Dany Komla Ayida
Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow
April 27, 2006
National Endowment for Democracy
In his famous speech at a Franco-African summit in June 1990, François Mitterrand noted: ‘’There can be no development without democracy, nor democracy without development.’’
These words resonated with the people of Togo who, for decades, had been living under the dictatorship of General Eyadema. The wave of democratization following the fall of the Berlin Wall had come to Africa, and the Togolese people were witnessing democratic transitions taking place in neighboring Benin and elsewhere on the continent.
On October 5 1990, the trial of two student activists in Togo sparked popular claims for democratic change. Strong pressure from basic citizens’ organizations–students, women and unions–started to result in small concessions from the government.
A national conference was held and a roadmap for democratic change, involving a new government led by opposition parties, was developed.
However, General Eyadema, Togo’s longtime dictator, was not yet ready to yield completely to multipartism and democracy.
Today, I would like to draw your attention to the events leading up to the current political stalemate in Togo and the issues at stake in preparing the way for a democratic transition.
In particular, I will focus on:
– the political imbroglio in Togo;
– the death of the dictator Eyadema and its aftermath;
– and the hopes and goals of Togolese democrats as they struggle for political change.
Let me first begin with a brief historical overview.
Togo was a German colony from 1884 to 1918. After the First World War, the country was divided into two parts by France and the United Kingdom. British Togoland was incorporated into the Gold Coast (current Ghana) in 1919. The other part was put under the Society of Nations (precursor of the UN) and entrusted to France. After the expiration of the French-administered UN trusteeship on April 27th 1960, the French side declared its independence, with French Togoland becoming Togo…
In January 13th 1963, Togo became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to experience a military coup following independence. President Sylvanus Olympio, who took office when Togo gained independence in 1960, was overthrown by 626 Togolese veterans of the French army. He was killed the next day; shot by Sgt. Étienne Eyadéma. Olympio’s brother-in-law, Nicolas Grunitzky returned from exile and was put in power, but he too was deposed in January 1967 by then Lt Colonel (later General) Étienne Eyadéma, who became president. This began the long reign of Gnassingbés, which continues to this day.
For 38 years, the Togolese people lived under a regime of tropical dictatorship. Peace reigned, thanks to the dread imposed by the military and the state police. One country, one party, one labor union and one president: Togo was a model of a hard centralized autocratic system.
In the early 1990s, the international community began putting pressure on Eyadéma to democratize the country. Pro-democracy activists in Togo were met with armed troops, who killed scores of protesters in several clashes.
The energy for change and democracy, however, was strong. Encouraged by transitions in Eastern Europe and in other parts of Africa, the Togolese clamored for change.
Finally, Eyadema gave in after dozens of demonstrators were mowed down by his army. He allowed for the holding of a national conference and a transition to democracy. But concessions made by Eyadema were only a façade. Transition was undermined and unsettled by numerous interventions by the army against the country’s institutions.
The despot Eyadema could not be transformed into a democrat. Concessions that had been made by Kérékou and his PRPB communist party in neighboring Benin proved ineffective in Togo. The massive and uninterrupted violations of human rights forced the international community to intensify its pressure. The European Union suspended its co-operation with Togo in 1993. France, Germany and the United States also put pressure on Eyadema’s government. But France reneged on its decision some months later, renewing its military and economic support of the dictatorship.
It is necessary to note that since the opening of multi-party politics, political parties have been born by the dozens in Togo. They replaced citizens’ organizations, which had launched the popular claims for democracy in 1990. These parties had several negotiations with the regime, but these failed. From 1993 till 2003, there were three presidential elections and three parliamentary elections. All gave occasion to fraud and manipulations which allowed the victory of the former unique party.
The death of Eyadema in February 2005 revived hopes for a democratic transition in Togo. Tragically, this glimmer of hope was swiftly and harshly extinguished by the Togolese military, which had been Eyadema’s key ally throughout his rule. After violating the constitution and then self-servingly amending it; bowing to international pressure to allow for an election and then using violent and brutal tactics to win it; Faure Gnassingbe, son of the former president, and the military from which he draws his support have come to power in Togo, crushing democratic hopes and creating what some have called a “one-party police state.” According to many credible observers, violence before, during, and after the election in April 2005 killed hundreds of Togolese civilians and forced tens of thousands to flee as refugees into neighboring countries. That is where we are today…
I.1.2- Togo: insulated and atypical country
The Togolese dictatorship perpetuates itself through propaganda and disinformation. Not only is the mass media in the country manipulated by the clan in power, but the flow of information from the outside world is either blocked, or controlled. The regime also employs tactics to corrupt certain international media agencies which cover Togo. There are, for example, some French journalists who have become rich by writing on Togo, saying that the autocrat is a good leader for his country and for Africa.
