Military Resists Political Change in Togo

The democratic reform trend in Africa has brought pluralism to this West African state, but the elections planned for spring are in doubt

ON an open-air stage on a starry night, a dance troupe in this small West African country presents a modern ballet in which dancers continually resist the repression of goose-stepping military men dressed in fatigues and carrying cardboard guns.

Such a dance could never have been performed during the 24 years of authoritarian rule that ended last year with the establishment of a transitional government. But as Togo continues to move cautiously toward multiparty presidential elections later this year, the dance performance also illustrates the anger of the Togolese toward the anti-reformist military.

Despite three military uprisings since August by troops loyal to longtime President Gnassingbe Eyadema against interim Prime Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh, Togolese citizens continue to press for change, marching in the streets and preaching the tenets of democracy. (Market women urge reform, below.)

In the past two years, Togo has gone from one political party to 32, and from one state newspaper to a dozen independent journals.

A number of uncertainties hang over the election process in Togo, however. Although elections had been scheduled for spring, some government officials want to put them off until the fall, arguing that the process has been continually disrupted and an electoral code has not even been completed yet.

Another question is whether General Eyadema will become a candidate. According to the law barring executives in the current government from becoming candidates, neither Eyadema nor Prime Minister Koffigoh can run.

However, Eyadema still controls the military, and some Togolese feel that the best way to convince him to give up power is to allow him to run and lose fairly.

Last summer, as a wave of democratic reform was sweeping across Africa, delegates to a national conference in Togo denounced the corruption and human rights abuses in the government, stripped Eyadema of all but ceremonial powers, and elected human rights lawyer Koffigoh as interim prime minister.

The conference was one of several in West Africa since 1990, urged by national opposition leaders and backed by such Western nations as France, Germany, and the United States.

The military, however, never accepted the reforms set in motion by the conference. After two failed attempts in October, troops captured Koffigoh in December in what amounted to a coup that left dozens dead or wounded.

When Koffigoh emerged from the ordeal, he announced with Eyadema that a new transitional government would be formed.

Koffigoh remained the prime minister, but named three new cabinet ministers allied with Eyadema. The balance of power apparently had shifted back to the president and the military.

"Eyadema has Koffigoh in his pocket now," says Yves-Emmanuel Dogbe, a sociologist who was jailed for his writings under Eyadema's regime.

In a campaign of intimidation before and after the December coup, the houses of opposition leaders have been bombed, the offices of critical independent newspapers have been sacked, potential presidential candidates attempting to launch their campaigns have been chased by violent mobs from Eyadema's native region in the north, and university buildings have been burned.

"Dialogue with the Army is really not possible here," says Edmond Kwam Kouassi, a former Togolese ambassador to the United Nations.

One task of any opposition candidate will be to convince the people in the less-developed north, and particularly those of Eyadema's ethnic group, the Kabye, that they will not be neglected if Eyadema loses power. Eyadema established a one-party system in 1969 with the stated goal of integrating northerners into the government. More than 70 percent of the Army is said to be made up of Kabye.

However, the parched northern region remains the poorest part of the country and observers believe that many Kabye are disenchanted with the president.

Another possible problem is election manipulation. The cabinet minister now in charge of overseeing the elections is one of Eyadema's former ministers.

Many Togolese express a longing for an armed regional or international force - such as a UN peacekeeping group or a West African contingent like the one that intervened in Liberia's civil war in 1990 - to counter the Army's presence at the voting stations.

But the Togolese are bitterly aware that they probably won't get support in the form of troops from France, their former colonial administrator. Last November, France sent paratroopers to neighboring Benin to protect the French citizens in Togo, but did not respond to Koffigoh's pleas for help during the coup.

Because France has encouraged the trend toward democracy in Africa, the Togolese felt they had been betrayed by the French government. "Down with the French" is scrawled on walls all over downtown Lome, the Atlantic port capital.

"The French need a sure man in Africa to protect their interests, and Eyadema is a malleable head of state," Ambassador Kouassi theorizes.

If Eyadema is not allowed to run, or if he runs and loses, the question remains whether the Army will accept the elections results.

"If Eyadema doesn't win, he will bring out the tanks again and there will be war," says Josepha Pocanam-Dosseh, a lawyer and opposition activist.

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