Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Togo

The BBC
reports that a fifteen member regional African group is not recognizing the new president of Togo and they are threatening sanctions. The current president is the son of the former president, and the constitution was changed by the legislature in order to allow him to take over the day after his father died. This is a short essay on what has been going on in Togo by a former Peace Corps volunteer. He asks why the U.S. is not more involved. I’m trying to find out what the French are doing, if anything.

Discussions - 3 Comments

So far the new government in Togo has refused to accept the French offer of surrender...

The french will do something, but not much. I think Ghana is the most powerfull influence in the region, most of its people are of the same tribal group as those in the capital of Lome (Ewe), the only difference being that they speak english and not french as the business language. I lived there during a coup that was funded by Ewe Ghanaians crossing the pourous borders. The coup managed among other things to capture the only Television station in the country, which a consitutional convention convened, that mutated into a very long list of grievances against Eyadema. Eyadema and his son is still popular in Kara and other Kabiye areas. If Eyadema goes Kabiye areas will fear reprisal. The Military is primarily Kabiye since Eyadema did not trust to count many Ewe in his forces. The populace does not have "arms" other than sling shots and machettes. The coup I witnessed ended with a dud as Eyadema resumed power and Ewe newspapers were shut down, under the pretext of racial slurs. Ewe newspapers combined criticisms of Eyadema with evolutionary diagrams equating Kabiye with apes and Ewe as man. A few weeks after Eyadema’s resuming power the section of Lome that is most Ewe was calmed down. A few weeks after this bodies started floating to the surface in the Lagoon de Bee (a rather dirty body of water used for sardine fishing, washing and feces)in the largest Ewe section. The North is more Muslim and Kabiye. The south is more christian and Ewe. Despite being Christian and Muslim many togolese are animists sometimes exclusively and sometimes in combination with the Abrahamic religions, Animism is almost a cultural religion.

I posit that part of Togo’s failure to develop (and africa in general) has to do with its metaphysical perspective, that is framed by the animistic tradition. This is in opposition to Individualism that is based on the belief that a person has within himself the power to succeed. That he needs no other powers or spirits, magic or wizardry to direct his life. His success or failure depends on his own individual achievement. If he succeeds, it is due to his human capabilities. If he fails, it is due to his inadequacies. An individual must make his way without reliance on social or spiritual resources. This view is foreign to the fears and hopes of the animistic tradition. In Togo where meat is rare the best of it is often offered up to the ancestors. While individualists believe they can chart their own courses, animists believe that they are living in an interconnected world. They are intimately related to their families, the spiritual world of gods, spirits, ancestors, and ghosts, with nature, and through mental telepathy to the minds of other human beings. Thus the animist believes that it is impossible to live as an individual separate and apart from his extended family, spiritual powers, nature, or thoughts of other human beings. Animists live in an interconnected universe, that is beyond the scope of rationality and must be interpreted by elders and the spiritually enlightened(witch dotors). While I lived in Togo you could find on a monthly basis in newspapers of record stories about: birds being shot from the sky and landing as dead men, telepaphy, or the gris-gris(spiritual artifacts) that brought wealth to a merchant. Forget CSI, try the X-files. Supposedly Eyadema’s corps of witch doctors was second only to that of the late Mobutu Sese Seko...apparently they were both mortal. Togo may or may not get good elections; the french may intervene, Ghanian insurgents may aid a coup, Eyadema might do the right thing, but so long as the general metaphysical view point doesn’t change...wealth and growth will not be the result. Racial tensions are only exasperated because familly animosities and loyalties do not end with the deaths of those who had the squables but live on in the idols and the spirits to be appeased. In death a familly member gains influence as often as losing it. In 1988 when the mission ship "Logos II" landed in Togo, it conducted an AIDS test and found a 20% infection rate. One of the means the government suggested of getting the message out was the handing out of condoms by witch doctors. Apparently Eyadema felt that going public about the problem would simply cause panic.

Togo could become a model for Africa not by having free elections (necessarily) but by shedding its traditions, by making it possible to be a man(or individual) first and a Ewe or Kabiye second. Togo doesn’t need elections as much as it needs an individualist perspective.

Intriguing comment, John. What it boils down to seems to be that animism simply consigns a huge area of life to the realm of the irrational (even as compared w/ a fairly traditional interpretation of one of the Abrahamic religions, which from an animist point of view must seem to "secularize" the world by teaching that not every tree or lake is a spirit, etc.).

A friend who spent a lot of time in Senegal once told me that "the country is half Muslim, half Christian, and 100 percent animist."

Did you ever read Brian Moore’s great novel "Black Robe" or see the powerful film based on it? Following the physical and spiritual travels, trials, and travails of a young French Jesuit missionary among the Huron Indians in early 17th-century Canada, it’s one of the most vivid portrayals of animist vs. monotheistic perspectives on life that I’m aware of.

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