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

Côte d’Ivoire

Abidjan, the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire, used to be affectionately known as Petit Paris. The evocation of the French city of lights would be particularly dramatic if you arrived at night and travelled towards the skyline dominated by tall buildings, past glittering advertisements for major brands such as Coca-Cola, Canon and Kodak. The sheer abundance of the vegetation in the city would soon make it clear that you were in a tropical metropolis, however, especially on the borders of the lush lagoon around which Abidjan revolves. Abidjan is still the liveliest and most cosmopolitan city in francophone West Africa and something of an economic powerhouse for the region. But it is no longer the political capital of Côte d’Ivoire. Since 1983 that privilege has gone to the provincial city of Yamoussoukro, which also boasts the magnificent folly of a Catholic cathedral that not only dwarfs Abidjan’s Saint-Paul but was unashamedly modelled on St Peter’s in Rome and remains the largest church in the world — in a country where only one in eight people is Christian. This was the pet project of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, born in the (then) tiny village of Yamoussoukro, who led Côte d’Ivoire to its independence from France in 1960 and then ruled the country with a rod of iron until his death in 1993. Houphouët-Boigny’s successor, Henry Konan Bédié, was toppled in a military _coup_ by General Robert Guei in 1999, ushering in a period of sustained political uncertainty from which the country is still trying to recover. Extensive violence dogged the presidential elections of October 2000 and the parliamentary elections in January 2001. In both elections Alassane Ouattara, leader of the Rally of Republicans (RDR), one of the country’s three major political parties, was disqualified to run following a dispute over his nationality. In Ouattara’s absence the presidential election was fought between General Guei and Laurent Gbagbo, leader of the main leftist opposition, the Popular Ivorian Front (FPI). Although Guei declared himself winner, Gbagbo led widespread protests against what was seen as a rigged result and eventually emerged as the legitimate President.

Borje Tobiasson / Panos Pictures /

Fall-out from this troubled period continues in the shape of a demand by Ouattara’s RDR (backed by human-rights organizations) that the authorities thoroughly investigate the killing of more than 300 of its activists, 57 of whom are said to have been buried in a mass grave in the north Abidjan district of Yopougon. President Gbagbo belatedly ordered that the justice department launch a new investigation in April 2002. Notwithstanding this, some semblance of normality has returned and attempts by Gbagbo’s Government to put the country’s house in order have met with international approval, not least in the shape of a three-year credit of $366 million from the International Monetary Fund for anti-poverty programmes. Action against poverty is desperately needed. Côte d’Ivoire’s economy was founded on plantations of cash crops for export, most of which depended on cheap migrant labour from neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso and Mali. But the wealth this produced has consistently failed to be invested in services such as health and education that would benefit ordinary people. While the country’s national income is significantly higher than its neighbours, its infant-mortality and life-expectancy rates are no better than those of its francophone neighbours and much worse than those of Ghana.

Central African Republic

Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), used to be known as _la coquette _(the charming tease) during the 1970s. Back then Kilometre 5, a district of Bangui, was dubbed by some ‘the centre of the universe’ – yet during the year-long series of army mutinies which shook the country in 1996-97 it might more justifiably have been described as ‘hell on earth’. Even the country’s basketball team, once ranked among the top three in the continent, and which regularly dazzled the stade _Barthelemy Boganda_ (named after the charismatic priest who was the country’s first nationalist leader), is now languishing in mediocrity.

The decline of the CAR can be traced back to the twilight years of the infamous Jean Bedel Bokassa in the late 1970s. Bokassa was a former sergeant in the French colonial army who seized power in 1966 and proceeded to rule the country in a brutal and increasingly bizarre way for 13 years, crowning himself Emperor in an outrageously grand ceremony. Bokassa was supported by France until the international embarrassment at his excesses became too great and they reinstalled former leader David Dacko in 1979.

Only Bokassa’s eccentricity was banished to the past, however – the sad tale of autocracy, repression and corruption continued through the 1980s, even after Dacko was replaced by the military rule of General André Kolingba. Multi-party democracy arrived in the early 1990s and, despite a few false starts, eventually resulted in the election of Ange-Felix Patassé, once Bokassa’s prime minister, as President.

The country’s current economic and political plight can be traced back to 1996 when the non-payment of months of salary arrears to the military prompted a series of army mutinies – three in the space of eight months. President Patassé called in French troops to help him suppress the rebellion but it was not until February 1997 that an African peacekeeping force was sent to the country to preserve a rather precarious stability – to be replaced by a UN force, MINURCA, the following year.

Giacomo Pirozzi / Panos Pictures

MINURCA officially completed its mission in February 2000 but the precarious nature of the country’s institutions has recently revealed itself again in the shape of another round of strikes – this time led by civil servants. In November 2000 the civil servants embarked on an all-out strike for the same reason as in 1996 – that they hadn’t been paid for 12 months. In the end, the Government managed to secure a rescue package from the International Monetary Fund(IMF) in February 2001. The deal with the IMF settles most of the arrears owed to civil servants and also provides for a salary increase. It will stave off the problem for a while but is only a short-term respite.

The massive social and political unrest of the last decade has been due to endemic political and economic mismanagement, together with the autocratic style of President Patassé, whose first response to mass protest has often been to send civil servants and opposition politicians to jail.

The CAR will always be hampered by its landlocked status – when Barthelemy Boganda first campaigned for independence from France it was on behalf of a much larger and more sustainable region. But it still has abundant tropical forests and significant reserves of diamonds – though an estimated three-quarters of current diamond production is smuggled out of the country.

The country staggers from crisis to crisis, IMF bail-out to IMF bail-out, while the Patassé Government makes only the feeblest of attempts to address the problems of the poor – and in a country in which 63 per cent of the population live below the poverty line that is, to say the least, a dereliction of leadership.

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