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Togo Succession an Affront on Democracy

- Terry leonard

(Thursday, February 10, 2005)

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"Togo's curious experiment with hereditary democracy began Saturday when longtime President Gnassingbe Eyadema died of a heart attack and the army named his son to succeed him."

His Excellency, Gov. Orji Uzor Kalu [Photo Left: Late Eyadema(left), Son(right), Togolese Flag(top) ]
When Togo's army anointed the son of its dead president to be the new leader, it not only ignored its constitution but also challenged Africa's emerging democratic order. The new Africa is trying desperately to end its image as a continent ruled by despots who seize power through the barrel of a gun.

Togo's curious experiment with hereditary democracy began Saturday when longtime President Gnassingbe Eyadema died of a heart attack and the army named his son to succeed him. The 53-nation African Union immediately condemned the appointment of 39-year-old Faure Gnassingbe, branded his succession a military coup and demanded the armed forces respect the constitution and end its interference in politics. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the head of the AU, said the "unconstitutional transfer of power in Togo" would not be condoned.

The United Nations and the European Union also condemned the illegal succession, but analysts say the African Union's response is critical to support of emerging democracies on the continent. "It is harder and harder in this age of performance based aid for Africa to go ahead with the old business as usual and be taken seriously by the donor community," said John Stremlau, head of the international relations department at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Togo's constitution required the speaker of parliament to become a caretaker president until new elections could be held in 60 days. But following the military's move, the country's parliament, by an overwhelming margin, added a veneer of legality to Gnassingbe's succession by hastily amending the constitution Sunday to allow him to serve out his father's term. "Togo's parliament is a creature of the Eyadema family," Stremlau said.

The African Union condemned the hasty amendment and threatened Monday to impose sanctions unless Togo rapidly restored constitutional rule. Africa's road to democracy has been troubled from the beginning of the independence movement in the 1960s by a series of coups and civil wars. Eyadema himself helped stage a coup in 1963 and four years later seized power. He went on to become Africa's longest ruling despot. He was the classic African big man who enriched himself at the expense of his impoverished countrymen and brutally crushed any opposition.

For decades Africa was the land of tyrants, leaders like Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the self-styled "emperor" and alleged part-time cannibal in the Central African Republic; or President-for-life Idi Amin of Uganda. More recently, Africa has suffered from the despotic rule of now ousted President Charles Taylor in Liberia and still ruling President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, whose country Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently labeled an "outpost of tyranny." But Africa is also the continent of statesmen such as Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela and Obasanjo, who is leading Nigeria away from its recent military dictatorship. "The trend in Africa is toward more accountable government," said Stremlau. "This cannot stand in Togo." But Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the executive secretary of the Economic Community of West African States hinted there could be some regional support for Togo when he said it was "encouraging" that Togo's parliament had taken steps to address the constitutional questions on Gnassingbe's succession. "You've got the classical problem of stability versus political change," said Heather Deegan, a specialist on democratization in Africa at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

ECOWAS, which appeared to ready to embrace the new president, may now be giving more weight to stability and security, which is "not to say that they're against any kind of democratic process," she said. Steven Friedman, a senior research fellow at South Africa's Center for Policy Studies, said the AU condemnation is a sign that Africa is changing for the better. "African heads of government looked after each other, took care of each other," said Friedman, adding that if one seized power, the others rallied around and told the West not to meddle in Africa's affairs. But while democracy seems to be gaining ground in Africa, Freedom House, the U.S.-based policy institute, said in its global survey of democratic reforms that Africa still has a way to go. Of the 48 sub-Saharan countries, it listed just 11 as free, 21 as partly free and 16 as not free.

Related Links:- 
The World Factbook -- Togo
Obituary: Gnassingbe Eyadema
Eyadema, Gnassingbe -- Encyclopædia Britannica
W. African leaders threaten sanctions against Togo
EU warns Togo after 'coup'
African Union weighs sanctions over Togo coup
Togo’s New Leader Calls for Elections

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