(Kwadwo Mensah, Ghanaian Chronicle, Accra, Ghana, May 5, 2005)
“Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble” – The three Witches in Macbeth
SO IT was just the calm before the storm. The intervention of West African leaders to force the Togolese military to follow Togo’s Constitution was merely the postponement of the inevitable showdown between the ‘Gnassigbes’ and of the North and the ‘Olympios’ and of the South. It is arguable that far from providing a credible solution to the Togolese crisis, West African leaders in their earlier intervention, only vindicated the principle that government had to be by rules. They failed to answer the question as to whether the rules also had to be fair. Now with the post-election violence, they must confront this central question.
The genesis of the Togolese crisis is well known. Togo has been ruled for the past forty years by a not particularly enlightened or bright leader – Gnassigbe Eyadema. Eyadema ruled Togo tightly through a mafia made up almost exclusively of people from his ethnic group from the North. The mafia controlled the security forces and all the major institutions of the State. Eyadema’s rule was very authoritarian and characterized by severe human rights abuses. Opposition to his rule came mainly from the South, who consequently bore the brunt of his authoritarian rule. After the fall of communism and with the general push for democracy in Africa, internal and external pressure forced Eyadema to introduce multi-party democracy. But he was never really committed to it. A number of assassination attempts were made on the life of one of the main leaders of the opposition, Gilchrist Olympio, who eventually fled to Ghana. Allegations of further human rights abuses continued and the EU cut off aid to Togo. This had a negative effect on the Togolese economy, which has never really been robust.
Consequently, on the death of Eyadema, Togo was a deeply divided country. In the north were his die hard supporters who controlled the military, the security forces and all the major institutions of the State. The interregnum after Eyadema’s death showed that the mafia was determined to hang on by hook or by crook. When their first attempt by hook failed, it was certain that the next step was going to be by crook. The opposition, from the south, was implacably opposed to the continued hegemony of the mafia. The multi-party democracy had become a complete farce as many of its institutions had been compromised by their loyalty to Eyadema. Consequently, the opposition had lost faith in these institutions and any elections conducted under the prevailing system were going to be a very hard sell. West African leaders did not help matters when they insisted that elections should follow the rules, in spite of the fact that the rules were patently unfair. In fact, they were preparing the ground for a confrontation between two forces that were determined to win, come hell or high water. By not insisting that the right thing had to be done, West African leaders failed the Togolese people. With the widespread youth unemployment that comes with a stagnant economy, Togo was just waiting to explode.
So what is the way out of this crisis? The crisis provides ECOWAS with an opportunity to redeem itself. First, it must insist that the government and the opposition should call a halt to the violence. They must make it very clear that violence, as a strategy to win power, is unacceptable in West Africa. This means that the Togolese military and security forces should return to the barracks. The opposition supporters should also stop whatever violence they are engaged in. West Africa should then send a peace enforcing force to Togo to police those areas in Togo where violence has become a serious problem.
Second, there must be an interim government of national unity that should include all Togolese of whatever political persuasion. It must also include technocrats who have an interest in the future of Togo. It must be headed by a political neutral – as pertains in Liberia – who must necessarily be someone who has no intention to be President in the future. This interim government must draft a new constitution that would ensure that politics in Togo would be fair and everyone would have a fair crack at the whip. It must also depoliticize all the institutions of the State so that all Togolese would have confidence in their democracy. The period of interim national government should also serve as a period of apprenticeship for those politicians who want to shape the future of Togo in the years to come. It must run for 2 years.
Third, the Togolese military and security apparatus must be re-structured to remove the ethnic imbalances created by Eyadema I to perpetuate his rule. In its present make up, Togo’s security forces are bound to be sources of instability in Togo’s politics. In the long term, they must be turned into professional forces that should be concerned only with protecting Togo’s security.
Fourth, Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso should ensure that their territories are not used as safe havens or launching grounds for any rebel activities by any group that wishes to use force to resolve the present crisis. Togo is a small country and it would be relatively easy to deal with rebel activities within the country if potential rebels have no sanctuaries in the neighbouring countries.
Finally, at this time of the Togolese crisis, Togo needs leadership that sees beyond the exigencies of the moment and wish to create a united and prosperous Togo in which every Togolese, irrespective of ethnicity or political persuasion, has a stake. Politicians must be ready to make the hard decisions, devoid of personal ambitions, that will save Togo from turning into another Sierra Leone, Liberia or Cote d’Ivoire. And in taking these hard decisions, Togo’s two main protagonists have more in common than they think. Faure and Gilchrist’s main claim to the Presidency is based on nothing more than the fact that they are their fathers’ sons; Gilchrist’s father being Olympio I and Faure’s father being Eyadema I. We have no clue and they probably have no ideas about how to resolve the endemic problems that face Togo. Faure may be more than determined now to be Togo’s next President. Gilchrist may also have been so focused on ending the northern oligarchy and becoming President that he may have had little time to think of what he would do when he becomes President. And yet, politics is not like boxing where knocking down one’s opponent ends the fight. In fact, for the Togolese people, it is after someone has been made President that the real battle to end poverty begins. The period of the government of national unity should provide an opportunity of apprenticeship for these aspirants so that they can really understand the problems that Togo faces. It is then that they can formulate solutions to these problems. It will be a chance for North and South to work together for the common good.
Togo must not become another catastrophe and Togolese and ECOWAS leaders have a responsibility to ensure that our recent bad history does not repeat itself