, and won disputed elections in 2000, ten years after multiparty politics was introduced.

His election followed a coup in 1999 where Robert Guéï installed himself as military ruler, and disallowed other candidates – including the current internationally-recognised election winner Alassane Ouattara, from running.

Gbagbo has held power since 2000, surviving a 2002 coup attempt which led to a quasi-civil war between the South and rebel North, which was contained following French intervention in its former colony. During this period, his forces were accused of carrying out xenophobic attacks against northerners and foreigners.

Since 2007, efforts to reunite the North and South have proved difficult.

Gbagbo has been accused of stoking ethnic tension in the past, not least for his claims that his repeat opponent Outtara is not a true Ivorian. Not only is Outtara from the majority Muslim North, his mother is from Burkina Faso, as are many residents of the Ivory Coast, attracted over the decades by the country’s relative economic prosperity.

Elections have been repeatedly postponed, initially with the endorsement of the African Union and United Nations due to the unlikelihood of holding a peaceful poll, considering the large amount of arms in the country.

US government statistics state that Outtara won 54.1 per cent of the December vote, while Gbagbo won 45.9 per cent.

Gbagbo’s refusal to step down led to the resignation of Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, who was then appointed to the same job by Ouattara.