The rise and rise of Laurent Gbagbo.

Author:Rake, Alan

Alan Rake profiles Cote d'lvoire's new president

Professor Laurent Gbagbo is an unlikely figure as president of Cote d'Ivoire. After four decades of opposition politics and repeated detention and imprisonment by successive governments, the veteran (55-year-old) socialist seemed fated to a life in the political wilderness. But his grim determination and courage in the face of the authoritarian governments of Houphoer Boigny, Konan Bedie and General Robert Guei, has seen him emerge from the political shadows.

Now Gbagbo is faced with all the problems that have dogged former regimes instability in the army, divisions between north and south, and between Muslim and Christian. As he tries to achieve stability, new opponents just as talented as he was, attack him from all sides. The poacher has turned gamekeeper. Luckily, he is tough and experienced in the ways of Ivorian politics.

Gbagbo was born on 31 May 1945 in Gagnoa in the west of the country. His parents were Bete rivals of the Baoule who dominated Ivorian politics from Felix Houphouet Boigny before independence to Henri Konan Bedie who carried the baton until he was toppled in December 1999. The Bete were always the challengers to the Baoule establishment -- always number two in terms of political prestige and population.

Gbagbo was a bright, determined pupil who made himself a history and geography teacher. While still teaching, he took up opposition politics against the benevolent paternalism of Houphouet Boigny.

A convinced socialist, he frequently clashed with the authorities over his teaching and political pamphleteering. He spent his first two weeks in jail for political activities as early as 1969. In 1971, he was detained without trial at the Seguela military camp and held there until January 1973.

After his detention, he joined the Institute of Art History and African Archaeology (IAHAA) in 1974, rising to become its director in 1982. Meanwhile, he took time our at the Paris VII University, writing a Ph.D thesis on the economy and society of Cote d'Ivoire at the dawn of independence.

In 1982 he caused a sensation when he wrote a speech on the advantages of democracy and a multi-party system. He did not dare make this speech openly in Houphouer's single party dictatorship, but he circulated it secretly.

Houphouet blamed him for the so-called "teachers plot" in 1982. He responded by forming an unauthorised political party, Front Populaire Ivorien (FPI). This brought Farther harassment and he was finally forced to flee the country to France where he...

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