During his 38-year reign, Eyadema always placed himself on the side of French interests. He fought in the colonial army in Vietnam and in Algeria. Thus, even after becoming president of an independent country, he always felt he was indebted to France.
Certain geo-strategic factors also explain Togo’s isolation from the rest of the world. France, for example, supports the dictatorship in Togo in order to maintain control over certain West African countries, such as Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali.
For the leaders of Burkina Faso, Benin and Ghana, the Eyadema regime is both a threat and a valve of security; a threat because Eyadema had real power to destabilize these neighbors; and security because change in Togo seems possible only through violent protest or armed conflict. Such a situation could negatively impact these countries, whose political infrastructures are still fragile.
I- The Political forces present in Togo
The key political players in Togo are the autocratic regime, supported by a tribal army, and a weak opposition, which enjoys the overwhelming support of the people. Civil society organizations and social movements are new actors that are trying, in different ways, to intervene and to position themselves as alternative forces to promote democracy and compensate for weaknesses of the corrupt and ineffectual regime.
After 40 years of monolithic government, depredation and massive violations of human rights, Togo has one of the biggest African diasporas, relative to the country’s population. This community is also trying to get organized in order to pressure the regime for democratic change.
The groups that continue to fight for change and with which I have been working for some years are: the National Congress of the Civil Society of Togo and the Togolese Diaspora for Democracy and Development. In February 2005, these two organizations established the Council of the Democratic Resistance of Togo, which brings together activists within Togo and members of the Togolese diaspora.
I.1. A family and military regime
The political regime in Togo is dominated by the Gnassingbé family. The late general Eyadema Gnassingbé has a large number of children and relatives who occupy the highest functions of the State. The whole country’s administration is dominated by the Rally of the Togolese People (RPT), created in 1969.
The army is controlled by officers of the Gnassingbé clan originally from Pya in the Centre-North of Togo. This clan-based management of the country’s affairs makes political reforms difficult. It also engenders corrupt practices and human rights violations, as loyalty to the family takes precedence over the principles of democracy and accountability.
I.2.1- Political parties
In Togo, the conflict between autocratic power and partisan opposition is unequal. Opposition is divided, manipulated and lacks real capacity for action.
About 70 parties have been established in Togo since 1990; of which fifty claimed to be part of the opposition. A dozen of them took part in at least one election and four had representatives elected during legislative elections in 1994 and 1999.
Currently, fewer than 10 parties remain active. Five have headquarters in Lomé, often with an all volunteer staff. Their branches inside the country are weak, and are often staffed by only one person.
Moreover, the parties themselves are not particularly democratic. Since their creation 16 years ago, none of the five biggest opposition parties have changed their leader. As for the RPT, its leaders are often also the leaders of the State and appointed to high positions in the government.
I.2.2- The opposition in exile
Forty years of dictatorship has led to the exile of dozens of thousands of Togolese. For political or economic reasons, they leave the country and live in other countries. It is rare to find a Togolese abroad who does not oppose the RPT regime. Some of them are activists of the opposition parties and the most are free thinkers who believe that power must change hands in the country.
II- democratization and monarchical succession
II.1. The foundations of peaceful transition according to popular understanding
The Togolese people are known to be peaceful. Although they live under a violent and corrupt regime, attempted coups are rare in the history of the country. In fact, the majority of so-called coup attempts were cooked up by the regime in order to justify repression and consolidate their grip on power. Opponents of the regime have paid a harsh price; many have been harassed, detained, thrown into prison, or killed.
The people of Togo waited for Eyadema to die, viewing his death as the only hope for freedom, and as a new opportunity for a real democratic change.
II.2. Democratic aspirations versus antidemocratic geopolitics
The long-awaited death of General Eyadema occurred on February 5th, 2005. Despite constitutional provisions that give power to an interim president, the Togolese army immediately intervened on television to declare loyalty to Faure Gnassingbe, one of Eyadema’s sons, installing him as the head of the country. In several cities of the country, protestors demanded a return to constitutional legality.
