Togo parties are born in violence

Mark Huband in Lomé, Togo

The Guardian, 13 April 1991

TWENTY-EIGHT years of unenlightened despotism officially ended here yesterday when the government lifted a ban on opposition parties. Protesters vowed to take to the streets with weapons if the incumbent military ruler failed to resign.

Beside the lagoon in Lomé’s slum quarter of Be, in which 26 people were dumped on Wednesday night after being beaten to death by soldiers, crowds milled around among the ashes of the road blocks they had ignited during this week’s riots. The talk was not of joining political parties but of taking revenge.

Up to six parties were due to be registered yesterday. Opposition politicians demanded the acceleration of reforms.

The pace is largely being set by smouldering anger. Shops along the Avenue Augustino de Souza, Be’s main street, have mostly remained closed. Graffiti strikes at the heart of the discontent: “[President] Eyadema’s words are a crime against the people. Support the vandals. We want weapons.”

The city has been quiet for 24 hours, but nobody believes the protests have ended with the legalising of parties. The President must go.

In the centre of Be, in the sacred forest which foreigners should not enter, the people held a service last night for the dead, victims of the army’s lawlessness.

“The ceremony would have delayed the people’s response to the killings on Wednesday,” a Western diplomat said here yesterday. “This is a unique affair that we have here, because it may be a battle between the Ewe and Kabye.” The two tribes are split along north-south lines. Everybody agrees that General Eyadema has failed to end their rivalry by putting members of his Kabye tribe in army posts.

The two tribes were also split by colonialism. German Togoland was divided by Britain and France in 1918. In 1957 the British section became part of Ghana, and the French part later became Togo. The Ewe have long been accused of receiving support in violence from Ghana, whose leader, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, is from the Ewe tribe.

Yesterday Ghana denied that it was supporting the violence. Togo has accepted this denial and leaflets claiming that France is the country behind the riots are now circulating.



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