Backgrounder No. 5
Tom Ogwang

In December 2010, Ivory Coast made headlines following an election dispute that sparked violence between supporters of incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and opposition leader Alassane Ouattara. The dispute revolved around results announced by the electoral commission, which crowned Ouattara the winner in a second round of voting for the presidency. Gbagbo, whose stronghold is in the south of the country, rejected the results and refused to step down alleging that rigging in the opposition home base in northern Ivory Coast inflated votes for Ouattara.

Subsequently, Ivory Coast was thrown into political deadlock. Both politicians were “sworn-in” as presidents and each appointed a cabinet. The international community endorsed Ouattara as president and called on Gbagbo to step down. Clashes between supporters of both politicians resulted in the loss of lives, destruction of property, and massive displacement of people. The violence effectively divided the country into two: the north largely controlled by rebels backing Ouattara; while the army under Gbagbo, controlled the south.

In April 2011, forces loyal to Ouattara seized control of Abidjan and Gbagbo was besieged in his residence, defiant and refusing to cede power. He was finally removed from power when French and United Nations troops stormed his residence, arrested him and handed him over to forces loyal to Ouattara.

Ouattara subsequently assumed the role of president of Ivory Coast.

On the surface, the conflict appears to be a squabble over election results. In reality, the election dispute is a manifestation of deep divisions that are underlined by ethnicity, nationality, religion and fragmentation among Ivorian society along geographical lines.

This backgrounder highlights these cleavages, assessing their historical origins and examines the context under which they have contributed to fuelling civil strife in Ivory Coast.

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