Gnassingbe Eyadema’s Dictatorial Reign And The Politics Of Togo

Gnassingbe Eyadema is one of the famous African leaders who took a dictatorial trajectory in governing their country and in this case Togo. Eyadema rose to power after participating in two coups that saw him become Togo’s President from 1967 until his death in 2005. Let’s take it back a little bit and understand how events played out from 1940 to 2005 that made Eyadema to be the leader of this dictatorial regime that lasted for 38 years.

Gnassingbe Eyadema was born in December 1935 in a rural village in Togo. Eyadema was always ambitious to become a soldier and so after finishing his education, he joined the French military where he was taught to use deadly weapons and generally fighting in wars. In the French military, he rose from one rank to the other and after some period of time, Eyadema returned to Togo together with his military friends who were also Togolese and wanted to join the Togolese army so as to strengthen it but the current President Sylvanus Olympio never gave in to his plans. Olympio was Togo’s first President after gaining independence in 1960. Eyadema with the help of his friends from the French military assassinated Sylvanus Olympio and it is at this time that Nicolas Grunitzky came in as the acting President that was in the year 1963.

In 1967, Cornel Eyadema led a second military coup against the very same person he assisted to become President Nicolas Grunitzky but this round it was a bloodless coup. Gnassingbe Eyadema later on in the same year appointed himself as the President and at the helm, he introduces new laws and policies that would favor his presidency including banning of other political parties. RPT (Rally of Togolese People) was the only party in Togo during his reign. With an aim to strengthen nationalism in Togo, he directed that all citizens should abandon their western names and replace them with African names, and so by example he got a new name Gnassingbe and left the Etiene name. Eyadema was a great admirer of Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and so like him, he would leave a lavish life style as hundreds of women formed an entourage to dance and sing for him.

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In 1972, Togo went to an election and he was elected unopposed. In 1979, Togo adopted a new constitution that returned it to a civilian rule but still Eyadema’s RPT remained the only legalized and recognized party. Eyadema was still re- elected in 1979 and 1986. Togo being a one party state, anybody who opposed Eyadema’s directives were either tortured or even killed. Massive looting, rampant corruption, and giving huge favors to his loyalists characterized Eyadema’s regime. In the 90’s pressure was mounted on Eyadema to adopt multi-partism not only by protesters in Togo but also the international community, and so he had no choice but to give in to the demands. In 2002, Eyadema ensured there was a constitutional change to abolish term limits on the office of the President so that he could extend his reign. In the June 2003 elections, Eyadema for another time contested and retained his seat even though there were cases of alleged vote rigging and malpractices.

Gnassingbe Eyadema died in 2005 February 5th after his plane crushed in Tunis the capital city of Tunisia when he was being ferried abroad for an emergency treatment. But prior to his death, Eyadema amended the constitution again so as to reduce the minimum age of the President to 35 years rather than 45, in order to prepare his son Faure Gnassingbe to take over after him. After Eyadema’s death, the military leader declared Faure Eyadema’s son as the new President but that was not well received by Togolese and the international community and so Faure was forced to step down, and the deputy speaker then became the acting President for the remainder of the term.

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On 24th of April 2005 Faure Gnassingbe contested for the Presidential elections and he emerged the winner and was also successfully elected in 2010, and 2015, and 2020 despite huge protests against Gnassingbe family reign. Togo is small country in West Africa that is bordered by Burkina Faso to the North, Benin to the East, and Ghana from the West with a population of about 8 million people. Lome is the capital city of Togo with 39 multilingual languages being spoken in the country as Ewe and Kabiye being widely spoken language. Togo is divided into five regions, Savanes, Kara, Centrale, Plateaux, and Maritime. Islam and Christianity are the main religion in Togo. The country has valuable deposits of phosphates and a well-developed export sector.

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