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Fatunde: Togo risks being plunged into a civil war

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Tunde Fatunde is a professor of Francophone Studies at the Lagos State University (LASU). He is a specialist on politics and development in Francophone countries of West Africa. In this interview with GBENGA SALAU, he spoke to the crisis in Togo from a multi-dimensional perspective.

• As Citizens Battle To Dethrone Eyadema Family’s Stronghold
• Abuja, France Should Step In

The Togolese seem to be protesting the hegemonic rule by the Gnassingbe Eyademas. Did you see this coming?
It did not come as a surprise, because succession crisis in Togo is as old as the country itself. Remember that the first President of Togo, late Sylvanus Epiphanio Olympio, was assassinated in a military coup that brought late Gnassingbe Eyadema to power, who was then a sergeant. Late Eyadema got to power after serving in Indo-china and during the war of independence in Algeria, as well as Vietnamese independence war against French colonial rule. So he came home after working under French military rule and later when Togo became independent, he continued to work with Togolese armed forces. But he carried out a coup with others that resulted in Olympio’s death. However, in that coup, just like what happened in France under Napoleon, the leaders could not settle for who should head the country’s leadership. So, he organised his own coup and became Togo’s head of state. Since then, the late Eyadema ruled Togo under a one party regime (PRT), even when there was a multiparty system in 1990 he continued to win elections.

He got into power during the cold war, when military take-over was the norm in Africa, though supported by the Western world. At the end of the cold war, multi-party democracy became the order of the day and France, the former colonial power and at the same time provider of military, economic and commercial activities for francophone countries under the Canal France International (CFI) policy, said all colonies must undergo multi-party democracy. Togo had a one party system before the multi-party policy, but after the policy was implemented, election was organised and the late Eyadema won. And he consistently won the elections thereafter, because he had so managed the electoral process that he could not see himself losing elections and this continued until he died suddenly.

Upon his demise, West African leaders said election must be held, after protests against the son taking over automatically. So, election was held with all the electoral processes in the hands of Eyadema’ family. Though there was internal fighting in the family, but Faure Eyadema won. He came into power, when many West African countries had keyed into the culture of two terms for elected officers. He has been there for two terms and he has not made any one pronouncement as to the political future of the country. A constitution review was done in 2016, which recommended two terms and multi-party system for the country, but that constitution is yet to be approved by Togolese Assembly. So, the people felt the only thing they have to do is to go on the streets, and that is where we are now in Togo. Of course, repression and trying to neutralise the opposition is the order of the day.

The French government wanted multi-party system across its colonies in Africa. Why did Togo miss that mark and the attendant reforms that came with this policy?
Togo missed it because the late Eyadema was considered a very faithful partner of France in Africa. So, he had been able to entrench and endear himself to leaders of all political parties in France, to the point that he was able to win all elections. So, you have multi-party democracy, but he constantly won the elections, though they were not transparent, free and fair. There is this contradiction in France foreign policy to its colonies. On one hand, French leadership supports multi-party system and rule of law, but on the ground in the colonies, those principles are not implemented. And because the late Eyadema had friends across different political formations in France, he was able to get away with it, which is why they are in this crisis now.
Is the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) not a contributor to the crisis, as one would have expected that they would step in to ensure compliance with the 2016 constitution review and getting the Assembly’s backing?

Of all ECOWAS countries, Nigeria is the most influential. It has the biggest economy; biggest military force and you see what Nigeria did in The Gambia. But Nigeria has never done that for Togo. Ghana wanted to, but it does not have the political and military clout to deal with Togolese succession crisis. Nigeria has always been silent. The little Nigeria did was to say that election must hold, when Obasanjo was in office. It did not go far to say that a constitution must be in place for a two-term maximum. If that had been done, the issue would not have happened.

In the geo-political configuration of ECOWAS, members will only go the way Nigeria goes and this has been demonstrated. Nigeria is the highest financial contributor and ECOWAS headquarters is in Nigeria. It is only when Nigeria moves that others follow and that is what happened with The Gambia. Senegal could not do anything.

Are you saying some forces within Nigeria are contributing to the crisis in Togo?
Yes, I will say so. This is because unlike in The Gambia’s case, when we said no, we didn’t want this, no action is being taken on Togo. We intervened in Liberia and Sierra Leone, when their internal crises was about to spill over, but when it comes to Togo, there are some internal forces in Nigeria that are friendly and in support of Eyadema’s regime.

