Saturday, March 06, 2004

Africa

There were protests in Paris yesterday in front of Togo's embassy by Togolese immigrants and their supporters against French policy towards the African country. An advertisement for the protests described them as:

"--against the French President Jacques Chirac's support of the despotic regime of Gnassingbé Eyadéma.

--for the immediate and unconditional departure of Gnassingbé Eyadéma from power and from Togo.

For 40 years, the tyrannical regime of Gnassingbé Eyadéma has violated human rights in Togo and committed countless crimes against humanity.

Gnassingbé Eyadéma has twice lost presidential elections--one in 1998 and again in 2003--but he stays in power thanks to France's support, the military, violence, and lies."

This excellent paper by Joshua Walker, a student at the London School of Economics, notes that, although the European Union suspended aid from the European Development Fund to Togo under the Lomé IV convention in 1992, France has pursued a contradictory policy, continuing its civilian and military ties to the Togo regime, which has been accused by Human Rights Watch of torture, extrajudicial killings, and the persecution of journalists (note that when HRW made these allegations, the Togo regime hired a French lawyer, Jacques Vergès, to defend it. Vergès' other clients have included Klaus Barbie and Carlos the Jackal). "Eyadéma’s close relationship with Jacques Chirac and the French right-wing in general is fairly well documented...Chirac publicly declared in 1992 that he had almost daily telephone conversations with Eyadéma, and Charles Pasqua, another prominent figure of the French right-wing, is alleged to have met often with Eyadéma while in Togo or Paris. Eyadéma even made financial contributions to the French right-wing in the 1993 legislative elections." While the UK and Germany have opposed resuming a normalization of ties with the Togo regime absent any evidence of human rights improvement, France has pushed in the opposite direction and may threaten retributive actions against EU members that do not cooperate with its pro-Eyadéma policy (perhaps not incidentally, Togo has the world's largest phosphate reserves and France is Togo's largest trading partner). Not surpisingly, Belgium--that bastion of human rights--is following France's lead, and France is increasingly pushing the EU towards increasing its support for Eyadéma. The paper also notes: "France’s unwillingness to sanction francophone African dictators stems from a fear that the success of US-supported democratic opposition movements in francophone African countries would diminish French influence...A potential further reason for France’s support of Togo is that Eyadéma plays an international role within Africa in promoting French interests. This makes him indispensable to the French, while his knowledge of French African secrets is said to afford him a degree of power over them. When the French Socialist Party’s Pierre Guidoni denounced the havoc wreaked on Togolese civilians by the security forces in January 1993, the Togolese Foreign Minister, Ouattara Natchaba, replied that his party had compromising files on François Mitterrand."

Concludes the paper: "It is possible that France is attempting to coerce the EU into adopting a more lenient policy towards Togo in order to continue to reap benefits from Eyadéma’s rule."

Walker also provides some further details on French involvement in the assassination of Togo's first democratically elected president, Sylvanus Olympio: "While the circumstances surrounding the assassination remain unclear, a young Eyadéma, then a recently discharged sergeant from the French army, has been implicated in the affair. Some accounts say he pulled the trigger, killing Olympio. Others allege that a French military operative, under directions from the French government, led the group that killed him, and that France then forced Eyadéma to cover-up for it by announcing that he had pulled the trigger in a Paris Match article published after the assassination. France was uneasy about Sylvanus Olympio, because he had been an executive with a large anglophone company in neighbouring Ghana, and was not perceived as being sufficiently attuned to French interests."

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