1 June was Day of the Dinosaur in Togo - a red-letter day for that dwindling band of dictators who have held sway over a country for decades but a very bad day for African democracy. On that date Gnassingbé Eyadéma duly recorded his third crushing victory in an 'open' presidential election, having changed the constitution to allow himself to stand for another term only two years after swearing that he would stand down.

In the good old days Eyadéma - who came to power in a coup d'état in 1967 - could present himself as the only candidate and be rewarded, as in 1985, with 99.95 per cent of the vote. These days he has to participate in elections designed to pay lip-service to the inconvenient modern addiction to multi-party ballots. His people, moreover, are so much less grateful than they used to be - his share of the vote was only 57 per cent. Not only that but opposition politicians insist on giving out alternative results that claim he was actually defeated.

International observers stopped short of ruling the election corrupt, though the Francophone group - which was headed by former Senegalese President Abdou Diouf and had the largest number of observers - said the results should be taken with a significant pinch of salt. In the department of Zio protestors destroyed ballot boxes which they said had been stuffed with fictitious votes for the President.

Even if voting itself had been as free and fair as the West African air, critics could point to Eyadéma's 'creative' use of a new ruling that anyone who has not lived continuously in the country for the previous four years cannot run for President. This conveniently ruled out Gilchrist Olympio, who was not only his main rival in the last election in 1998 but is also the son of the country's first President, murdered in 1963 by army officers rumoured to include Eyadéma.

Giacomo Pirozzi / Panos

Olympio, currently in Paris, has pledged to form a government of national reconstruction in exile. French President Jacques Chirac, in contrast, has sent Eyadéma his congratulations and his hope that European Union sanctions in place since the fraudulent elections in 1993 can now be lifted. France itself resumed aid as soon as it could, in 1994, and has consistently acted as an apologist for the man who styles himself, in a strange echo of Mao Zedong, The Helmsman or Le Guide. Chirac joined Eyadéma in dismissing as 'manipulation' a 1999 Amnesty International report that described a 'persistent pattern' of extrajudicial executions, 'disappearances', arbitrary arrest and torture.

As this sorry saga suggests, Togo has not realized a fraction of its potential since achieving independence from France in April 1960. The country gave the name of its capital to one of the key agreements in development history - the Lomé Convention which regulated trade and aid between the African, Caribbean and the Pacific group of countries and the former European Economic Community. It is also the world's fourth-largest producer of phosphate, the main component in fertilizer.

Real development that benefits ordinary people has, however, been notable for its absence. In the period when the country has been shunned by the European Union for its humanrights abuses, the main international players in Togo have been the World Bank and the IMF, which both offered structural-adjustment money on condition that a major privatization programme proceeded apace - and among the sell-offs to private and international investors, inevitably, has been part of the Togolese Office of Phosphates.

The Togo charade looks set to continue for the foreseeable future, while its people are the proverbial grass which continues to suffer.

Thémon Djaksam

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Human Development Index
Last profiled May 1986

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