Friday, April 1, 2011

An economist by profession, the western-educated Mr Ouattara has been a regular on the political scene for more than 20 years. Affectionately known as "Ado" by his supporters, he is widely seen as a hard-working politician who favours transparency.

Mr Ouattara was appointed prime minister by the Ivorian independent leader Felix Houphouet-Boigny in 1990, and charged with rescuing Ivory Coast's stagnant economy.

But Mr Ouattara was later barred from standing for the presidency, after allegations surfaced over his nationality. In 1995, a court ruled that his mother was from neighbouring Burkina Faso, although he insists both his parents are Ivorian.

Laurent Gbagbo, Mr Ouattara's old nemesis who is now clings to power, used the "outsider" taint to exploit tensions over the West African country's large population of economic migrants, and positioned himself as a nationalist fighting the outsiders.

While Mr Ouattara is a Muslim from the country's north, where most foreign migrants live, Mr Gbagbo is a Christian from the country's south.

Mr Ouattara was born in Dimbokro in the central Ivory Coast but did most of his schooling and worked as an adult in Burkina Faso, feeding the debate about his identity.

He earned a doctorate in economics in the United States 1967 and worked as both Africa Director of the International Monetary Fund and as governor of the regional Central Bank of West African State.

Following his time as prime minister, he sought election in 1995 and 2000, as the presidential nominee of the Rally of the Republicans opposition party. He was disqualified both times

When civil war tore through Ivory Coast in 2002, he was accused of backing the rebel New Forces movement which originated in the north, claiming to be responding to the government's anti-foreigner stance, which compromised the region's voting rights and representation in parliament.

The militias supporting him are alleged to have perpetrated human rights abuses, as are those loyal to Mr Gbagbo. He is also accused of having backed the coup which plunged the country into civil war.

An election planned for 2005 was postponed. Guillaume Soro, who is now Mr Ouattara's prime minister, and Mr Gbagbo entered into an uneasy coalition.

When elections finally came, in 2010, Mr Gbagbo caved to pressure to allow Mr Ouattara to run. But when preliminary results showed he had won, Mr Gbagbo's party contested them, leading to the political stalemate of the past few months.

Mr Ouattara and his advisers were forced to run a shadow government from a luxury Abidjan hotel. His measured approach, his willingness to negotiate despite Mr Gbagbo's belligerence, and his refusal to sanction an invasion of Abidjan by the New Forces have won him international admiration.

Now, with diplomatic avenues apparently exhausted and his troops at the gates of the presidential palace, he would be justified in believing that his time has finally come.


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