Togo Leader Moves To Halt Vote to End His Hard-Line Rule
COTONOU, BENIN — AS the Soviet people demand reforms in their country, Africans too seek freedom from dictators who have ruled much of Africa for at least a quarter of a century.From southern Africa to Algeria on the Mediterranean, and from Kenya in the east to Sierra Leone in the west, Africans are pressing hard-line regimes for freedom. African reformists have been gaining ground. But some leaders are digging in their heels, most recently in the tiny state of Togo in West Africa. In the afternoon on Aug. 26, Togo strongman Gnassingbe Eyadema called out his troops to halt the final stages of a national conference aimed at dissolving his power. Approximately 2,000 delegates to the conference were about to elect a prime minister who would take over most of President Eyadema's powers - including control of the Army. Despite this threat, and with the Army surrounding the conference hall, the delegates proceeded with the vote. "The die was cast, we decided to go ahead," said a Togolese reached by telephone from Benin on Aug. 27, who added that tanks which had also surrounded the state television and radio stations were returning to their military camps that morning. "Nobody was arrested, it is calm," he said. Human rights activist and attorney Joseph Koffigoh was chosen prime minister, the Togolese said. Mr. Koffigoh, who has been a leader in Togo's struggle for political freedom, is determined not to give up the struggle now. President Eyadema is finding his power may not be as secure as he thought. For one thing, he can't be sure how much of the military is still loyal. "They're not ready to die for him" says Jean Lucien, head of one of the political parties that have sprung up in Togo in recent months. "Privately, [Army] officers are supplying information" to Eyadema's political opponents, he adds. During a week-long visit to Togo, this reporter found that many of the regime's opponents said much of the Army was no longer loyal to Eyadema. They contend that he favors an core of officers from his own minority tribe. However, Djovi Gally, an attorney in Togo and an outspoken opponent of the regime, claims Eyadema still has "the great majority of the Army with him." In any case, Eyadema faces many peoples' determination to confront the Army. "Force is the only thing he understands," says a Togolese journalist. Even before Eyadema ordered his troops out, he said "We have to go back to the street." For years, arrests, torture, and shootings had muted most public criticism in Togo. But strikes, riots, and other demonstrations over the past year have ended the silence. In June, Eyadema agreed to a national conference to lay plans for a one-year transitional government leading to democratic, multiparty elections next year. But he did not agree to hand over control of the Army, nor to give up his role as head of the Cabinet. Yet under a resolution adopted last week at the conference, both those powers are to be shifted to the new prime minister. The delegates have also claimed that the conference is the sovereign authority in Togo. Under the conference resolutions "the president during the [transitional] government will be reduced to a ceremonial figure," says a Western diplomat in Lome. Finally, Eyadema faces isolation if he uses force to halt reforms. "I can't imagine the German, French, or the US [principal donors to Togo] could support a military government reacting " against the opposition, says another Western diplomat in Lome.