Understanding Neo-Colonialism in Togo

François Hollande and Faure Gnassingbé
François Hollande and Faure Gnassingbé

Kwame Nkrumah once described neo-colonialism as follows: “The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.” What happened in most cases was that the “independent” governments that took over power from the colonial powers in Africa continued to serve the interests of the former colonial powers. In cases where leaders pursued independent policies that were at odds with what the Western nations desired, those leaders were removed. This happened in Ghana where the United States supported the coup that overthrew Kwame Nkrumah and in the Congo where the Belgian and American governments were involved in the plot to remove Patrice Lumumba. Lumumba was assassinated and replaced with a Western supported dictator. Decolonization in Africa was not followed by true independence. This has especially been the case in the former French colonies.

In 1958, Guinea became the first French colony in Africa to declare its independence. After Sekou Touré decided to declare Guinea’s independence from France, the French decided to withdraw completely from Guinea, destroying much of the infrastructure in the process. The goal was to punish Guinea for daring to choose independence. France was also responsible for a number of attempts to overthrow Sekou Touré. This was the first example of France’s hostility towards African leaders who demonstrated any sort of independence of thought or action from France. As other “Francophone” nations in Africa followed Guinea into independence, France continued to retain its influence over those states. In Senegal the French influence was so strong that Eric Williams, who was the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago at the time, observed that Senegal was “tied hand and foot to France, and nobody attempts to conceal it.” When Thomas Sankara came to power in a military coup in 1983 he attempted to break French control of his country, which included changing the name of his country from the colonial name of Upper Volta to Burkina Faso. By 1987, Sankara was assassinated in a French supported coup. France’s policy in Africa in the post-colonial era has been to eliminate or neutralize leaders who do not serve France’s interests, while also supporting some of the worst dictators that Africa has seen.

Togo became independent in 1960. In 1963 Sylvanus Olympio was assassinated in a French supported coup. Olympio wanted to remove the CFA franc and to issue Togo its own currency. This was detrimental to France’s economic interests in Togo. Gnassingbé Eyadema, a soldier who fought in France’s colonial army, proved to be the loyal politician that France wanted in Togo. It did not matter to France that Eyadema was a ruthless dictator who tortured and murdered his own people. What was important was that he served France’s interests and France did whatever was necessary to prop up this regime. In 1986, France sent military aid in the form planes and soldiers to help save the dictatorship from a possible coup attempt. When Gnassingbé Eyadema died in 2005 his son Faure took over power. Faure has continued his father’s legacy of being a brutal dictator and France has continued to support that dictatorship.

The government in Togo enjoys international legitimacy because in theory the government is an elected one. In practice, however, Togo’s elections are not democrat. Togo’s elections have been marred by fraud and violence. This has included cases in which ballot boxes were stolen. In 2005 the United Nations reported that more than 500 people were killed as a result of election violence, although some other estimates state that as many as 1,000 people were killed. France is well-aware of this, but they have continued to support Faure’s dictatorship. As Togolese activist Farida Nabourema pointed out, during the election in 2010 France supplied Togo with teargas and police trucks for the election to help the government of Togo to suppress the expected protests. In October of this year Faure called on France to assist him in dealing with the protesters who are demanding that he steps down.

The current regime in Togo is not one that was put in power or supported by the Togolese people. It is a regime that was put in power by France and continues to be supported by France. It is for this reason that struggle being waged in Togo right is a struggle to remove Faure and to establish a government that will serve the interests of the Togolese people, rather than serving foreign interests. Togo’s struggle is a struggle against neo-colonialism.

Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook.

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