Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng (Journalist & Media Consultant) gives us an eye-witness account of a notorious regime:
At the height of his powers, before his wings were clipped ever so slightly by the upheavals of the early 1990s, the late President Eyadema was greeted everywhere he went in Togo by orchestrated crowds of praise singers who performed a ritual known as "animation". This was usually composed of hundreds of young women and men wearing uniform clothing bearing his image who performed syncopated dance routines while singing his praises. After every five minutes or so, the singing would give way to a synchronized chant that extolled his strength and wisdom and always ended on the hubristic line: Eyadema toujours, au pouvoir (Eyadema in power for ever!) They followed this declaration with a frenzied ululation that simply defied the laws of gravity and principles of physics; somehow they managed to stay on their feet amid all that swaying to launch into yet another song. Songwriting for Eyadema must have been a very easy job: every song started with one word: Eyadema and the rest was easy. That Eyadema loved the pomp and pageantry of power is a self-evident truth but beyond enjoying it, he used the trappings of power to a great strategic effect - to emasculate his opponents by throwing their impotence in their face. Eyadema toujours was not just a chant or even a boast but also a taunt. Every major speech in Togo had to start with these slogans, which left a bitter taste in the mouths of many of its speakers.
I witnessed the Eyadema tactic of using humiliation as a political weapon when I met him for the first time in 1979. This was during an Executive Committee (EC) meeting of the All-Africa Students Union (AASU) in the Togolese capital in that year. There were two incidents that spoke much about the way the Eyadema personality had taken hold of the country. A group of us student leaders from all over the world had formed a habit of teasing the President of MONESTO, the Togolese students union, about these slogans and dared him to make a speech without uttering the hideous lines. Therefore, the Lome EC was his opportunity to demonstrate his independence from the cult of Eyadema that passed for political loyalty in that country. Perhaps the man had been spoken to by his mother the night before: he took the podium to deliver his welcome address, he looked at the assembled collection of personages arrayed on the high table, which included President Eyadema and many of his ministers and the then Secretary-General of the OAU, Mr. Edem Kojo, and swallowed hard. At this point all thoughts of bravery and subversion deserted him and he went into slogan mode:
Vive le Général d'Armée Gnassingbe Eyadema !
Eyadema toujours - Au pouvoir!
It was hard not to feel sorry for the hapless student leader but it was clear that as Shakespeare's Brutus said of Julius Caesar, Eyadema bestrode the narrow world of Togo like a colossus and all others were mere mortal men. A young man's wish to assert a bit of independence had dissolved in the corrosive acid of the poisonous cauldron that was Togo's political doctrine. Needless to say, all Togolese political leaders who spoke that day also intoned the same slogans. The notable exception was Mr. Edem Kojo who as OAU Sec-Gen must have felt insulated from the leader's immediate stranglehold.
What followed was even more bizarre and revealing. Just before the end of the opening ceremony, the President asked rather loudly, "how are you people fixed for lunch?" When the president of a sovereign nation who is more the sovereign than its servant asks that question, the answer, as we gave was no, we are starving with no prospect of food in the next decade. He then invited all of us to be his guests at lunch in his village some 200 miles away! He must have read our thoughts for he explained in the next minute that there was a plane ready to fly us to the village.
We were bussed in protocol vehicles with motorcades and all the trimmings to the airport where we boarded a jet for Kara, his "village". We were met on arrival by hundreds of animation activists in clothes bearing his effigy singing his praises as usual. With quick dispatch we were led into a cavernous dinning hall with set places for more than 150 people. We began a five-course meal that should have been a delight for the palate and the stomach except that the President disrupted it every inch of the way with a display of raw naked power. At various points during the lunch, he called batches of his ministers and other high officials to his table where he sat in splendid isolation. Every minister had to go on one knee while listening to the Leader. You were almost about to feel sorry for these men but then you remembered that kowtowing to the Leader was their choice. Meanwhile, it was obvious to all that whatever it was the president told each of them could have waited because not a single one left the hall to perform any urgent task.
In later years, I had reason to suspect that the main point of that sad exercise on that particular day was to send a signal to one particular man, Mr. Edem Kojo, who was Secretary-General of the OAU. At the time most of them were not aware of Mr. Kojo's domestic political ambitions that took him to the prime minister's position sometime in the 1990. However, with his uncanny sixth sense and huge intelligence network, it is possible that even in 1979, Mr. Eyadema felt the need to send a signal to Kojo, a potential rival. I may be wrong, in which case the only explanation for this display would be that the President was out to enjoy his lunch by humiliating his ministers for fun. If this was how he treated his allies, imagine what he would do to his opponents and enemies.
My second encounter with the President was, I think, in 1995 when Togo somewhat incongruously hosted a session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. A delegation of civil society groups went to the Presidential Palace to brief the President on the anti-impunity campaign that human rights groups had just launched. The purpose of the campaign was to ensure that authorities could not get away with human rights violations. If there was one violator and getter-away-with, it was the man we were about to visit. So, on the eve of the visit I was rather apprehensive about how it would go. You would think that a serial violator like him would also worry to be confronted by a group of international human rights campaigners led by the redoubtable Adama Dieng, then Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva who is now the Registrar of the Rwanda Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania.
It was rather shocking that when he met us he betrayed not a trace of anxiety; in fact he was in a very relaxed and expansive mood. It soon became clear why. Proceedings began with the usual courtesy greetings, which in French are an elaborate ritual of mutual flattery. After that Adama launched into his speech about why impunity was no good and how every authority had a duty to protect and promote human rights, and so on and on. He ended by appealing to Eyadema to free a journalist who was in a Togo jail without trial. Eyadema responded by informing us that in line with his own profound respect for human rights he had appointed a minister for human rights. (This was true although in less than one year after that meeting, the minister was in exile in Paris. Some say he took his job too seriously). The President announced that he had also ordered the release of the journalist in line with his belief in human rights. As for the anti-impunity campaign he said we had come to the right place because no one was campaigning harder than himself. He wanted everyone to be accountable, for example journalists should not be allowed to get away with trampling on people's rights, etc. He stopped himself in mid-flow, as if to say: what can I possibly do with these people. Then he had a bright idea. He clapped and immediately a liveried servant appeared and the President ordered Champagne for us all. It was 11 am.
It was obvious that the President has decided beforehand not to treat our mission with any respect, this way no serious discussion could ensue. And he won, not because he had deployed any argument bearing logic or morality but simply because he had the power. Eyadema understood that more than any doctrine: to have the power and keep it always was his weapon. Whether it was something he learnt in his army days or he imbibed it by instinct, he has passed it on to his closest military cronies because it is this instinct to have the power and keep it always that has landed them and Togo in the current crisis. Every commentator has observed that the military could have allowed the Speaker of Parliament to become interim President for the 60 days and then organized the elections, which the Eyadema Party, RPT, could have won. But these people couldn't abide another person in power for even one day; they had to have power always.
It is important for the African Union, ECOWAS, the UN and all international organisations to work together on this to ensure that these people cannot have their way always. The illusion that Eyadema nurtured, which was that Togo was his personal property is a dangerous one. As everyone knows or ought to know, dictatorships are very unstable and inefficient and a prolonged one on our Eastern border spells danger for Ghana. As a result, apart from all the international effort, Ghana has to do more than most to ensure that democracy comes to Togo. Otherwise this is what it means: Mr Faure Eyadema is 39 years old so let us say he reigns for 40 years, then his son begins to reign in 2045 only to cede power to Faure's grandson in 2085Š You get the picture.
Eyadema Toujours au pouvoir, please God NO.