Africa outraged as president's son takes overin Togo
Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston,CLASSmagazine
USAfricaonline.comand TheBlack Business Journal
By FRED BRIDGLAND in Johannesburg
February 6, 2005: The African Union has accused army commanders inthe West African state of Togo of staging a military coup followingthe death of the president, Gnassingbe Eyadema, by imposing Eyadema'sson,Faure, as the new head of state.
Gnassingbe Eyadema, 69, who died of a heart attack on SaturdayFebruary 5, 2005, came to power himself in a military coup and ledhis tiny, impoverished country - just over two-thirds the size ofScotland - for 38 years, making him the world's longest-serving rulerafter Cuba's Fidel Castro. He was one of the last of Africa'sso-called "Big Men." A general when he died, he was a sergeant whenhe came to power after the assassination of the country'sdemocratically elected president, Sylvanus Olympio.
Eyadema ruled with a rod of iron through the military, which hekept loyal through a system of patronage. His regime has beencompared to that of Iraq's Saddam Hussein in terms of its brutality,the repression of suspected dissidents and the terrorising of thecountry's five million people, most of whom are illiterate orsemi-literate peasants surviving through subsistence agriculture.Torture and extra-judicial killings were common under Eyadema, and anestimated one million Togolese have left the country since he came topower in 1967.
Togo's army high command quickly swore in Eyadema's 39-year-oldson, Faure, as the new state president on Saturday night. This was indirect contravention of the country's constitution under which thespeaker of parliament, Fanbare Ouattara Natchaba, should have becomeinterim president with the obligation to call elections within 60days.
But the military said the speaker was out of the country and thatit was necessary to act quickly "to avoid a power vacuum". Theyimmediately sealed all the country's land, sea and air borders,making it impossible for Speaker Natchaba to return from theneighbouring country of Benin.
In former years, other African countries and the world might justhave shrugged at the news of yet another African military coup. Butthe African Union has set its face against military takeovers, as wasdemonstrated in the case of the arrest of mercenaries who last yeartried to topple the government of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired army General andcurrent president of the African Union, said the organisation willnot recognise any unconstitutional transfer of power in Togo."Democracy must be the principle in Africa and all African nationswill have to subscribe to that," he said.
French President Jacques Chirac, United Nations secretary generalKofi Annan and South African President Thabo Mbeki also condemned themilitary coup.
The sudden change at the top in Togo came as President Eyadema wastrying to thaw relations with the European Union, which froze aid tothe country, a sliver of West Africa sandwiched between Ghana andBenin, because of what it called the country's "democraticdeficiencies."
Eyadema had permitted multi-party elections in the mid-1990s, butthe man who conducted the count was his personal head of security. In1998 the vote count in the latest presidential election was abruptlystopped and Eyadema was declared the winner after the army had killedseveral hundred civilian protesters.
Human rights organisations estimated that Eyadema salted apersonal fortune approaching $3 billion in foreign banks whilebuilding himself a $6 million French-style château. Much offhis fortune came from his take of Nigeria's heroin, cocaine andmoney-laundering trade through Lome, the Togo capital. (Bridgland isa reporter for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh, Scotland,U.K.)
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