Everything separates Ivory Coast rivals Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara.
Gbagbo’s background was modest, Ouattara’s comfortable. Gbagbo is Catholic, Ouattara is Muslim. Gbagbo plays the anti-colonialist. Critics claim former IMF man Ouattara is too Western.
Yet the 1993 death of Ivory Coast’s founding father Felix Houphouet-Boigny brought the rivals together. Houphouet-Boigny had made Ouattara prime minister, while Gbagbo was a bitter enemy.
However, both men were now united in opposing a common foe – the president’s successor Henri Konan Bédié.
Gbagbo and Ouattara both backed an opposition boycott of the 1995 presidential poll. Bédié was elected. Four years on, they both applauded the military coup that toppled him, led by General Robert Guei. Gbagbo and Ouattara had personal ambitions while insisting this was all about the people’s aspirations.
Ouattara was excluded from the 2000 presidential election amid claims he was not 100 per cent Ivorian because his mother was from Burkina Faso. This cleared the way for Laurent Gbagbo who was duly elected.
When he foiled an attempted coup d‘état in 2002, the now President Gbagbo was convinced his rival had tried to take revenge. Ouattara has always denied any involvement. 2002 sealed the breakdown between them, once and for all.
Their rivalry is even symbolised by their wives. Ouattara’s is French, made money in real estate and is using her fortune to help serve her husband’s ambition. Active in politics herself, Gbagbo’s wife has been seen as a hardliner in his regime.
Nevertheless, no one can doubt this ultimate battle has been all about Gbagbo and Ouattara themselves.