Ghanaian Chronicle (Accra)
August 14, 2003
Posted to the web August 14, 2003
That is the vital question on the whispering lips of many inquisitive Togolese. The enquires may be instructive. But they have gained more currency in recent times following the appointment of his 37 years old, Paris and American trained Business Administration prodigy, Faure Essozinam Gnassingbé to the strategic ministry of Mines, Equipment, and Telecommunications on July 29, 2003.
The appointment of the young MBA graduate from Yale to the exalted ministry follows the formation of a new 26 member government by Prime Minister Koffi Sama after the June 2003 Presidential elections won by President Gnassingbé Eyadéma but heavily contested by the belligerent traditional opposition parties. The rising crescendo of enquiries have gained ascendancy even though President Eyadéma himself has repeatedly denied that he was grooming a Dauphin or political successor.
Before the appointment of Faure Essozinam Gnassingbé to the exalted ministerial portfolio, the Togolese Head of State had told a group of International journalists in Lomé that the issue of choosing a political Heir Apparent was strictly out of his political lexicon.
"It is only the Almighty God who chooses a leader for the people", President Eyadéma told the journalists.
"What happens if I choose a successor and the people reject him?", he asked philosophically.
The Togolese Head of state told the prying journalists that "at the appropriate time, God will choose a fitting person as a leader to replace me when I am no more there".
Two years ago, speculations were rife in the Lomé capital that President Eyadéma was grooming the former Prime Minister Messan Ageyome Kodjo as a political successor.
The former Prime Minister assumed, and wielded so much political power that he arrogantly engaged President Eyadéma toe to toe in a slanging stand-off.
By March 2001, the brewing but contained rift between the two men had exploded wide into the open. The over-ambitious Prime Minister was fired before he could stagger himself into recovery.
The rest of what happened to the "rebellious" ex-Prime Minister who now lives in self-imposed exile in France from where he issues prolific, but damaging renunciations against President Eyadéma is now part of history.
Even after the exit of the 'rebel' Prime Minister, busy tongues kept wagging ceaselessly about the succession issue. As a result, unofficial gallup polls targeted a few close associates of the Head of State presumably for the exalted office.
These included Joachim Mivedor, oldest ally of President Eyadéma, ex-Prime Minister Kwassi Klutse, Fanbare Natchaba, the Speaker of the National House of Assembly, Barry Moussa Barque, former Minister of Finance, Economy, and Planning whose loyalty to President Eyadéma remains unflinching, and unwavering.
But reports say that all of them "ran away from responsibility with their wagging tails between their hind legs".
The speculations that one of these "heirs" were waiting on the wings of succession assumed more intensity even before the June Presidential elections conclave of the ruling Togo Peoples Rally, RPT, party filtered out worrisome reports that the incumbent had politely turned down the offer to run again for another third term in office.
According to insiders, the rumoured refusal by President Eyadéma to stand again for office sent shockwaves on the ruling party king makers who had meticulously prepared and softened the grounds for President Eyadéma to acquiesce to their request.
As a matter of fact, the party chieftains had undertaken a surgical excision of the country's multi-party constitutional provisions which prohibited any incumbent President from presenting himself for a third term.
By December 2002, party gurus had ensured that the prohibitive provisions were legally expunged from the constitution by Parliament to pave way for President Eyadéma to present himself again for a third term.
Against this historical background, insiders say that the surprise decision by President Gnassingbé Eyadéma not to seek the nomination of the ruling party for the 2003 Presidential elections stunned the party hierarchy with a jolting lethal bombshell effect.
Insiders, say that the surprise decision by the Head of State which was kept secret set into a motion a number of politically motivated solidarity delegations and demonstrations by traditional rulers, party fanatics, and civil societies, including "foreign sympathisers" to prevail upon President Eyadéma to change his mind.
Towards this end the spectre of the tragic political killings, caused by the rebellion in Côte d'Ivoire was powerfully invoked to arouse the conscience of President Eyadéma to accept to stand again.
For example, Togbe Agorkoli IV, the Chief of Notse, and President of the Togo National House of Chiefs warned during a courtesy call on the Head of State that "if President Eyadéma abruptly leaves the political scene at this time, Togo will disintegrate into the quagmire of secessionist wars lords encumbered by fratricidal wars as has been the sorry case in la Côte d'Ivoire".
