Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Togo Ties

In the paper, Le Togolais, Comi Toulabor, reveals the closeness of the ties between France and Togo in less than flattering terms (part I is here and part II is here). Writes Toulabor, “Togolese sovereignty and national independence, reduced to a flag, a hymn and a seat in the United Nations, have been gutted of all substance.” Referring to Togo as France’s “colony,” Toulabor writes that Togo has become “the ideal place for French and French-African colonists to run wild. Their impulses are unchecked here and moral standards in politics are ignored. ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’—the slogan of the Republic—and ‘France, the country of human rights’ are nothing more than jingles in Togo, fairytales for the naïve.”

Toulabor suggests that the French government and Jacques Foccart in particular played a hand in the 1963 murder of Togo’s first president, Sylvanus Olympio, who had helped free Togo from France. Afterwards, the Francophile Nicolas Grunitzky assumed power, only to be replaced later by the Francophile General Eyedema, whose party has held onto power since 1967 (making Eyedema the longest-ruling current leader in Africa). Eyedema’s party, the Rassemblement du peuple togolais, is supposed to have close ties to Chirac’s party, the RPR, and Chirac’s political counselors have assisted Eyedema with his image. These close ties have been maintained despite the fact that Eyedema has accused the French government of trying to assassinate him in 1967 when Eyedema nationalized Togo’s mines, taking them away from almost exclusive French control. In addition, after the assassination of Olympio, France and Togo entered into military treaties that enabled France to arm and shape the Togolese army. For example, in the 1970’s, Togolese soldiers were trained on French soil in accordance with defense accords between the two countries. Even today, joint Togo-French military exercises take place on Togolese territory, although the EU has suspended most aid to Togo as a result of Togo’s democratic and human rights problems. And back in mid-January, the French Defense Minister awarded a Legion of Honor to the son of the chief of staff of Togo’s armed forces, who had died in training exercises with France's elite Saint Cyr military college. Moreover, French intelligence services are alleged to have close ties to the current Togolese regime, keeping them abreast of threats from opposition parties.

Toulabor suggests that France’s support for Togo’s military is indicative of a larger trend. According to Toulabor, the French government maintains its dominance over francophone Africa by supporting a certain African elite in return for their fealty to the Republic. The French government is accused of promoting “stability” above all other values, including democracy. However “stability” means the preservation of Francophile Africans’ power—even if this entails the French government’s support of military dictators who seize power and hold onto it for decades. By emphasizing the importance of “law and order” which can often be maintained only by an army that France has shaped, France exercises a powerful influence over Togolese politics. Toulabor suggests that Chirac adheres to this philosophy as much as Mitterand, and offers a Chirac quote from 1990 made in Abidjan: “For developing countries, a multiparty political system is a political mistake…a luxury for developing countries, which should focus their efforts on economic expansion.” Toulabor notes little change in Chirac’s attitude and writes, “For Chirac and French-Africans, democracy and human rights are not fit for African consumption—we are not mature enough for them.” According to Toulabor, democracy would only threaten the status quo so favorable to France, and he notes that in 1991, the French government supplied tear gas, bullets, billy clubs, and bulletproof vests to Togolese police who suppressed pro-democracy street demonstrations.

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