Gnassingbé Eyadéma (Born Étienne Eyadéma, 26 December 1935 - 5 February 2005) was a Togolese politician from April 14 1967 to his death on 5 February 2005. He was a participant in two successful coups, in January of 1963 and 1967. He installed himself as president on April 14 1967. During his term, he founded the Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party and led a single-party anti-communist regime until the 1990s, however he continued to consolidate power and won elections in 1993, 1998 and 2003. These elections were heavily boycotted by the opposition and accused of being fraudulent. At his death, he was the longest serving African leader. According to a study in 2018, his regime was accused of "resting on repression, patrionage and a bizarre leadership cult."
Early Life[edit | edit source]
Eyadema was born to a family of the Kabye ethnic group in a village in Northern Togo. While his official date of birth is 26 December 1935, it has been found a more accurate date of birth would be sometime in the year 1930. In 1953, Eyadema joined the French army after finishing primary school. He was trained in war and weapons use and went on to serve in the French Indochina War and the Algerian War. Eyadema returned to Togo in 1962 after serving 10 years in the French army. In 1963, he was one of the main leaders in a coup against President Sylvanus Olympio, where Olympio was assassinated supposedly by Eyadema. He then helped to establish Nicolas Grunitzky as President until also leading a coup against him in 1967. Following the second coup, he declared himself President and Minister of National Defence.
Political Career[edit | edit source]
Three years following his accession as President, Eyadema made the RPT the only legal party in Togo. He won a single-candidate election in 1972. In 1979, a new constitution was passed that nominally returned Togo to civilian rule. The RPT still remained as the only legal party, however, and the party president was automatically given a seven year term as President and confirmed in an unopposed referendum. Eyadema was then reelected twice in 1979 and 1986 under these laws. He also faced numerous assassination attempts during his presidency, one in 1974 in a plane crash and another by a bodyguard. In 1991, a national conference elected Joseph Kokou Koffigoh as Prime Minister with the intent of leaving Eyadema as ceremonial President. Eyadema surrounded the conference with soldiers, but eventually accepted the vote. However, he managed to remain in power with army backing. In 1993, a major attack was launched on the compound Eyadema was living in, with a few members of his staff being killed including his chief of staff. 1993 was also the year Eyadema permitted multi-party elections to be held, although the opposition largely boycotted the election. He won the 1993 election with 96.42% of the vote, although recorded turnout was low outside of his home region. He also won a 1998 election with 52.13%, although there are numerous allegations of fraud and the murders of hundreds of opposition candidates. The European Union suspended aid to the country in 1993 due to voter fraud and human rights abuse allegations. In 2002, the Constitution of Togo was amended to remove term limits. Previously, the President was limited to two five year terms, which meant Eyadema would have been forced to leave office in 2003. Eyadema was reelected in 2003 with 57.78% of the vote. Another constitutional change was the reduction of the minimum age of the Presidency from 45 to 35, largely believed to open dynastic succession for Eyadema's son, Faure, who was 35 at the time. Eyadema was also Chairman of the OAS from 2000 to 2001. The European Union sent a mission in 2004 to evaluate Togolese democracy, but the mission was cancelled due to opposition boycott resulting from overbearing government restrictions. He was later quoted as saying that African democracy "moves along at its own pace and in its own way."
Personality Cult[edit | edit source]
One of the critical parts of Eyadema's regime was his extensive cult of personality, with an entourage of at least 1,000 female dancers who sang praises of him, most stores framing pictures of him, a large statue of him in the capital city of Lomé, watches that had a portrait of him that re-appeared and disappeared every 15 seconds and a comic book that portrayed him as a superhuman with invulnerability and super strength. He commemorated one of his assassination attempts every year as a national holiday called "the Feast of Victory Over Forces of Evil".
Death[edit | edit source]
On 5 February 2005, Eyadema died en route to Tunis, Tunisia for emergency treatment. The official cause of death was a heart attack. At his death, he was the longest serving African leader. Zakari Nandja, commander-in-chief of the army, declared his son Faure Gnassingbé as President following his death. This move was denounced by the Commission of the African Union as against the constitution and a military coup d'état. Under pressure from ECOWAS, Gnassingbé stepped down as president until elections later in the year where he was re-elected with 60% of the vote. Eyadema's funeral took place in March of 2005, with numerous African leaders in attendance.