"Please President Eyadéma, remain in office in order to save the suffering people from the type of carnage now taking place in la Côte d'Ivoire", the President of the Togo National House of Chiefs pleaded. Other delegations followed suit-with the same message and political swan song.
Of course, the Togo opposition groups viewed the motions with cynicism and described those demonstrations of support for Eyadéma as "archetypal manipulated political road shows".
Others who were less generous said that "they were another Mickey Mouse show rehearsed from Disney Land".
Whichever way one looked at it, it became crystal clear that the Togo traditional opposition parties had unconsciously shot themselves into the ready waiting laps of the ruling party with their abysmal failure to choose one single candidate, as an alternative to President Eyadéma in the upcoming June 2003 elections.
"The Togo opposition parties are so badly divided among themselves that if President Eyadéma were to leave office, the country will be plunged into chaos, and anarchy due to political internecine struggle for power", Teko Mewonawovo, a staunch ruling party youth leader had warned.
In short, the opposition did not inspire widespread confidence that they were ready to take over the machinery of government in the absence of the incumbent.
By some historical twist, the scenario of speculations about who will eventually inherit President Eyadéma died down after the June 2003 Presidential elections.
But some how, the debate has been resurrected soon after the appointment of Faure Essozinam Gnassingbé to ministerial office.
So has President Eyadéma, at long last, found a suitable successor?
As usual, President Eyadéma has not openly said that he has found one. But independent observers say that the writing has appeared very clearly on the walls.
Their argument is that the young Faure Essozinam Gnassingbé has the undisputed qualities of a competent, qualified candidate who from every ramification looks well cut out for the job of the Presidency, not by any stretch of his kith and kin, but on well, earned personal merit.
"He is very soft spoken, modest, and respectful", said a journalist who saw him at close quarters.
"Above all, he is very well educated, both in the competing American, and French systems of Public Administration", a close associate said.
These observers, it may be argued, could have their judgement flawed and blinkered with passion. Nevertheless their opinions are shared by many who have come into close contact with the young unassuming Faure Essozinam Gnassingbé.
"I met Faure Essozinam Gnassingbé during the campaigns for the 2002 legislative elections when he stood and won at the Blitta constituency in Central Togo", said Augustin Assiobo, Editor of the TINGO-TINGO weekly newspaper.
"His calm confidence, and graceful delivery won many hearts", the Editor said.
Faure Essozinam Gnassingbé was born in 1966 but received his High school education in Lomé. After his Advanced Level examinations, he proceeded to France, where he graduated from Sobornne with flying colours in Financial Business management.
He then went to the United States of America where he excelled with an MBA from Washington University. Upon arrival in Togo he served under the feet of his father in several capacities.
But his final break-through came when he won on two consecutive occasions, the Blitta constituency during the legislative elections of 1998, and October 2002, boycotted by the opposition groups.
From then onwards, he began to master the delicate ropes of multi-party politics in Parliament when he became the Chairman of the strategic External Relations Committee, a task which brought him face to face with the stark challenges of serving on and representing Togo on several delegations abroad.
The appointment of Faure Essozinam Gnassingbé as Minister for Mines, Equipment, and Telecommunications last July 2003 could prove to be even more challenging to this talented youth and inspire him to offer his best which is yet to come to the nation.
Besides, it could provide another open door to the ladder of the highest office in the land, said another commentator.
Some opposition leaders say with derision that the qualifying age for Presidential candidates in Togo was reduced from 45 to 35 years in December 2002 to enable Faure Essozinam Gnassingbé to stand for the Presidential elections.
"That argument hops on a limp and flies in the face. There are more Togolese youth with undisguised Presidential ambitions favoured by the amendment rather than Faure Essozinam Gnassingbé", Koku Omaboue of the Togo Ministry of Communications said.
However, other opposition supporters said they have nothing against the President's son whom they regard as a free citizen, standing for Presidential elections in the future.
"What we are demanding is the creation of an even level playing electoral field where there will be transparency, credibility, and fairness in future democratic elections", Cornelius Aidam an opposition leader of the CPP said.
Another asked, "if Gilchrist Olympio, the son of former civilian President Sylvanus Olympio has chosen to enter the political fray in Togo, what prevents Faure Essozinam Gnassingbé, the son of Gnassingbé Eyadéma from doing the same?
In the midst of the raging speculations only the fertile womb of time can deliver the much needed answer to the hanging million Dollar question.