And what do you think is the interest?
There is a very powerful Togolese political lobby in the Nigerian political landscape. And do not forget that the late Eyadema was one of the founders of ECOWAS. He had been friends with Gowon and successive governments after Gowon. Maybe, his son does not have that influence, but the father had.
What is the future of Togolese political landscape? There was a time the father had issues just like the son is having now, but the former got away with it.

Are we going to have a repeat?
When a crisis starts and it is not resolved fundamentally, it disappears temporarily, but reappears again. That is what is happening in Togo, and if care is not taken, that country will go into a civil war. It is time for ECOWAS to step in, to say look, let us do this: Faure Eyadema is at the end of his second term, so let us have a new constitution that says any president can stay in power for a period of five years and not renewable after a second term. If this is done now, they can now negotiate a settlement for Faure to contest again, but will not re-contest again after this last outing. This could be done as a middle of the road agreement and then the place will calm down. And it will be made clear that, if he contests and wins, he will not return again and this will break the Eyadema’s family stronghold on the country. If not, the crisis may become so bad that the country may implode. There is need to have a middle of the road agreement.

The sit-tight syndrome is the norm in Africa. Looking at Faure’s reformation posture, when he assumed power, don’t you think seeing previous leaders before retained power at all cost encouraged him to also want to stay put?
He deceived the international communities and Africa. He gave the impression that one of the things he wouldn’t do is behave like his father. But you only know people when they get to power, and not before. A man or woman becomes a liberator or an oppressor, when he gets to power, and that is when you know the nature of his regime. Also, in many African countries, incumbent presidents don’t have the intention of leaving. The only opposition to a life president is death.

What geo-political setting gave the Eyadema family the upper hand to have remained in government for over 50 years?
If you look at Africa’s post independence history, the late Eyadema was one of the few leaders that captured power and stayed in power. In the 50s and 60s, the notion of spending two terms in power and leaving was not there. You stayed in power as long as you wanted. And if you look at Nigeria, it is the internal dynamics and contradictions that forced some people out of power. Gowon did not want to leave, Shagari was removed by a coup, Babangida did not also want to leave, when election was conducted, he scuttled it. That culture of you must spend two terms was not yet ingrained into Africa’s political culture. I do not see why the likes of Paul Kagame and Museveni are still in power. It retards progress and promotes under-development, because the resources meant for education and vocational training is spent on promoting dictatorship.

The biggest problem Africa is facing since 1492, when it had contact with Europe, is that we have simply remained a continent that supplies raw materials and nothing else. The transformation of these raw materials in Africa has not been realised simply because, even after independence, African leaders have not invested heavily in education and vocational training, like it is done outside. If you invest three or four percent of the budget on education and vocational training, what are you going to achieve?

This is what is happening in Nigeria, with almost ten million out-of-school children, which is one of the highest in the world. This is aside the fact that half of our population cannot read and write. These are potentials for economic development. You can only reverse it, if you invest heavily in education and vocational training, just like in South Korea. We are not doing that; we are only perpetuating leaders, spending money to perpetuate rulers. That is the tragedy of Africa.

And Togo is an example; it spends about three percent on education and vocational training, but look at the money it spends on armed forces, which is about 50 percent of the budget. So, there cannot be development.

Do you see external forces’ conspiracy in this? What sense is in it, if you spend less on education and much on military and security, which is sourced externally?
Yes, a bit of foreign conspiracy, but mainly because African leaders have decided to under-develop Africa. We need to be saying that, because this is 50 years after independence. And they are under-developing Africa to promote their longevity in power.

Ironically, in spite of the huge budget on security, Africa states are not able to fight terrorism because they are under-equipped and the armies are like that of the 60s, while the terrorists are very sophisticated, in terms of intelligence and arms. And we are now being haunted by the neglect and under-funding of education and vocational training. This is what is playing out.

If you look at the education and vocational budget of those countries that are helping us, it is very high. They have well-equipped personnel, as well as well-funded armed and ammunition institutions that are up to date.

Are Togolese not also guilty, especially for being so tolerant of tyrants and sit-tight leaders’ excesses?
I would not agree, because from time to time, there have been protests and revolts over corrupt and indolent leadership. Citizens have not considered these leaders as people that cannot be changed. There have been crises, showing displeasure for leadership styles on the continent.

