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Hereditary Presidency

By Owei Lakemfa

THE  current toast of the ‘democratic’ world is  Faure Gnassingbe of Togo who has just secured an expected electoral victory. Various countries, including Nigeria, are sending congratulatory messages even before opposition claims of fraud in the elections are addressed.

I realise that the international community need not wait for any redress; it won’t come, and does not matter. Who did not know that Faure, whose father, Gnassingbe Eyadema ruled for  38  years before passing away in 2005, would win the elections?

While in this and previous elections, he had followed his father’s footsteps of using the army to intimidate voters, buying voters with financial and economic inducement and ensuring victory by any means necessary, Faure has not been as successful as his dad in the percentage of votes allocated to him. Where the senior Gnassingbe had as much as 99.5 per cent of vote allocation as was the case in the December 1986 ‘elections’, the son has not been as daring.

After his coup in 2005 following his father’s death, Faure had only 60.15 per cent of the votes in the April 24, 2005 elections. He performed as badly in this election, having just 60.9 per cent of the votes.

For the international community, the fact that the motions of an election are carried out , especially in Africa, are enough  to confer legitimacy. The real ingredients of democracy which include a level playing field, the right of the electorate to a free choice, freedom from fear and intimidation, a neutral electoral body and mass popular participation in governance do not really matter.

The deliberate subversion of the electoral process and the sovereignty of the people do not matter, what does is the fulfilment of all righteousness. Thus were the elections held in countries like the Democratic  Republic of Congo (then Zaire) under Mobutu Seseseko, and Egypt under Hosni Mubarak.

Some of these super democrats have so absolute control over state power, including the Armed Forces and state institutions, that their children are presidents-in-waiting. Once Omar Bongo died, his son, Ali seized power, imposed a curfew before formalising his take over with ‘elections’ which he naturally won. But I think the trophy for this unique contribution to democracy goes to  Gnanssingbe Eyadema, the father, Faure the son and his children who are presidents waiting in the wings.

Togo’s present trauma began 126 years ago when in 1884 it was awarded to Germany by other Europeans who that year gathered in Berlin, to parcel out Africa as a war booty. On August 30, 1914, other European colonialists who were at war with Germany, seized Togo and shared it between Britain and France. A third of the country, the western part  was sliced off and given to Britain.

The British took their share and added it to their Gold Coast colony. When that colony gained independence in 1957 and became  Ghana, that part of Togo remained in the new country. Until today, it is an issue in Togo-Ghana relations. The remaining two thirds of Togo, became a French colony until it gained independence on April 27, 1960.

There were two major leaders in Togo in the last years of colonialism. There was Nicolas Grunitzky, a half German, half Togolese  who won the Self Government  elections on August 30, 1956. The other was Sylvanus Olympio who won the May 1958 elections and became Prime Minister. Olympio led the country into independence in 1960 only to be overthrown in a coup in which   Ettiene Eyadema, who later changed his name to Gnassingbe Eyadema, was fingered as the arrow head. President Olympio  had escaped the plotters and was pursued by troops, seized and executed when he tried to enter an embassy. Eyadema was accused of personally carrying out the President’s murder.

After the coup, the plotters appointed Olympio’s political rival, Nicholas Grunitzky and Antoine Meatchi as joint leaders of the country. A power struggle ensured with Grunitzky emerging clearly as president.  But Eyadema wanted direct control of power, so on January 13, 1967, he named himself the Togolese Head of State. Thus began his intolerant and brutal imperial rule under which Togo was run as a private estate of the Gnassingbes.

His style of eliminating opposition was the non-creative method of detecting alleged coup plots and proceeding to eliminate the targets. On one occasion,  he could not lay his hands on the two sons of murdered President Olympio; Gilchrist and Bonito, so he stripped the entire Olympio and da Souza families of their Togolese nationality. A dozen years later when  he was in a good mood while being sworn in for another presidential term in 1980, he gracefully restored the families citizenship.

Two years after his second coup which brought him to power, Eyadema had founded his own political party, the Rally  for the Togolese People (RPT) and with this machine, the Gnassingbes began  began to sweep all Togolese elections to this day.

In 1974, Eyadema survived a plane crash and turned the site in Sarakawa into a national shrine complete with annual festivities. That same year, Eyadema, a French stooge in a claim to being authentically African, ordered all Togolese to replace their Christian names with traditional ones. So he replaced his first name, Ettiene with Gnassingbe, just as his fellow Western stooge, the notorious General Joseph Mobutu, changed his name to Mobutu Seseseko, and the country’s name to Zaire. When on September 23, 1980 Eyadema announced another plot to unseat his regime, his Western masters  reacted remarkably; France sent in troops while then American president, Ronald Reagan offered military assistance.

Generally, elections, even in the Togo mould is good; at least, periodically, the imperial presidency  sends food stuff like the ”Faure Rice” and other vote-buying gifts to poor Togolese. Such elections remind all, that majority Togolese, after  over four decades of  divine rule are still desperately poor and that the country’s future  is not safe in the hands of the gods in the Gnassingbe pantheon.


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