Faure Gnassingbé succeeded his late father as president of the West African nation of Togo in 2005. He was first sworn into office under circumstances that violated the Togolese constitution and then stepped down after widespread protests. Two months later, he was elected president in balloting that was conducted in an atmosphere of voter intimidation and marked by allegations of fraud. His father had remained in office for nearly forty years and was one of the continent's longest-ruling dictators. A British Broadcasting Service (BBC) report on the situation paraphrased journalist Andrew Manley's explanation, that "dynastic succession is a characteristic of more conservative Francophone African countries, where power is heavily concentrated around the presidency—which in turn is dependent on the backing of the former colonial power, France."
Togo is a small republic situated on the Gulf of Guinea. It shares borders with Benin and Ghana, and its capital, Lomé, is a vital port for Togo and nearby nations whose economies are export-dependent. Gnassingbé was born on June 6, 1966, in Afagnan (also spelled Afanyan), a city in the southeastern prefecture of Lacs. Togo had achieved independence from France in 1960, and in 1962 Gnassingbé's father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, returned from several years of service with the French Army. The Gnassingbé family was of Kabiyé heritage, the minority ethnic group in Togo. During the first years of independence, however, Togo's predominant ethnic group, the Ewe, rose to positions of political power. Many Kabiyé, like Gnassingbé's father, were passed over in favor of Ewe candidates, and tensions arose. An able military commander, Eyadéma organized a coup in January of 1963 against Sylvanus Olympio, the first elected president of Togo, that is considered the first forcible takeover of power in postcolonial Africa. Gnassingbé's father then served for the next four years as chief of staff to the new president, Nicolas Grunitzky. When Grunitzky was ousted in a 1967 coup, Eyadéma became president of Togo, a position he retained for the rest of his life.
Gnassingbé was one of several sons of Eyadéma, who had three wives. Among his siblings, Gnassingbé was considered the savviest, and after earning a degree from the Sorbonne in Paris he spent several years in the United States at George Washington University, from which he earned an master's degree in business administration. Returning to Togo, he served as financial adviser to his father for many years. As Eyadéma clung to power through the 1980s, Togo's economy fell into decline, and the average per-capita income for its five million citizens was halved to around $300 per year within a generation. The coastal region around Lomé was once a grand resort destination, but its beachfront hotels fell into disrepair and rising crime rates stunted tourism revenues. In 1993, protesting the sham elections in which Eyadéma was usually the sole candidate on the ballot, the European Union cut off aid to the struggling nation. Gnassingbé's father also fostered a cult of personality over the years, claiming he was destined to triumph over his political enemies after having miraculously survived what he said were two separate assassination attempts.
Togo did maintain a façade of democracy in the form of a National Assembly. Gnassingbé formally entered politics in 2002 as a candidate for the assembly from Blitta (also known as Bletta), near his birthplace. The country's only political party, however, was the Rassemblement du Peuple Togolais (Togolese People's Rally, or RPT), which had been founded in 1969 by Eyadéma. During the 1990s new political parties emerged, but they were severely hampered by government restrictions; as a result, opposition parties urged the Togolese to boycott elections altogether in protest of the blatant disregard for legitimate political discourse. Gnassingbé began to emerge as his father's handpicked successor when the National Assembly voted in favor of the president's proposed constitutional amendment to lower the minimum age for the office of president to thirty-five years of age.
In July of 2003 Gnassingbé was appointed to his father's cabinet as Minister of Equipment, Mines, Posts, and Telecommunications. By this point Eyadéma was the longest-serving ruler on the African continent, having taken office in April of 1967, several months earlier than Omar Bongo of Gabon, who assumed office in December of 1967. Eyadéma died of a heart attack on February 5, 2005, and Gnassingbé was sworn in as president on the same day. This occurred despite the designated line of succession specified in Togo's constitution, which calls for the president of the National Assembly to be sworn in as acting president until a special presidential election can be held. Assembly president Fambaré Ouattara Natchaba was in neighboring Benin at the time. In his absence the National Assembly voted to dismiss Natchaba from his post, and named Gnassingbé as President of the National Assembly and interim president for the remainder of his father's term, which stretched into 2008. This motion also bypassed a Togolese law stating that a new election was to be held within sixty days after the death of the president. Widespread protests erupted in Togo in response.
Assumed Presidency amid Protests
The National Assembly's actions were denounced by several African nations in formal statements via the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The latter group ordered Gnassingbé to an emergency meeting in Niamey, Niger, to meet with several ECOWAS heads of state. Within days Gnassingbé announced that he would be stepping down as president of Togo. He resigned on February 25, after he was named both the head of the RPT and its candidate in a presidential election scheduled for April.
At a Glance …
Born Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé on June 6, 1966, in Afagnan, Lacs Prefecture, Togo; son of Gnassingbé Eyadéma (a politician). Politics: Rassemblement du Peuple Togolais (Rally of the Togolese People). Education: Earned degree in financial business management from the Université de Paris, and MBA from George Washington University.
Career: Elected to the National Assembly of Togo, 2002; named Togo's Minister of Equipment, Mines, Posts, and Telecommunications, July 2003; unelected president of Togo, February 5, 2005 to February 25, 2005; elected president of Togo, April 24, 2005—. Head of the ruling party of Togo, Rassemblement du Peuple Togolais (Togolese People's Rally), 2005—.
Addresses: Home—Lomé, Togo. Office—c/o Embassy of the Republic of Togo, 2208 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008.
In his campaign Gnassingbé reminded voters that he was of a modern generation, educated abroad, and familiar with progress and technology. "I am the new image of Togolese youth, the new image of Togo," he said in campaign speeches, according to Bryan Mealer of the Seattle Times. "I'm going to take this country to the next level. More freedom, more democracy. It's the only way we can solve our problems." His main opponent was Gilchrist Olympio, son of the Togo president believed to have been killed by a bullet from Gnassingbé's father's pistol during the 1963 coup. Olympio was the founder of the main opposition party, the Union des Forces du Changement (Union of Forces for Change, or UFC), but had not lived in Togo long enough to satisfy the residency requirement for the ballot. A retired mining engineer, Emmanuel Bob-Akitani, became the UFC candidate, and received 38 percent of the vote. Gnassingbé took 60 percent, and was declared the winner in the official results. Observers, however, reported that they saw ballots pre-marked with Gnassingbé's name, in addition to government security forces at polling stations. Several people died in protests that erupted over the atmosphere of intimidation and fraud, and in some of the more affluent neighborhoods of Lomé, the unrest descended into looting.
Gnassingbé was sworn in as president again on May 4, 2005. After taking office, he accepted generous foreign aid packages from the Chinese government and built a new presidential residence in Lomé with Chinese money. Bitter feelings remained, however, surrounding the passing of the reins in Togo in 2005, which on a larger level seemed to serve as a sign of the changing of another guard in Africa. The fact that several African leaders stepped forward to criticize Gnassingbé's unconstitutional assumption of power was not insignificant, explained Lydia Polgreen in the New York Times. "The swift condemnation of the installation of Mr. Gnassingbé, particularly from African leaders who in the past had favored the realpolitik of stability and order over principles of democracy and human rights, led many to see the situation in Togo as a crucial test of Africa's resolve to embrace democracy."
Financial Times, April 30, 2005, p. 9.
New York Times, February 19, 2005.
Seattle Times, April 27, 2005, p. A12.
Times (London, England), February 8, 2005. p. 53.
"Profile: Faure Gnassingbe," BBC News, April 21, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4242469.stm (accessed February 22, 2008).
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