Laurent Gbagbo - 2000-2010
Laurent Gbagbo (of the Bété minority, a sub-group of the Krou - concentrated in the south-west) was President from October 26, 2000 until December 2010. Gbagbo, now 76, was the first former head of state to face trial at the ICC. He was charged with four counts of crimes against humanity resulting from post-electoral violence in 2010-11 in which at least 3,000 people were killed. The violence had been triggered by his refusal to accept defeat in a November 2010 election to Alassane Ouattara, the current president.
Gbagbo rose to prominence as a Marxist firebrand lecturer who challenged the autocratic rule of Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Ivory Coast’s first post-independence president. That got him imprisoned for two years in 1971. He took asylum in France during the 1980s but came back and led protests that forced the old ruler to allow multi-party democracy in 1990 with an election that Gbagbo lost. Ten years later, Gbagbo supporters helped oust military coup leader General Robert Guei and he took the presidency.
Gbagbo took power following a popular uprising supporting his election victory after junta leader Gen. Robert Guei claimed a dubious victory in the 2000 presidential elections. General Guei had assumed power on December 25, 1999, following a military coup d'etat against the government of former President Henri Konan Bedie. President Gbagbo had a short honeymoon; on January 7, 2001, there was a coup attempt, which failed. In spring 2001, local municipal elections took place without violence, and with all political parties participating. The results are interesting: the RPR took the most seats (suggesting Ouattara might have won a fair race for the presidency), followed by the PDCI and with Gbagbo’s RDR in third place. There is no reason to think that the results would be very different in an election re-run. The successful municipal elections, and the resumption of some stability, prompted the European Union to resume aid in summer 2001, and the IMF re-engaged in the country. A year later, Gbagbo formed a government of national unity that included the RDR.
In September 2002, a failed coup attempt evolved into an armed rebellion that effectively split the country in two. On March 4, 2007, President Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro, leader of the rebel forces known as the New Forces, signed the Ouagadougou Political Agreement (OPA), a roadmap for the country’s emergence from its political crisis. Soro became Prime Minister in April 2007. The Prime Minister concentrated principally on coordinating and implementing the OPA. Many government institutions resumed operation in areas under the control of the New Forces.
On September 19, 2002, exiled military personnel and co-conspirators in Abidjan simultaneously attacked government ministers and government and military/security facilities in Abidjan, Bouake, and Korhogo. In Abidjan, government forces managed to stop the coup attempt within hours, but the attacks resulted in the deaths of Minister of Interior Emile Boga Doudou and several high-ranking military officers. General Guei was killed under still-unclear circumstances. Almost immediately after the coup attempt, the government launched an aggressive security operation, in which shantytowns--occupied by thousands of immigrants and Ivoirians--were searched for weapons and rebels. Government security forces burned down or demolished a number of these shantytowns, which displaced over 12,000 people.
The failed coup attempt quickly evolved into a rebellion, split the country in two, and escalated into the country's worst crisis since independence in 1960. The rebel group, calling itself the "Patriotic Movement of Cote d'Ivoire" (MPCI), retained control in Bouake and Korhogo, and within 2 weeks moved to take the remainder of the northern half of the country. In mid-October 2002, government and MPCI representatives signed a ceasefire and French military forces already present in the country agreed to monitor the ceasefire line. In late November 2002, the western part of the country became a new military front with the emergence of two new rebel groups--the Ivoirian Popular Movement for the Great West (MPIGO) and the Movement for Justice and Peace (MJP). MPIGO and MJP were allied with the MPCI, and the three groups subsequently called themselves the "New Forces." In January 2003, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) placed approximately 1,500 peacekeeping troops from five countries--Senegal (commander), Ghana, Benin, Togo, and Niger--on the ground beside the 4,000 French peacekeepers. The troops maintained the east-west ceasefire line, known as the Zone of Confidence, dividing the country.
The Zone of Confidence was dismantled in September 2007, but both the mixed brigades and impartial forces continued to carry out patrols throughout the ex-Zone of Confidence. As part of the DDR process, in January 2008, the Defense and Security Forces completed regroupment. In late 2009, cantonment of some New Forces had begun in Bouake, with preparations continuing in other areas of the north.
Guillaume Soro, who served as rebel leader with Alassane Ouattara since the incursion of rebels in the Ivory Coast in 2002, was persuaded to serve as prime minister under President Laurent Gbagbo with the hope of ending rebel activities in the country. After November 2004, Soro had refused to allow any of the FN ministers to attend cabinet meetings unless hundreds of armed FN forces could come to Abidjan to protect them. President Gbagbo refused, and the FN stayed out of the cabinet. Opposition RHDP parties, particularly the PDCI and RDR, led by former President Bedie and Alassane Ouattara respectively, were widely critical of key New Forces leaders and by extension the Soro Prime Ministership. While the increasing rancor illustrates the opposition's real fears of being sidelined in the Ouagadougou Peace Accord (OPA) process, Bedie and Ouattara's very public attack on the New Forces also reflects internal party problems and lack of leadership and vision, particularly within the PDCI. Although Soro served as prime minister since 2007, he refused to disarm his rebels before and after the presidential election in 2010.
In September 2007, the first step in the identification of voters commenced when a series of mobile courts began issuing birth certificates to those who never had them. In April 2008, the government announced elections would be held on November 30, 2008. In early November 2008, those elections were postponed; a new date of November 29, 2009 was later set. In late December 2008, the parties to the Ouagadougou Political Agreement (OPA) signed the fourth supplementary agreement to the OPA. Under the terms of this agreement, disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration was to be completed 2 months before presidential elections. Citizen identification and voter registration continued to pose operational challenges. Identification and registration was launched nationwide in early December 2008 and proceeded fairly smoothly, although with some delays. On November 11, 2009, the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) announced that the elections scheduled for November 29 would again be postponed to allow for the completion of the registration process. No new election date was set at the time of postponement. A provisional electoral list was completed on November 10, 2009, to be posted at all election sites throughout the country. A 30-day dispute period was to begin when the lists had been physically posted, allowing anyone to challenge the names on the provisional list.
The International Criminal Court on 15 January 2019 acquitted former Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo of war crimes and ordered his immediate release from custody. The verdict was to the joy of dancing supporters and frustration of victims of atrocities. Rights groups said the verdict denied justice to victims of Ivory Coast’s December 2010-April 2011 post-election conflict, when Gbagbo refused to accept defeat by rival Alassane Ouattara. About 3,000 people died in violence.
After a decade-long absence, former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo returned to Ivory Coast on June 17, 2021. As he got off the plane in Abidjan, Gbagbo was cheered by hundreds of people: those who were able to access the airport, as well as his relatives, officials from his Ivorian Popular Front party, plus airport and airline staff. His supporters exploded with joy at seeing "their president" again. Gbagbo's return was made possible by Ouattara's stated desire for reconciliation and national unity. At a long-awaited meeting on July 27, the two men were all smiles and agreed to meet again. "It is important for everyone to know that we have decided to restore trust and ensure that Ivorians reconcile and trust each other as well. The past events have been painful. Too many died and we must try to put that behind us," Ouattara said.
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