Military Dictators In Nigeria and Togo Promise Democracy, Haven't Delivered

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

DICTATORS in two West African nations, Nigeria and Togo, established new governments this week through what are widely condemned by West African and United States analysts as mechanisms that restore democracy only in name.

These "mockeries" of the democratic process, some analysts say, send encouraging signals to African dictators to try to hang on to power. The events in Nigeria and Togo are discouraging, specialists say, because genuine elections in other African nations have put this continent in the lead, globally, in current efforts to achieve democratic rule.

Nigeria's Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, who seized power in a coup in 1985, announced yesterday that he had retired from the Army and that he and his top generals are stepping down to hand power to a civilian government which will organize elections. But critics charge that the proposed interim regime, which includes members of the military, will be little more than a puppet of the Army.

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General Babangida had repeatedly promised to hand over power to an elected civilian president, but annulled results of a June 12 election that international observers described as fair and orderly. The apparent winner of the ballot, Moshood Abiola, says he should become president.

On Wednesday in Togo, President Gnassingbe Eyadema held a presidential election in which he was a candidate, despite a boycott by the opposition. The opposition leaders said irregularities in voter registration lists ensured election of General Eyadema, Togo's dictator for 26 years. The two remaining candidates were reported to have been hand-picked by the dictator. German and US election monitors, including former US President Jimmy Carter, left Togo to protest the conduct of the election.

Hundreds of Togolese have been killed, and several hundred thousand forced to flee the country in preelection violence, which the opposition blames on the government. Gilchrist Olympio, a popular opponent whose father, the late President Sylvanus Olympio, was assassinated in a coup led by Eyadema, was himself nearly killed last year while campaigning for the presidency. He was barred from running in Wednesday's election because he failed to obtain a government certificate of good health.

Eyadema has made "a mockery of the election process," while Babangida has made "a mockery of the outcome" of Nigeria's June 12 election, says Joan Nelson, a senior associate at the Overseas Development Council in Washington. The US should "make it clear that we, with other Western nations" have no intention of having any dealings "with such illegitimate regimes," she said in a telephone interview.

Ms. Nelson says the US should support genuine pro-democracy moves in Africa through grants and loans to civilian groups, such as village and professional associations, churches, economists, and others. "I'm real suspicious of any formula" such as just multiparty elections to foster democracy, she added. Despite this week's events, "On a global perspective, the place where democratic transition is the hottest is Africa," says Joseph Ryan, a research scholar at Freedom House, a New York-based human rights organization. More than half of Africa's nations are engaged in democratic reforms. About a dozen are scheduled to hold elections in the next year or so.

The succession of a military regime by an elected civilian government in Mali last year, and the June 1 election of a civilian president in Burundi after years of military rule there show progress, says Mr. Ryan.

In an interview earlier this month, former President Pierre Buyoya, who lost the Burundi election, called Babangida's maneuvers "regrettable ... not good for democracy in Africa." Mr. Buyoya left the military to run for president after setting up an ethnically mixed government.

Babangida has "degraded the value of African elections," says Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military head of state in Nigeria, who ceded power to a civilian regime. In an interview on Wednesday, he claimed Babangida repeatedly postponed his depature from office out of "greed, or fear of what will happen to him when he leaves office." Babangida's critics are eager to probe allegations of corruption in his regime.

In Togo, opposition activist Jean Lucien Savi de Tove called Eyadema's election "a big masquerade." Western governments should refuse to recognize the new government, he said from Lome, the Togolese capital.

But Togolese human rights attorney Djovi Gally, while critical of Eyadema, says the opposition was "poorly prepared" for the elections.

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