Unfortunately, however, when you switch on the television, you see hundreds of African youths wanting to leave the continent to go to Europe. This is a product of leadership failure, because they cannot see hope in their countries. This is a continent that is one of the richest in the world. There is no type of raw material that is not in abundance in the continent, but what are our leaders doing about them?

Yes, there might be followership conspiracy, but fundamentally, the buck stops at the doors of our rulers. Look at how our revenues are being stolen and taken abroad.

You talked of revenue, which is about the economy. If you look at countries with sit-tight leaders, they rely on external assistance for sustenance of their economies. Is the unhealthy state of the economy not playing a role in all of these crises?
We need to move away from those classical theories. In the 1960s, South Korea and Nigeria were at the same level of development, but South Korean leadership, without any political revolution, decided that they must spend a huge sum of their budget on education and vocational training and it has moved from four per cent to about 56 per cent. And the result? We have Kia, Daewoo and industrial gadgets, among others. Since 1960, Nigeria is still a country of raw materials with mono economy.

In that kind of situation, you cannot industrialise and become independent of external forces. If you have money and don’t spend it on education and vocational training, definitely you will not reap where you didn’t sow. If you spend three per cent of the budget on education and 60 per cent on the political class, what do you expect to get? You only get under-development.

But I want us to move away from the thinking that it is external forces. Yes, they exist, but the internal forces must be the engines for development. If a leader says, as recommended by UNESCO, I will spend 26 per cent of the budget on education and vocational training; 10 years after, you will see the result.

We are just stagnating. And because we fail to do the right thing, our future generation is doing anything possible to go to Europe that is in crises. This is because we have refused to do the needful. It is pathetic for a continent that is so rich. I won’t even accept all these claims that Niger and Chad are very poor, because there are human beings living there, just like there are material resources in the countries. It is because of the way the resources are being managed that is responsible for their being qualified as poor countries.

African leaders meet at different occasions, whether on regional basis or centrally, yet its structure, including the Africa Peer Review mechanism, has not been able to check their excesses…
To really evaluate the political system in Africa, we need to look into the percentage spent on education and vocational training. It is a very important index. If you spend 15 per cent on education and vocational training and increase it every year, it means you are moving into production of the much-needed manpower to transform raw materials into industrial finished products. Right now, we are not adding wealth to what is on ground. What is the whole basis of exporting gas and petrol to South Korea, when we were at the same level in 1960? It is simply that we have not got it right and not invested in education and vocational training.

This, for me, is a big indication. As long as we do not invest in education and vocational training, we cannot maximally exploit the benefits of our raw materials. We only wait for transfer of technology, which is propaganda. Send your people to school, invest heavily in education and vocational training and you will see people performing wonders. This century is driven by knowledge of economy and digital revolution.

The whole idea of education has dramatically changed. You go to school to acquire knowledge, as well as for skills. You are studying physics, but you must also learn how to be either a carpenter or hairdresser or mechanic, so that you realise your full potentialities as a human being. You have a skill and your brain is functioning, that is the modern concept of education. Korea and Japan are doing that. China and Germany are also doing it. It is not just mono way of acquiring education. Let me give you an example. There are two sectors booming in Nigeria today: Nollywood and hip-pop. These two sectors are populated by graduates, who did not read theatre arts or music. What they have done is that, because they have trained their mind, anything they put their hands on, they could learn. If you do that in the university before leaving, there would have been a better transformation of Nigeria’s economy.

Don’t you think ECOWAS and AU need to take a stand to say Faure Eyadema must leave, not minding possible humiliation to the Eyadema dynasty? Wouldn’t this send signal to other sit-tight leaders?
You need France and Nigeria to do that. AU will only follow Nigeria and France’s position. If today, Paris mounts pressure on Eyadema to promulgate into law the new constitution, that is the end of the game. If Nigeria says, promulgate the new law so that it becomes an act of parliament, Nigeria will have to seek Paris’ cooperation and understanding to make that a reality. So, it is a question of Paris and Abuja making the move.

The tragedy about Africa is that we have rulers who still behave, even with elections, like kings. You know a king is never replaced until he dies. That is what we are facing in Africa. And until there is a struggle to entrench the new position, it will not come like that. No human being will give up his/her privileges without a fight. Democracy and human rights did not come without a struggle. Change in Africa would only come through a struggle. And where there is struggle, there is no liberation.

The attitude of sit-tight African leaders can be checked, but it is a question of the will of the civil societies, to say we have gone through this path before and enough is enough.



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