In the course of history, Africa has had a huge role in contributing its fair share of dictators to the world. Truth be told, there are dictators who have been worse, say Adolf Hitler, but African dictators are extra. Because while many countries have moved on by embracing the fundamentals of democracy, Africa is still lagging behind right in the 21st century. Maybe democracy is an abstract concept for Africa.
Eyadema was once Africa's longest-serving head of state, and his life was lived precariously, but he survived. His origins are enshrouded with an aura of mystery, and no one REALLY knows them. Official records say he was born on 26 December 1935, but no one knows that for sure. According to Comi M. Toulabor, his official date of birth is "based on a fertile imagination" and it would be more accurate to say that he was born around 1930. Even his name; it was not his real one. Mysterious start, there.
He joined the French army, but after serving it for 10 years he returned to Togo, in 1962, and in 1963 he led what's widely regarded as the first military coup in Africa. President Sylvanus Olympio was killed in the process, and he helped establish Nicolas Grunitzky as Togo's new president. He felt the need for another coup (the coups must have been nice) and in 1967 Colonel Eyadema of the Togolese Army led a second military coup against Grunitzky. Power being tasty, he made himself the President, claiming to be "restoring democracy".
With haste, he made Togo a one-party state, leading a highly repressive and oppressive anti-communist party. Typical with one party states, all opponents were eliminated, and a toxic mix of violent methods to silence opposition and having a tight grip on power was thrown into play. The army was widely increased, jailing and torture were just the order of the day. Security forces were known to throw the mutilated bodies of victims out of helicopters and into the sea. Very brutal.
There is a critic of his rule who had electric cords applied to his genitalia and screamed until he lost his voice. Ouch! His torturers thought that he was not feeling the pain anymore so they beat him until they broke 13 of his ribs. In 1993, Togolese soldiers had an 8-hour shooting practice, not at the barracks, but right on the streets of Lome, the capital city. Live ammunition was used, and civilians were targets. There simply was not any respect for the sanctity of life.
No dictatorship thrives without a cult of personality, and Eyadema was obsessed with this. 13 February (the day of the coup in 1967) became sacred, and so was the number 13. He had an entourage of 1,000 dancing women who sang and danced in praise of him; portraits which adorned most stores; a bronze statue in the capital city, Lomé; $20 wristwatches with his portrait, which disappeared and re-appeared every fifteen seconds; and even a comic book that depicted him as a superhero with powers of invulnerability and super strength.
In 1974 Eyadema survived a plane crash, in which the State made it appear as if Eyadema was the only one who had survived. The crash site was used for sacred rituals. Eyadema also ordered people in Togo to Africanize their names, he changed his name from Etienne to Eyadema, meaning "courage." One of the assassination attempts he survived was celebrated as "the Feast of Victory Over Forces of Evil."
According to BBC News, Eyadéma claimed that democracy in Africa "moves along at its own pace and in its own way." The European Union team failed to expedite the process of democratization in Togo around 2004.
Eyadema ran Togo like his own property, characterized with massive looting, rampant corruption, and giving huge favours to loyalists that included loans, jobs, study credits or commercial monopolies. He spent a fortune hosting foreign visitors, closing public schools when the visitors came so the kids could line up on the streets and clap for the convoy.
Interestingly, France was never bothered by the appalling conditions and dictatorship in Togo. Eyadema once called Jacques Chirac, France's former president, "a close personal friend of mine and of France."
He ruthlessly crushed protests, including one in 1985 where several protestors were jailed. But pressure from the international community grew and he called for elections in 1986, and he was the only candidate, with soldiers watching as voters cast their votes. He won. Later that year, he survived an assassination attempt, with the help of France. Through the 1990s, the reforms of multiparty systems sweeping across Africa almost got to him, with a lot of citizen strikes. He kept his grip on power. Not even his own party could oust him.
In 2003, much of the international community had isolated him (except France). He wanted monetary aid, so he called for elections. The Constitution had been changed to remove the presidential term limits the year before. But nothing really changed, media was biased in his favour, at the counting of elections, he was losing, but officials "quit" counting the elections midway. Counting was finished by a "trustworthy" government Minister in private, claiming impartiality (the nerve) and Eyadema won the election with 52%.
His victory was met with lots of protests, he accused of being a thief. He really did not care about that. The Constitution has changed again after he was sworn in, to reduce the minimum age from 45 to 35. His son, Faure Gnassingbe was 35 at the time. And he is the current president of Togo, on an authoritarian path.
Do not be fooled by empty speeches against America and her friends on the United Nations stage, ruthless African dictators are not Pan-Africanists.
On February 5, 2005, he died on board a plane 250 km south of Tunis, Tunisia. He died "as he was being evacuated for emergency treatment abroad", according to a government statement. Officials have stated that the cause of death was a heart attack. At the time of his death, he was the longest-serving head of state in Africa.
Header Image Credit: Radio France Internationale