February 6, 2005


In Ghana, Benin, freedom finds a place to grow (The Rev. Charles Stith, February 6, 2005, Boston Herald)

I'm on the continent to track the progress of some of the world's newest democracies and their efforts at economic reform, from the perspective of a citizen of a 2-century-old democracy with the world's strongest economy.

This trip will take me to Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Tanzania. I will meet with political and private-sector leaders as well as teachers, preachers and everyday people in order to get a sense of what's going on.

My first official function in Accra, Ghana, is a lunch at the residence of U.S. Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates. The table talk is about the topic that still has the nation buzzing: the recent national election.

The December election was Ghana's fourth consecutive election after a number of turns of military rule. The turnout was a whopping 83 percent! By most accounts it was free, fair and fully transparent. Ghanaians are rightfully proud.

The next day I head by car to Benin. We take the East-West highway, via Togo. Togo is a sliver of a country (53 kilometers from the eastern border to the west). It is a former French colony, and present French client state, run by Gnassingbe Eyadema, the world's second-longest-reigning dictator. Only Fidel Castro has logged more years.

What is striking as we cross the border into Togo is the abject poverty distinguishing it from Ghana and Benin. Togo is a graphic example of the extent to which a dictatorship robs an economy of its dynamism and the people of their vitality.

Togolese President Dies, Son Put in Power (Nico Colombant, 05 February 2005, VOA News)

Shortly after the announcement that Gnassingbe Eyadema was dead, the armed forces chief of staff said on state media in Lome that 39-year-old Equipments and Postal Services Minister Faure Eyadema was Togo's new leader. He said the armed forces had been confronted with what he called a power vacuum.

Under the constitution, the parliament speaker is supposed to take over, but the army chief of staff said he is out of the country.

Land, sea and air borders have been closed until further notice.

The earlier statement concerning Mr. Eyadema's death said he had died earlier in the day, while he was being evacuated for treatment. It also appealed for calm and said Togolese should avoid descending into chaos and anarchy.

The main opposition leader, whose father was deposed in a coup organized by Mr. Eyadema in 1963, Gilchrist Olympio, called the day's development a coup. "It is a coup because according to our constitution if the president is incapacitated it is the speaker of the house who takes over. Now, they've gone and appointed a son, an unknown son, of the president to take over," he said. "So far, as we are concerned, we are not out of the woods yet, because we are fighting to put in place a democratic structure in the country."

Mr. Olympio was barred from the most recent presidential election in 2003, which was marred by fraud and intimidation.

Seems a perfect time to crank the torque on Togo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 6, 2005 6:47 AM
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