LAST week's coup attempt in tiny Togo, on Africa's west coast, underscores once again how loyalties of the past -- tribal and family allegiances, plus ideological differences -- can undermine stability for nations struggling to free themselves from a colonial heritage. The attempt to overthrow the 19-year military government of President Gnassingbe Eyadema failed. President Eyadema refused to put the blame for the attack on any specific nation, although Togo officials were quick to note that the invading commando unit had apparently come from -- and been trained in -- neighboring Ghana. There were also conflicting reports that the rebels may have received training in Burkina Faso, which borders Togo to the north, and, like Ghana, has what can be described as a ``leftist'' government, although in the African context, such distinctions are not precise.
Togo, however, is firmly pro-Western, with strong links to France, from which the old ``French Togoland'' gained independence in 1960. (Other parts of the colonial-era Togoland, once under British control, are now included within Ghana.) Indeed France, along with Zaire, dispatched troops to Togo as a gesture of support after the coup attempt. The quick response by Paris must be considered impressive -- showing once again that France is determined to continue to play a major role in African affairs.
Last week's guerrilla forces in Togo had apparently been linked with the family, now living in Ghana, of Togo's first post-independence President.
Whatever the case, however, it is unlikely that this will be the last attempt to destabilize the regime in Togo. Most of Togo's 3 million or so people are poor and illiterate. Life expectancy is low. And the government rules with a tight fist. Developing credible alternatives to the regime seems difficult at best.