Laurent Gbagbo is Ivory Coast’s ex-president. He occupied the seat from 2000 to April 2011 when he was arrested. In a life that saw him frequently riddled with arrests and convictions, Laurent Gbagbo was imprisoned in the early 1970s, again in the early 1990s and he was exiled to France during most of the 1980s as a result of his union activism.
Laurent Gbagbo who is a historian by profession, as well as an amateur chemist and physicist, founded the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) in 1982. He ran under it in 1990 against Félix Houphouët-Boigny at the start of multi-party politics in Côte d’Ivoire. He was unsuccessful in his bid, but he however won a seat in the National Assembly of Côte d’Ivoire in the same year.
In October 2000 Robert Guéï, head of a military junta barred other leading opposing politicians from running save Laurent Gbagbo, Guéï claimed victory in the elections but it was later discovered that Laurent Gbagbo had actually won by a slim margin leading to Ivorians taking to the street to protest and demonstrate until he was toppled. Laurent Gbagbo then had his day in the sun as he was installed as the President of Côte d’Ivoire.
Laurent Gbagbo’s contentions with now President Alassane Ouattara had been a long time in the making, by 19th September 2002 a northern revolt against Gbagbo’s government had been attempted but failed. Their grievance being that their mentor, Alassane Ouattara was barred from running in the 2000 presidential elections when he was declared by the supreme court to not be a real Ivorian. After the 2010 presidential elections where Alassane Ouattara was declared the winner and recognized by the international community, election observers, the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States. The only hold out, albeit an important one, was the Constitutional Council, which according to the Ivorian Constitution Article 94 could determine disputes in and also proclaim the results of Presidential elections. They declared Laurent Gbagbo as the winner. Meanwhile Gbagbo was challenging the vote count, alleging fraud and calling for an annulment from nine of the country’s regions.
Gbagbo met his Waterloo when he and his wife were arrested by backers of President Alassane Ouattara, who were supported by French Forces of “Operation Unicorn” and was then extradited to the International Criminal Court in November of 2011. A short period of civil conflict that claimed a number of lives ensued before then. His wife Simone Gbagbo was sentenced to 20 years, the sentence for undermining state security although the prosecution had asked for only 10 years on an initial charge of disturbing public order.
Laurent Gbagbo will be the first head of state to stand in the dock of the International Criminal Court and the trial (which has been postponed a number of times for varied reasons, one of which was Gbagbo’s health) is set to be a historic case exposing all the crimes and happenings in Ivory Coast following the elections, as well as the ultimate goal of gaining justice for the over 3000 lives lost in the violence. Mr. Gbagbo maintains his innocence in the face of the numerous charges, with his defense lawyer Emmanuel Altit stating that Gbagbo was confident because he “wants the truth, the entire truth, the whole truth to be told, so that the people of the Ivory Coast can take ownership of their own history,” – spoken like a true historian right? We’ll continue to follow the progress of the trial and provide relevant updates.