Various small kingdoms ruled the area of Cote d’Ivoire between the 15th and 19th centuries, when European explorers arrived and then began to expand their presence. In 1844, France established a protectorate. During this period, many of these kingdoms and tribes fought to maintain their cultural identities – some well into the 20th century. For example, the Sanwi kingdom – originally founded in the 17th century – tried to break away from Cote d’Ivoire and establish an independent state in 1969. After becoming independent in 1960, Cote d’Ivoire took advantage of close ties with France, cocoa production and export, and foreign investment to become one of the most prosperous states in West Africa. In December 1999, however, a military coup overthrew the government. In late 2000, junta leader Robert GUEI held rigged elections and declared himself the winner. Popular protests forced him to step aside and Laurent GBAGBO was elected. In September 2002, Ivoirian dissidents and members of the military launched a failed coup that developed into a civil war. In 2003, a cease-fire resulted in rebels holding the north, the government holding the south, and peacekeeping forces occupying a buffer zone in the middle. In March 2007, President GBAGBO and former rebel leader Guillaume SORO signed an agreement in which SORO joined GBAGBO’s government as prime minister. The two agreed to reunite the country by dismantling the buffer zone, integrating rebel forces into the national armed forces, and holding elections. In November 2010, Alassane Dramane OUATTARA won the presidential election, but GBAGBO refused to hand over power, resulting in five months of violent conflict. In April 2011, after widespread fighting, GBAGBO was formally forced from office by armed OUATTARA supporters and UN and French forces. In 2015, OUATTARA won a second term. In October 2020, OUATTARA won a controversial third presidential term, despite a two-term limit in the Ivoirian constitution. In March 2021, the International Criminal Court in The Hague ruled on a final acquittal for GBAGBO, who was on trial for crimes against humanity.