TOGO: Grap­pling With An­tithe­sis Of Democ­racy

“Un­like other na­tions in Africa, Nige­ria’s de­pen­dence on oil to en­sure healthy gov­ern­ment rev­enues and eco­nomic growth has reached its up­per limit. While this seemed like an ef­fec­tive strat­egy when oil was trad­ing at over $100, the fail­ure to di­ver­sify an

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - COVER - By Leo Sobechi

FOrthe Gnass­ingbe Eyadema’s dy­nasty in Togo, the poignant wis­dom in Nige­ria’s Afro-beat mu­sic leg­end, Fela Aniku­lapo Kuti holds true: “Nas­mall­s­mal­l­you catch­mon­key.” After Syl­vanus Olym­pio was as­sas­si­nated in the coun­try’s first mil­i­tary coup, Eyadema, who led the putsch, planted Ni­co­las Grunitzky. In 1967, Colonel Eyadema over­threw Grunitzky and pro­claimed him­self Pres­i­dent. From 1967, when their pa­tri­arch, seized the reins of po­lit­i­cal power in a mil­i­tary coup from Kle­ber Dadjo, who served as in­terim Pres­i­dent after Grunitzky’s as­sas­si­na­tion, the coun­try has been at the whims and caprices of the Gnass­ingbe fam­ily.

Un­like Libya and Zim­babwe, which en­joyed quasi-democ­racy un­der one ruler, Gnass­ingbe Eyadema 38-year reign was trun­cated in 2005. But while some cit­i­zens heaved a sigh of re­lief, the ex­pected new lease of life did not come as a younger Eyadema, Faure Es­soz­imna, took over. Twelve years into the reign of the young Eyadema, his com­pa­tri­ots ap­pear to be feel­ing un­ease, es­pe­cially with tales of their West African coun­ter­parts in Ghana and Nige­ria pluck­ing the fruits of multi-party democ­racy in their re­spec­tive coun­tries. Un­like his father, who was born Eti­enne, Faure did not have any mil­i­tary train­ing, although he had the best of Amer­i­can and French ed­u­ca­tion in the United States and France. It was partly due to the fact that his father par­tic­i­pated in two mil­i­tary coup d’états in the small West African coun­try, (prior to his mount­ing the sad­dle)-1963 and 1967- that helped him main­tain a tight hold on power. Eyadema later moved from a dic­ta­tor to a demo­cratic pres­i­dent after con­jur­ing some flawed re­forms fol­low­ing the clam­our for multi-party democ­racy in the coun­try.

De­spite his ruth­less­ness the older Eyadema was also dreaded on ac­count of his fetishism, as most To­golese as­cribed some shaman­is­tic pow­ers to him.

Bereft of th­ese ig­no­ble qual­i­ties, it was there­fore ex­pected that the cur­rent pres­i­dent would have to con­tend with a car­ry­over of an­i­mosi­ties against his fam­ily’s hege­monic hold on To­golese politics.

Thrash­ing Of Mil­i­tary Regimes

WIthits var­ied administrative ex­pe­ri­ence in the hands of Ger­mans,

Bri­tons and French, Togo’s march to state­hood was de­fined by a lot of coup d’états. The in­cum­bent pres­i­dent’s father hav­ing par­tic­i­pated in two of such coups be­came a fa­mil­iar fig­ure within the coun­try’s mil­i­tary.

It was this fa­mil­iar­ity and ac­cept­abil­ity to the armed forces that helped him to grip his coun­try in the hol­low of his iron fist, through dras­tic ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with dic­ta­tor­ship and quasi-democ­racy.

For 23 years Gnassinger, the elder, was the head of Rally of To­golese Peo­ple (RTP), a po­lit­i­cal move­ment he founded and through which, in the name of wag­ing re­lent­less op­po­si­tion to com­mu­nism, sub­jected com­pa­tri­ots to the worst form of in­hu­man rule.

At the height of grow­ing pub­lic com­plaints against his dic­ta­to­rial one-party sys- tem, Eyadema, ac­com­mo­dated dis­sent by widen­ing the po­lit­i­cal space, even though he ap­plied grit, trick and African magic to tele-guide other po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

To this day, most To­golese that ag­i­tated for multi-party democ­racy could not fathom why the de­ceased, ruth­less pres­i­dent suc­ceeded in win­ning pres­i­den­tial elec­tions on five oc­ca­sions, in­clud­ing the fraud­u­lent one in 2003, two years be­fore he died with the ti­tle of Africa’s long­est reign­ing dic­ta­tor as at 2005.

