A quick response to Togo's recent appeal for military help reconfirmed France's concern for the well-being of its African ``family.'' After last Tuesday's abortive coup attempt in Togo and within hours of President Gnassingb'e Eyadema's appeal for help, a company of about 150 French parachutists was flown in from the French military base at Bangui, Central African Republic. A French mine sweeper and four jet fighters followed.
France's help was seen to be largely symbolic, because the Togolese security forces had already regained complete control before the French arrived.
The coup attempt lasted an entire night, during which 13 people were killed.
At a press conference yesterday, President Eyadema said the commando unit that lead the attack came from neighboring Ghana, but said there was no evidence that the Ghanaian government was involved.
The arrival of the French troops in Togo, marks the 11th French military intervention in Africa since its African colonies gained independence in 1960. Only seven months ago, France intervened to support the regime of Hissein Habr'e in Chad against destabilizing moves by a group of Libyan-backed rebels.
The French troops were sent under the terms of a mutual defense treaty signed in 1963, shortly after Togo gained independence.
France has similar defense agreements with six other former African colonies: Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Gabon, Central African Republic, and Djibouti. The French maintain nearly 8,000 troops at five military bases on the African continent.
Next to Cuba, France has the largest foreign military force in Africa. Despite Cuba's significantly larger numbers, France's forces are commonly acknowledged to be the most mobile and efficient. This military presence includes some 1,000 French military advisers deployed in 25 African nations to help keep France well-informed.
In addition to its presence on the African continent, France keeps a 47,000-strong rapid-deployment force ready to head for Africa from bases in France.
The first French intervention for a former colony saved the government of Senegal's L'eopold Senghor from a coup in 1962.
From 1968 to 1972, France stationed some 2,500 troops in Chad in what was to be its longest and largest operation. French troops have been stationed there intermittently ever since.
In other, smaller, operations, the French intervened twice in Zaire to put down rebellions in copper-rich Shaba Province. And in a 1979 operation known as ``Barracuda,'' France aided in removing the Emperor of the Central African Republic.
When the French Socialists came to power in 1981, many of the more authoritarian African leaders were worried that France would give up its gendarme role in Africa.
Francophone African leaders were, however, reassured that this was not to be the case when French President Fran,cois Mitterrand decided after some hesitation, as well as some prompting from the United States, to prop up President Habre's shaky regime in Chad in 1983.
Since then, President Mitterrand's African policy has been steadily converging with that of his right-wing predecessors. The prompt decision to fly in French troops to Togo showed a harmony of view between Socialist Mitterrand and conservative Prime Minister Jacques Chirac.
Early Socialist attempts to diversify and increase French aid and trade to English-speaking countries have been cooled, and once again efforts are being focused on the former African colonies.
Unlike the Anglophone colonies, the former French colonies have maintained close political, economic, and cultural links with France.
There are an estimated 300,000 French in Africa, mostly in the northern and western regions, and their numbers and business interests have steadily expanded since 1960.
There is a common monetary zone based on what is known as the ``CFA franc,'' a currency whose stability and convertibility is guaranteed by the French treasury. The zone has significantly strengthened trade links. Although in 1985 France recorded a deficit of $21.7 million on overall trade of $6.5 billion with the countries in the CFA franc zone, invisible earnings created a large payments surplus.
Despite its German and British colonial history, Togo has, since independence, become a member of the Franco-African family. A summit between France and its former colonies that is due to be held in Lom'e in late November could help to solidify this relationship.
Ever since Mr. Eyadema seized power in a coup in 1967, this tiny West African country of 2.8 million people has often been referred to as the ``Switzerland'' of Africa -- an allusion to its peace and stability.
But the politicial calm has been shattered by a series of bomb attacks and plots that began right before Pope John Paul II's visit to Lom'e in August 1985.
Eyadema blames the latest and most serious coup attempt on ``terrorists recruited and trained in Ghana.'' Two Ghanaian Army officers -- a master sergeant and a corporal -- were among the seven terrorists killed, according to the Togolese authorities.
In yesterday's press conference, Eyadema revealed further details about the attempted coup's organization and the identity of the terrorists.
The Ghanaian government has denied any involvement in the coup attempt, which it describes as a ``purely internal affair.'' And the Ghanaian head of state,Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings, described Eyadema's appeal for French military aid to stabilize his shaky regime as ``shameful.''
It is not clear how long the French troops will remain in Lom'e. Eyadema said yesterday that it would be only a matter of weeks before they pulled out, though there has been speculation that the troops would stay through the November summit. President Mitterrand and some 30 African heads of state are expected to attend the meeting, and any change of venue before the annual summit would undermine confidence in Togo's regime, many observers say.