Monday, February 28, 2005

Gnassingbé II abdicates... for now

Togo's military-imposed leader Faure Gnassingbé, who I'll call Gnassingbé II, announced a few days ago that he was stepping down as de facto head of state. This was in the wake of harsh international criticism and African Union sanctions against the country after its military having installed Gnassingbé II to succeed his late father Gen. Gnassinbgé Eyadema. Gen. Eyadema had been the world's second longest serving leader.

The son will be replaced by Parliament Speaker Abass Bonfoh, who will serve as interim president while elections are conducted. Gnassingbé II will be the presidential candidate of the ruling party.

A spokesman for Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo, who chairs the African Union, called the decision a 'victory for democracy.'

Lydia Polgreen joined in the Halleujah Chorus.

But the African response to the Togolese military's actions were taken out of a new playbook, one in which the old insistence on "African solutions to African problems," is no longer what it once seemed - a euphemism for African leaders looking the other way while despots and corrupt governments rampaged, she wrote in The New York Times.

Mr. Gnassingbé's departure has been hailed as a huge success for African diplomacy... The swift reversal was one result of a new phenomenon: African leaders and institutions showing stiff resolve and complete unity,... [the West African regional grouping] Ecowas and the African Union were quick and merciless in their condemnation, and worked from the first day of Mr. Gnassingbé's rule to push him from power.

Jonathan, over at The Head Heeb, warns against premature celebration at the apparent demise of the Gnassingbé dynasty.

I wouldn't read too much into this. Gnassingbe will be the ruling Rally of the Togolese People [RPT] party's candidate in the upcoming election, and Bonfoh - a long-time RPT apparatchik who vocally defended the coup in its early days (despite the fact that Bonfoh was the legitimate constitutional successor) - is clearly warming his chair. The RPT is strongly backed by the security forces and controls almost 90 percent of parliament against a weak opposition, so it will have virtually free rein to administer the campaign and voting process. The battle against the coup isn't won yet; continued regional pressure and lots of international observers are still needed to make sure the election is fair.

The opposition is weak largely because of consistent repression during the 37 year Eyadema regime. But it is fairly weak nonetheless. Opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio is the only opposition candidate with sufficient support to challenge the dynasty. And many see him as an outsider since he's lived out of the country for so long due to harassment by the regime (Gen. Eyadema led a military coup that overthrew Olympio's father, who'd been Togo's first president; by all accounts, Eyadema personally murdered the elder Olympio himself).

But as I opined earlier, the military establishment that appointed Gnassingbé II isn't likely to make things easy.

In reality, this 'power vacuum' bemoaned by the military [the pretext used by the army to appoint Gnassingbé II] was created in no small part by the military itself. As a pretext, one can safely assume, to appoint to the throne Eyadéma's son, a man who would surely know which side his bread was buttered on, I noted.

This report from the UN's IRIN service echoes my observations.

Gnassingbé II's father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, ruled Togo with an iron hand for almost four decades, putting people from his northern Kabiye tribe in key government and military posts, it stated. Eyadema’s sudden death on 5 February left Gnassingbe [II] as the best bet the extended family business had of clinging on to the perks of power, diplomats and analysts say.

“These guys have not been accountable for 38 years, and they want someone who can protect their interests,” one Western diplomat in Lome told IRIN.

The actions take by the African Union and ECOWAS are a welcome change from the longstanding tradition of African regional and continental bodies (government groupings) being silent in the face of outrage.

The AU did what it was supposed to do in this case and that's laudable. Though it will be interesting to see if it shows the same resolve if a comparable situation were to occur in a much more powerful or economically significant country such as Nigeria or Egypt.

But caution is the order of the day. For 37 years, the army had a privileged position in Togolese society. It's not going to give up control without a fight.


At 2:29 PM, Blogger TheMalau said...

We must think alike. I title my post almost identically!!! I just found you site, and I quite like it!


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