Im­me­di­ately after his death, his son, Faure, who prac­ti­cally spent more years out­side Togo, mounted the sad­dle amid mixed re­ac­tions at the sug­ges­tion of dy­nasty politics in the tiny West African nation. It was per­haps in a bid to groom Faure for the pres­i­dency that his father, in 2003, ap­pointed him the coun­try’s Min­is­ter of Mines, Post and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Most To­golese still be­lieve that Eyadema, with his im­mense pow­ers, ac­tu­ally knew his end was near, rea­son he de­cided to bring his son to frater­nise with the mil­i­tary, a re­cur­ring dec­i­mal in Togo politics. This paid off be­cause as soon as the father’s death was an­nounced in 2005, the mil­i­tary helped to in­stall Faure as pres­i­dent, al­beit as a stop-gap. The first sign of con­sti­tu­tional frus­tra­tion with the Gnass­ingbe fam­ily’s hold on power arose shortly after the in­stal­la­tion.

In re­sponse to the il­le­git­i­macy of his as­cen­sion to power, the younger Eyadema was forced to quit, only for him to stage a quick come back via hap­haz­ard pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on April 24, 2005, ex­actly two months after his res­ig­na­tion.

Since then, Faure has stood elec­tion for the pres­i­dency on two oc­ca­sions and won, with the lat­est be­ing his 2015 de­feat of Jean-pierre Fabre, who left the Union of the Forces of Change (UFC) im­me­di­ately it en­tered into a power shar­ing ar­range­ment in 2010, with the rul­ing party to form Na­tional Al­liance for Change (ANC). Hav­ing drib­bled To­golese back to power on three oc­ca­sions, the old an­i­mosi­ties against his father’s dom­i­na­tion spurred fresh protests and de­mand for far-reach­ing po­lit­i­cal re­forms. How Faure han­dles the lat­est on­slaught against the Gnass­ingbe dy­nasty would re­veal how far he has in­ter­nalised his late father’s schemes, as well as, how long the army could go in sus­tain­ing its sup­port.

With­out doubt, the peo­ple are show­ing their weari­ness for the same fam­ily hold­ing the des­tiny of the coun­try in their hands. That is one fact etched on the faces of most pro­test­ers as they poured into the streets of Togo call­ing for con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sion for term limit for the Of­fice of the Pres­i­dent, among oth­ers.

Fail­ing The Cru­cial Test

AS it turned out, Faure went back in time to fetch an an­ti­quated method in a vain ef­fort to solve the new po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge. Mim­ick­ing his late father’s days, the To­golese author­i­ties be­gan crack­ing down on the pro­test­ers, and in the process killing some.

At the height of that bru­tal on­slaught, the In­ter­net, the famed in­stru­ment of moder­nity en­joyed by younger gen­era-

tion of To­golese was sev­ered. Some wily To­golese, liv­ing out­side the coun­try took the so­cial me­dia and started com­par­ing Faure and the North Korea leader, Kim Jong-un, for the at­tempt to re­press and move against free speech and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Although the up­ris­ing came barely two months into his head­ship of the sub-re­gional Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity of West African States (ECOWAS), Faure’s at­tempt to quell the demon­stra­tion was partly due to frus­tra­tions that the black spot in his coun­try’s polity would re­duce the ex­pec­ta­tion from his of­fice. Usu­ally ro­tated among the 15-mem­ber na­tions, it is the chair­man that points the po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tion for the bloc.

The im­pli­ca­tion of the tim­ing and essence of the con­sti­tu­tional re­forms sought by the To­golese cit­i­zens in­cludes a di­rect af­front on Faure to em­u­late other mem­bers in the body or re­main as a hyp­ocrite.

Ex­ter­nal Trou­bles

OVER and above the re­al­ity of the in­ter­nal frus­tra­tion with the To­golese stran­gu­lat­ing po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, is the de­ci­sion of the To­golese author­i­ties to con­sent to host the Is­raeli-africa sum­mit in the coun­try. Given the del­i­cate bal­ance of diplo­macy, econ­omy and re­li­gion in the re­gion, many na­tions viewed Is­rael’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the sum­mit with dis­dain. Is­rael has been hav­ing a run­ning bat­tle with the rest of Arab over the na­tion­hood of Pales­tine.

