Togo Coup Is Rooted in Army Fear of Reform
NAIROBI, KENYA — WITH the military firmly in control again in the West African state of Togo, plans for democratic elections later this year are in doubt.Tuesday's attack with tanks and heavy artillery on the official residence of Prime Minister Joseph Koffigoh left at least 17 people dead and dozens wounded. There have been reports the Army hid some bodies to prevent disclosure of the total number dead. The coup underscores both the difficulty civilian reformists have in a country where the military still flexes most of the muscle and the fears of the northern, ethnic-based Army that its underdeveloped region will be neglected if southern civilian reformists come to power. Prime Minister Koffigoh survived the attack on his residence and was taken by the Army to meet with longtime military ruler Gnassingbe Eyadema. Later Tuesday, both men appeared on state television to announce that a new transitional government would be formed. But no mention was made of elections this year. France, Togo's former colonial ruler, sent troops to Togo in 1986 to help prop up Mr. Eyadema's regime. But this time, despite official statements supporting democracy, France twice refused Koffigoh's request for help. "They [France] could see they might have to go in and kill some people and get some of their own people killed," says William Foltz, professor of political science and African affairs analyst at Yale University, suggesting why the French may not have come to Koffigoh's aid. Koffigoh, a human rights advocate and fiery critic of Eyadema's government, looked exhausted. His voice broke as he spoke, saying he had surrendered to avoid further bloodshed. He said the civilian transitional government (set up in August with Eyadema's partial consent) had been paralyzed by the military. "As a result, I have decided to form a provisional government ... which alone could establish the legitimacy of the republic," Koffigoh said. Eyadema said a government of "national unity" would be formed. Eyadema had made clear a few days earlier that he wants more of his own supporters, possibly including representatives of the military, in such a national unity government. But the future is uncertain. Eyadema has set up so-called unity governments several times before, while still remaining in control. The soldiers behind the attack appear to be members of the presidential guard, from the same tribe and even the same village in the north as Eyadema, says Dr. Foltz. "These soldiers have nothing going for them except that their kinsman Eyadema has been running the country," Foltz says. "They lose everything when he goes out. This is their chance to hold on to what they can." In 1968, a commission Eyadema set up reported there were almost insoluble problems in Togo because of the economic and social gap between the north and south. In 1969, he formed the Rally of Togolese People (RPT) political party. But rather than espousing a political viewpoint, the party was designed to bring national unity and to integrate the northern-based Army into Togo's political life. So when, on Nov. 26, the civilian transitional Parliament dissolved the RPT, claiming it was interfering in rallies by opposition parties, the military was prompted to take control. The Army attack also highlights the north's animosity against the south, Foltz says. To the Army, the move toward democracy in Togo was looking more and more like a move toward "stealing control of the state from the underdeveloped North and handing it to the South."