Togo: President snubs opponents for 'moderate' prime minister

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

LOME, 9 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe has named 'moderate' Edem Kodjo prime minister, leaving the opposition coalition that rallied against him in April polls wondering what to do next.

Although a member of the opposition, 67-year-old Kodjo, a former economist, served as prime minister in the mid-1990s with Gnassingbe's father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who died last February.

Gnassingbe took his father's job of 38 years following elections that the opposition denounced as being rigged. His presidential decree appointing Kodjo was read on state television on Wednesday night after weeks of consultations.

The so-called 'radical' six-member opposition coalition that countered his 24 April presidential bid with a unity candidate had expected one of their representatives to get the appointment. Without the top government job, they say they're back to square one.

"We are back to the position we were at before the (5 February) death of Eyadema," Jean Pierre Fabre, of the Union of the Forces for Change (UFC) and coalition member, told IRIN on Thursday.

"We'll have to manage, like we managed before," he said.

Yawovi Agboyibo, leader of the opposition coalition, was not available for comment on Thursday. But his immediate response to the announcement was that his party the Action Committee for Renewal (CAR) had effectively been "excluded from taking part in this government."

Presidential election results sealing the father-son transition met with violence across Togo. Supporters of the coalition that had rallied behind sole candidate Emmanuel Bob-Akitani denounced Gnassingbe's 60 percent victory as a fraud and said their man was the rightful victor.

But the international community opted to recognise the election result and African Union Chairman and Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, has led calls for the creation of a government of unity to end the simmering political tension.

In what had been billed as a conciliatory move, Gnassingbe had promised the opposition the post of prime minister.

Everything in moderation

Edem Kodjo is in opposition, but the moderate coalition he leads, the Patriotic Pan-African Convergence (CPP), is so moderate that he refused to take sides in the 24 April presidential elections.

Key figures in the ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party told IRIN that the more outspoken six-party coalition which has been left out in the cold had only itself to blame.

"The nomination of Edem Kodjo is a direct result of the equivocations of the radical [coalition] opposition," said Richard Attipoe, a member of the central committee of the RPT.

The coalition met with Gnassingbe on Monday evening. Instead of presenting their list of candidates for the post of prime minister, as requested, they presented the president with a list of conditions.

Gnassingbe flatly rejected the coalition's terms - including a re-run of the presidential poll - and 36 hours later Kodjo was proclaimed prime minister.

According to Attipoe, the opposition need to better organise themselves if they are to take on the might of the RPT.

"Their problem is that they have no long or short term view - their only goal was the departure of Eyadema - the moment he was dead, they were lost," he said.

Opposition supporters fear unity government on ice

Diplomats say that Gnassingbe's decision makes it very difficult for the coalition to join a government of unity. Their supporters on the streets of Lome were also pessimistic.

"I was filled with hope at the news of the possible creation of a government of unity, but what has just occurred makes me doubt that that will ever happen," said Mawutoe, the manager of a cyber café.

And many Togolese see Kodjo as too close to the RPT to provide an opposition voice in government.

"He's no different to those of the RPT and opposition supporters will not accept him as anything different," commented a young motorbike taxi driver who said he was not surprised by Gnassingbe's choice.

But some Lome residents thought Kodjo, given his experience, would be an asset to the government. Kodjo worked for nearly 10 years with the IMF and has served as secretary general of the Organisation of African Unity - now the AU.

Refugee responsibilities

He also has experience in dealing with trouble. During his two years as prime minister, he was lauded for helping to resettle returning refugees who had fled the country following violent suppression of opposition demonstrations by security forces.

This time too, Kodjo's first job will be to implement a presidential decree to establish a High Commission for Refugees and Humanitarian Action that will "ensure protection and assistance to repatriated persons".

There are currently some 35,000 Togolese refugees in Ghana and Benin. The young men in the camps of Benin say they are opposition supporters who fled Faure Gnassingbe's Togo to escape state sponsored persecution.

The government has contested such claims, saying those who fled did so out of fear of arrest for their post-poll burning and looting sprees.

The government this week urged them to return promising 'pardon' and 'possible compensation'.

However, the UN's refugee agency in the Benin capital Cotonou did not report a sudden rush home. Indeed, Togolese refugees were still trickling across the border, they said.


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