The Is­raeli-africa Sum­mit was pro­moted as “a frame­work that will per­mit the lead­ers of the trade, se­cu­rity and diplo­matic sec­tors of Africa and Is­rael to meet, net­work and col­lab­o­rate.” Even at Togo, which was cho­sen as host, was highly en­dorsed as “a beacon of po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sta­bil­ity,” and lauded as a gen­uine hub in the West Africa sub re­gion “and thus con­sti- tutes the ideal lo­ca­tion to hold the sum­mit.”

It is there­fore not im­pos­si­ble that in­ter­nal op­po­si­tion to Faure was pro­pelled from out­side forces, which must have seen the hold­ing of the sum­mit in Lome, as cel­e­brat­ing Is­raeli’s de­nial of home­land and per­ceived hu­man rights abuses against the Pales­tini­ans.

This is be­cause, no sooner was the sum­mit put off than the Pales­tinian author­i­ties at­trib­uted its can­cel­la­tion to the re­jec­tion of Is­rael’s par­tic­i­pa­tion by most mem­bers of the African Union, due to their oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory.

The four-day event was to hold from Oc­to­ber 23 through 27, 2017. At a pre-event meet­ing in Au­gust, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter, Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, had dis­closed that ever since the sum­mit was sched­uled for Togo, a va­ri­ety of pres­sures were mounted on the To­golese pres­i­dent to can­cel the con­fer­ence.

Although Is­rael was re­vi­tal­is­ing the le­gendary Gold Meir’s African Pol­icy, the To­golese sum­mit came at such a time the nation was in po­lit­i­cal tur­moil. The protest against con­sti­tu­tional con­stric­tion of the po­lit­i­cal space in Togo, rather than lobby from Arab and Mus­lim na­tions for boy­cott of the con­fer­ence should be at­trib­uted to the can­cel­la­tion.

Although pro­mot­ers of the sum­mit an­nounced that the event was post­poned, it is pos­si­ble that by not fix­ing a fu­ture date, the To­golese seem to have been given enough el­bow room to ad­dress the po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges.

If there­fore Faure Gnass­ingbe is sold highly on the sum­mit, the demon­stra­tors would have seen the in­ter­na­tional event as a golden op­por­tu­nity to have the Pres­i­dent con­sent to con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments that would give the aver­age To­golese hope that he/she can work hard and be­come Pres­i­dent or any other elec­tive of­fi­cial. How­ever, it is pos­si­ble that Faure Gnass­ingbe Eyadema, in try­ing to play to the in­ter­na­tional league, for­got the po­lit­i­cal im­per­fec­tions of his base. Be­ing well ed­u­cated and ur­bane, there is no like­li­hood that Faure wanted to en­joy a life-long pres­i­dency like his late father. But he has been forced to in­herit the po­lit­i­cal ‘sins’ of the father, who veered into mil­i­tary straight from pri­mary school to be listed in the French Army and trained in weapon han­dling..

In the 38 years that he ruled Togo, it was not smooth sail­ing for Eyadema. There were sev­eral as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts, which he sur­vived.

For in­stance, in 1974 it was by a hair’s breadth that he sur­vived a plane crash in Sarakawa, north­ern Togo. His body also tried to as­sas­si­nate him. He mocked the failed at­tempt by car­ry­ing about the very bul­let ex­tracted from his body by Med­i­cal doc­tors, which some de­scribed as amulet. In 1991, a na­tional con­fer­ence was or­ga­nized which pro­duced Joseph Kokou Kof- figoh as Prime Min­is­ter, which ren­dered Eyadema re­dun­dant as a cer­e­mo­nial Pres­i­dent. His at­tempt to abort the con­fer­ence failed as he was forced to ac­cept the out­come.

While it is left to be seen whether Faure would be a sur­vival­ist in power like his father, it would be risky for him to make peace­ful change im­pos­si­ble and thereby in­vite the cy­cle of mil­i­tary coups or as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts. It is ob­vi­ous that the peo­ple are de­ter­mined to have a change.

Yet the im­mi­nent dan­ger, which must have roused the To­golese cit­i­zens to street protests, could be the like­li­hood of power mov­ing from one Gnass­ingbe to an­other, after in­de­ter­mi­nate terms. And so the cit­i­zens de­cided to strike when po­lit­i­cal life seems to be sweet­est to their pres­i­dent, who be­gan to search for in­ter­na­tional pedi­gree and roles for him­self.

No mat­ter what hap­pens, the fruit of present un­re­lent­ing demon­stra­tions on the streets of Lome is that by 2020, Faure Gnass­ingbe Eyadema may loathe to seek an­other term. That would be the first sign of vic­tory for the To­golese peo­ple.

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