the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world
LET BYGONES BE BYGONES
After four decades in power, Gnassingbé Éyadéma has died. He took full power in a military coup in 1967. There is reason to believe ― namely, his own boast ― that he personally assassinated Sylvanus Olympio, the post-independence leader, in an earlier coup. Since the end of the Cold War, he has, like other dictators, donned the clothes of a democrat. But there was never a democratic election under his rule, and he certainly never had a popular mandate. Every “election” that took place was transparently hollow, and every independent observer knew this, and certainly so did most Togolese, whose lives Gnassingbé Éyadéma so completely controlled. Junior Stalinism, we could say, complete with a cult of personality, was the way of things. A constitution existed, but he wrote it and rewrote it at will, which is why it had recently allowed him yet another term in office, to which he was, of course, “elected”. On his death, the constitution provided for the speaker of parliament to assume power temporarily, to be replaced by an elected leader within sixty days. The military of Togo instead appointed communications minister Faure Gnassingbé, Éyadéma’s son, as the acting president, and the parliament then arranged for Faure to take the presidency for the length of Éyadéma’s current term, to 2008.
The actual opposition on the ground in Togo is something to take seriously, and to praise. The individuals and groups who have protested against the nascent régime (and in some cases been killed in doing so), and especially the individuals and groups who did their best to oppose the régime of Éyadéma, are brave and conscientious, and I wish them the best of luck. I hope they are inspired by the success of the democratic opposition in Ukraine; but in Ukraine the opposition had a decade and a half to develop a civil society. In Togo there has been no such freedom, but instead an environment of violence, intimidation, obstacles, and false promises. If Éyadéma’s cronies and his son have anything to do with it (and we can suppose that they do), there will be no such freedom.
The opposition in the rest of Africa, and the world, is not something to take seriously, or to praise. The rest of the world had forty years to say something at all critical. The most anyone bothered to do was question the legitimacy of Éyadéma’s elections. Some of that mild opposition, like sanctions from Europe, looked sincere enough, though every response was trivial in scope. Éyadéma and his régime should have been condemned, isolated, heavily sanctioned, and even overthrown by force. The democratic state of Bénin could have allowed the powerful army of the democratic state of Nigeria to drive through and knock over this tinhorn. Easy, peasy, Togolesy. But right up to his death, Éyadéma was a treated as a respected leader, rather than the thug and killer he was.
And not even just up to his death. After his death, Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo called Éyadéma “one of Africa’s greatest leaders”. French president Jacques Chirac spoke of him as “a personal friend”. Diplomacy? But diplomacy comes with a price. The legitimacy that such diplomatic behavior bestows is the coin of the realm in international relations. The opposition in Togo saw their oppressor embraced as a brother, while he threw them in prison. Éyadéma promenaded on the world stage, while they were lucky to make it into exile.
Tandja Mamadou said that Togo had brought “shame to Africa”. He should know, as someone who once helped overthrow an elected civilian government. It was a corrupt government abusing its power, but Tandja is hardly the one to shout for constitutionalism. Tandja is presently the democratically-elected president of Niger, and chair of the Economic Community of West African States, which is demanding the restoration of constitutional order in Togo. Curious, that. ECOWAS also contains Burkina Faso, Guinea-Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, and the Gambia, which are simple dictatorships, Côte d’Ivoire, whose president will not hold free elections with his main rival, and Liberia, which we can only hope is transitioning away from dictatorship. So a bare majority of its fifteen states are democracies, and all of them recently arrived. The rest are hoping that, by calling for the undemocratically-elected speaker of the undemocratically-elected parliament of Togo to take power, they will appear as democrats. It is absurd, of course; but they must be savoring the precedent. The rulers of ECOWAS’s dictatorships must be thinking that they themselves will be safe until they die; only their sons will be challenged. And I am sure they love their kids, but dictators do nothing better than looking out for number one.
Togo was not sanctioned by ECOWAS under Éyadéma; why should it suddenly be sanctioned under Faure? World leaders did not call Éyadéma’s seizure of power a coup. Why should they call this latest maneuver one? The constitution that the world is demanding respect for was written by a dictator for his own benefit, and changed at will. The offices it prescribed were all filled under a dictator’s direction. The successor it designated was a dictator’s choice. In theory, the speaker was chosen by parliament, and parliament was elected by the Togolese. Why then, in theory, can the parliament not choose a different successor, as it has done? This positivist nonsense that the international community is insisting upon at present is shallow and, to borrow a word, shameful. They will not admit that they were wrong to tolerate and even encourage this dictatorship for four decades. They could have removed Éyadéma from power while he lived. Instead, they are essentially trying to remove him from power after he has died. This is not at all brave and conscientious. But it is what we can expect from the likes of Tandja, Obasanjo, and Chirac. And since these three are all, in their way, democratically elected, it is apparently what we can expect of ourselves.
Éyadéma was “one of Africa’s greatest leaders”. Africa and the world ought to have higher standards by now. Shame to Africa and the world: they do not.
© O.T. FORD
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