A historian by profession, as well as an amateur chemist and physicist, Gbagbo was imprisoned in the early 1970s and again in the early 1990s, and he lived in exile in France during much of the 1980s as a result of his union activism. Gbagbo founded the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) in 1982 and ran unsuccessfully for President against Félix Houphouët-Boigny at the start of multi-party politics in 1990. He also won a seat in the National Assembly of Côte d'Ivoire in 1990.
Gbagbo claimed victory after Robert Guéï, head of a military junta, barred other leading politicians from running in the October 2000 presidential election. The Ivorian people took to the streets, toppling Guéï. Gbagbo was then installed as President.
Laurent Gbagbo was born on 31 May 1945 in the village of Mama, near Gagnoa in the then French West Africa. He became a history professor and an opponent of the regime of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny. He was imprisoned from 31 March 1971 to January 1973. In 1979, he obtained his doctorate at Paris Diderot University. In 1980, he became Director of the Institute of History, Art, and African Archeology at the University of Abidjan. He participated in a 1982 teachers' strike as a member of the National Trade Union of Research and Higher Education. Gbagbo went into exile in France.