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12.02.2005 Togo

COMMENTARY: Togo: "That's Our West Africa"

By Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong argues that the Togolese military installation of President Gnassingbe Eyadema's son, Faure Gnassingbe, as the new president following the death of his father should not surprise anybody because "that's West Africa" The Togolese military's fast installation of President Gnassingbe Eyadema's son, Faure Gnassingbe, just few hours of his father's death, once again, confirms the West African character - complex and turbulent, weak rule of law, weak civic virtues, fragile democracies, under current of anarchic forces, flashes of dark spiritual practices, and prone to disorder. It is, therefore not surprising when French President Jacques Chirac told South Africa President Thabo Mbeki to "understand the soul of West Africa" to before he can broker peace deal in Ivory Coast, a country cut into two by rebel-soldiers. "I would really like President Mbeki to immerse himself in West Africa so as to understand the mentality and the soul of West Africa, because in times of crisis, you have to really know people's mentalities and what is in people's souls," Chirac is quoted by the BBC as saying.

A few weeks ago, Guinea's ailing, acute diabetic President Lansana Conte, 71, escaped by hair-splitting assassination attempt. Doubts and potential trouble hovers as Conte's health worsens and people worry about a future of deadly power struggle in a country where there are under currents of attempts for civil war. In October 2004, mutinous soldiers demanding payment of outstanding wages, an increase in pay and better living conditions in barracks killed Guinea Bissau's military chief, General Verissimo Correia Seabre.

Since 2002, after decades of brutal civil war, Sierra Leone's peace is maintained by more than 17,000 United Nations peacekeepers, the biggest UN peacekeeping force and success in the world, and the country appears teleguided, indirectly, by its former colonial power Britain. A lasting mark of the Sierra Leone conflict, which left over 50,000 dead, was the atrocities committed by the rebels, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and government soldiers alike, whose brand was to hack off the hands of their victims. A United Nations-backed War Crimes Tribunal is underway trying those, from both rebel and government sides, who bear the "greatest responsibility" for the wartime brutalities. For 14 years, Liberia was wrecked by civil war. Like Sierra Leone, Liberia has some 7,500 UN peacekeepers in the country.

While West Africa's proximity to Europe made it a place for all the terrible events of encounter with the Europeans since 500 years ago which led to the horrendous slave trade and then later to the long-running colonialism, West Africa's culture, too, has greatly contributed to the region's unpleasantness. Voodoo, of which troubled Togo is heavily mired, good or bad, is only in practiced West Africa compared with other parts of Africa; witchcraft is heavily believed in West Africa than other parts of Africa; threat ritual sacrifices; juju-marabou is deeply a West Africa diet in contrast with other parts of Africa; all sorts of spiritual mediums (most of mix West Africa's native juju-marabou spiritualism with Christian Biblical rituals) and wide range of prophets in the sub-region impact on the mind and soul of the region. These, coupled with other religious practices, have made most West Africans (it doesn't matter their education level or religious affiliation) use more of the magic, superstitious part of their brains than their objective, realistic part of their brain. Most of the Nigerians who patronized the Okija shrine in Anambra state, where over 100 corpses had hands, genitals or heads missing, were "Big Men" with high university qualifications. So as Chirac told Mbeki, to understand West Africa and its strange thinking and strange people and strange developments, you have to understand its culture first, any other attempts is secondary.

The Togolese "military coup," (forget about the denial by Faure and the military brass that there is no military takeover. They are all from the same tribe), emanates from the Togolese and West African culture. As the Associated Press' Ebow Godwin reports from Lome, the Togolese capital, "The army move and the parliament's endorsement reflected the determination of Eyadema's minority Kabye ethnic group, which dominates the army, to hold onto power along with ruling party members who have benefited from decades of Eyadema's patronage." There is no need for all these troubles in Togo when Eyadema died. There are so many successors, from the Speaker of Parliament (even if the Speaker was out of the country) to the Prime Minister to the Chief Justice that Faure Gnassingbe, a United States and France educated man who should know better, should be the new president. I am sure like most West African leaders, Faure's rush to usurp the Togolese constitution might have been that he has been told by some juju-marabou mediums or other booming spiritualists that he has to rule Togo at all cost, at all cost to the disorder and security of Togo. After all, his late father was one of the most rabid juju-marabou dabblers in Africa before his death, using it to scare, dominate and exploit the poor Togolese people, a situation that led to lack of respect for the rule of law and laughable democratic ethos, and which has made Togo atrophy.

So what is happening in Togo should not surprise anybody, because "that's our West Africa."

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