After several postponements by President Gbagbo, Côte dIvoire held its first presidential election in ten years in Oct. 2010. The first round of voting between incumbent Gbagbo and his historic rival Alassane Ouattara, a former IMF official who was excluded from the presidential 2000 race because he was not a pure-blooded Ivoirian, was inconclusive. In the second round, Ouattara defeated Gbagbo 54.1% to 45.9%. Gbagbo, however, refused to accept the results or step down, leaving the country on the brink of civil war. The African Union, UN, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), U.S., and the EU all endorsed the results. ECOWAS officials have tried in vain to negotiate a solution to the impasse.
For several months following the November election, Gbagbos security forces attacked and killed citizens in Abidjan and other areas. Ouattara took refuge in a hotel near the presidential palace under the protection of UN troops, and was not able to assume a leadership position. Militias from the north loyal to Ouattara, however, began battling Gbagbos forces, bringing the country to the brink of a civil war. The violence against citizens by Gbagbos forces peaked in March 2011, prompting Human Rights Watch to say the attacks amounted to crimes against humanity. Ouattaras militias persisted, and by April had taken control of much of the country. As the stalemate continued and civilian deaths mounted, France and the UN intervened militarily. Troops blockaded the presidential palace, and Gbagbo, who had been holed up in the basement of the presidential palace, stubbornly refused to surrender for a week before finally being apprehended. He was turned over to the International Criminal Court at The Hague in Nov. 2011, where he will face charges of crimes against humanity.
Gbagbo hails from the south of the country and supports the concept of ivoirité, which means “pure Ivoirian pride.” Ouattara is from the Muslim north, which has been at odds with the government-controlled south since the 2002 civil war began.