The international community was quick to respond. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Togo from its sessions, as did the International Organization of the Francophonie. The African Union demanded that the Army leave politics and defer power to the president of the National Assembly, in accordance with the Togolese Constitution. Nigeria threatened to intervene by military means, if necessary.
But the position of France and its president Jacques Chirac was blurred. Chirac’s pressures on Nigerian president Obasanjo and on ECOWAS leaders not to interfere undermined the forces of political change. As a result, ECOWAS conducted last year’s presidential elections without any respect for democratic principles. With France’s blessing, everything was done to ensure that the Gnassingbe regime stayed in power. In effect, it was Chirac, who had been good friends with Eyadema, who dashed all hopes for a democratic transition.
III. Paying the price for democracy: new challenges for the citizen forces.
III.1. The Togolese people are ready for democracy
Some scholars of African politics contend that Africans are not ready for democracy. Some might be tempted to apply this false idea to the case of Togo.
I strongly disagree.
Togolese culture is not incompatible with human rights and democracy.
Over the past fifteen years, The National Congress of the Civil Society of Togo has organized many activities, such as citizen forums, workshops, and seminars. These activities have allowed us to engage citizens from various social levels. For most of the people, democracy equals freedom. From the south to the north of Togo, people, including those who are illiterate, are aware that the autocratic regime restricts their freedom and impedes their economic and social development.
III.2. Annihilate the totalitarian resistance
The central obstacle to democracy in Togo remains the Gnassingbe family oligarchy supported by the tribal army. The resolution of the political problem lies in facing up to these two harmful and repressive actors. This is certainly a difficult problem to solve, as Togolese democrats are generally peaceful. It should be noted that this commitment to peace has led the Togolese to be criticized in the region, as they are accused of passively accepting their fate.
III.3. Toward a new dynamic of the democratic forces
When a political transition is blocked but the nation remains faithful to the ideal of democracy there is no reason to despair. But it is difficult to apply the same cures to the same problems if the conditions of the political game have changed; and the conditions in Togo have indeed changed since the election of 2005. It is these changes that have pushed several civil society organizations and members of the diaspora to take new positions. Initiatives must be taken with the aim of rejuvenating the struggle for democracy in Togo.
Democracy is inevitable in Togo. What is unknown is the process of getting to democracy. We have to rethink how to go about promoting democracy in Togo. The strategy of democratic reconciliation with dictatorships has failed. The economic sanctions of the European Union were badly directed, as they had only harmful consequences for the people. There is an urgent need to reform the democratic movement.
III.3.1- Reinforce and support citizen participation in the building of democracy
To get the Togolese democratic movement out of its rut, we must involve the men and women of basic communities in the political process. Civil society and social movements remain the most credible actors to work with the citizens of Togo to mount a political resurgence.
The international actors which have so far supported the status quo must change their policies to support and encourage the Togolese democrats, and lead a diplomatic offensive against the Togolese government. The abysmal state of human rights and democracy in Togo demands such involvement on the part of the international community.
Dictators hide behind national sovereignty as they oppress their people. In the case of Togo, the international community has been cautious because national authorities demand certain legitimacy. It is, however, in the name of national sovereignty that militaries kill, violate and ransack with complete impunity. It is imperative that situation be brought to an end.
III.3.3- Reform the army and the institutions of the Republic
I do not think that one can build democracy in Togo by continually prescribing dialogue between the dominant minority and the opposition. This strategy has been used before and is being used currently as well. Last week, political parties from government and the opposition started a new political dialogue. The purpose of this dialogue is to renew the European Union’s cooperation in Togo. This type of solution to political crisis is only aggravating the democratic deficit. Certainly reforms through dialogue are necessary; they can be made only in peace; but the situation in Togo requires more urgent action. We must create the conditions in which the regime is forced to accept democratic change.
– Togolese democrats, who can represent change and enliven democratic institutions, must be supported.
– The Togolese army must be reformed so that it is no longer dominated by a single ethnic group and in the service of the single family. We’ve proposed a UN program to professionalize and detribalize the Togo Armed Forces.
– The Togolese population must be protected against acts of repeated violence by the adversaries of democracy. The international community must be active in ending impunity and protecting human right in Togo.
We must open the eyes of the world to the drama unfolding in Togo today. Will it take genocide like in Rwanda or Darfur for the world to pay attention to Togo? For the sake of the Togolese people and West Africa as a whole, let us hope not.
Dany Komla Ayida
Washington DC, April 27, 2006