Boycott the Ouagadougou talks: Don’t legitimize the stranglehold

One year after Togo’s dictator Gnassingbé Eyadema died, his clan is again firmly in charge of this embattled sliver of a country on the Gulf of Benin. In charge, that is, with the blessing and military aid of France, Togo’s former colonial master. For February 20, talks between the opposition and the ruling RPT are scheduled in Ouagadougou, the capital of Togo’s northern neighbor Burkina Faso. But just like the rigged elections last year were merely a sham to legitimize the military coup that put Eyadema’s son in power, these talks are just another attempt to legitimize the status quo: the Gnassingbé clan is in charge of running Togo for the French corporations that exploit the country.

In a Feb 11 editorial (French) for Le Togolais, Comi M. Toulabor argues that the Togolese opposition ought to refuse to continue to “play nice” and participate in so-called reconciliation talks. The ruling clan is weakened enough by internal conflicts and several scandals, that the opposition ought to seize the moment, boycott the talks in Ouagadougou and go on the offensive. In the past, these talks have served nothing more than to placate the EU observers that the RPT “means well” and and supports democracy. As far as I have seen, all attempts of the opposition to engage the RPT constructively have failed in the past, mainly because there is no actual interest among the RPT cronies for progress or any change in the status quo in Togo. There is only interest in faking reconciliation to the degree that it placates the international community into lifting sanctions.

Reconcilliation in Togo has to happen at the grassroots level, I believe. The only way to undermine the RPTs entrenched cadres across Togo, and their grip on their communities, is to undermine the strategy of ethnic division and strife. This is a long-term strategy that will not yield immediate results. But the strategy of attacking the RPT directly has not made much progress in the last 20 years, either. If the opposition can unite and develop a leadership that is associated with ethnic reconcilliation between Ewe and Kabyé, and the many other groups in Togo, I think the RPT’s support among the Kabyé in particular will wane. Such a strategy will expose the insidious “divide-and-rule” strategy of the RPT, and thus undermine their power inside Togo, and perhaps undermine their support from abroad, too.

However, the biggest obstacle to a free and democratic Togo is not even the Gnassingbé clan. It’s their French puppet masters. The former colonial power in most of West Africa, the French government still very much regards the region as a strategic sphere of influence and for many French corporations, exploiting West Africa is highly profitable. The Gnassingbé clan has played a vital role in this racket in the past 40 years, which has been rewarded with ample military aid from Paris. As long as the French government sees the Gnassingbé clan as essential to their strategic posture in West Africa, it will be VERY difficult for the opposition to get rid of them, as the RPT henchmen are not at all squeamish about using those French guns on their fellow Togolese.

I doubt that there is much hope in pleading with the French to stop supporting the RPT. It’s worked to well for them for 40 years, so they have no incentive in changing the status quo in Togo. There may be more hope in trying to build support for the cause of democracy in Togo in the international community, but barely. The world is preoccupied with Iraq, racist cartoons and a possible bird-flu pandemic (not to talk about the Worldcup and Grammy Awards). Few outside Togo care about what happens (or doesn’t) between Lomé and Dapaong. So it’ll be up to the Togolese to find ways to force the French to drop the RPT. I think it can be done, but it won’t be easy. It’ll take an opposition that has a clear vision for Togo, that is united behind that vision, and that manages to build strong support at the grassroots level across all communities in Togo.

The first step, however, has to be to stop collaborating with the RPT, boycott the Ouaga IV talks, and make a clear, unequivocal statement to the Togolese people that the opposition stands for reconciliation among all Togolese, but not with the RPT.

One Response to “Boycott the Ouagadougou talks: Don’t legitimize the stranglehold”

  1. agbessi24 Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article of yours and your good sense of analysis. Sorry I didn’t get time to make any contribution to this. In fact, I think if a political party is able to appeal to and unite both EWE and Kabye people, even people in the Togolese Army that are afraid of possible vengeance against them by a new opposition leadership would change their mind and help oust those RPT crooks out of power and thus little by little get away from France. A new and more understanding leadership in France could also help in our fight for freedom and democracy.
    This nth negotiation of Ouaga is just another one of those “trompe- l’oeil” of the RPT and should really be ignored by the opposition.