Hardline Gnassingbe loyalists and opposition defectors dominate new government

Prime Minister Edem Kodjo has unveiled his new cabinet dominated by close allies of President Faure Gnassingbe’s father, who ruled Togo for 38 years, and deserters from the ranks of an opposition alliance.

Kodjo’s 30-member cabinet was announced on state television on Monday night. Kodjo is a veteran politician and served as prime minister under Gnassingbe's late father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, in the mid-1990s.

Gnassingbe's older brother, Kpatcha Gnassingbe, was appointed defence minister. This is a key post in Togo, where the army is dominated by the Eyadema family's Kabiye ethnic group and has consistently maintained the Eyademas in power.

Kpatcha Gnassingbe was formerly head of the industrial free zone in Lome and is well known for his close links with the military.

Another key figure in the new cabinet is Colonel Pitalouna-Ani Laokpessi, a former commander of the paramilitary gendarmerie in the 1990s, who was frequently accused by the opposition of torturing political prisoners. He makes his debut in government as minister of security.

Gnassingbe was elected president in April in a controversial ballot that the opposition denounced as rigged. The election followed the sudden death in office of Eyadema two months earlier.

President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, the current chairman of the African Union, tried in vain to persuade Gnassingbe and exiled opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio to form a government of national unity to lead Togo into a new era of democratic reform.

As a result, the six-party opposition alliance has been largely sidelined from the new cabinet in favour of stalwarts of the ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) - which controls virtually all the seats in parliament - and a handful of opposition defectors.

“There is not a single member of the Union of the Forces for Change in the government and if there is anyone, that person is only there in a personal capacity,” said Jean Pierre Fabre, secretary general of the UFC, Togo's largest opposition party.

He was referring to the appointment of UFC member Gabriel Sassouvi Dosseh-Anyroh as the new minister for culture and tourism.

Yawovi Agboyibo, the leader of the Action Committee for Renewal (CAR) party and official coordinator of the opposition alliance, meanwhile denounced Tchessa Abi, the leader of the Party of Social Reformers (PSR) for abandoning the opposition alliance to become minister of justice.

“Since the 6th of June, he has been telling me in no uncertain terms that his party is no longer part of the coalition,” Agboyibo told IRIN.

Agboyibo also disassociated himself from Agnele Christine Mensah, a former member of his own CAR party, who was named secretary of state in the ministry of population, social and women’s affairs.

“Mensah quit CAR in 1998, she is nothing more than a civil society representative!” the opposition leader said.

Official results gave Gnassingbe 60 percent of the vote in the 24 April presidential election, leaving Emmanuel Bob-Akitani, the united opposition candidate in second place with 38 percent.

The announcement was followed by an outburst of political violence that sent more than 36,000 refugees fleeing into neighbouring Ghana and Benin.

Although Obasanjo brokered two separate meetings between Gnassingbe and Olympio in Abuja, the opposition alliance refused to accept Gnassingbe's election victory or participate in a unity government unless fresh elections were held.

Gnassingbe, whose election was validated by the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), flatly rejected these demands.

The president's official spokesman was unavailable for comment on the new cabinet on Tuesday.

However, Richard Atippoe, a member of the central committee of the ruling RPT, was guardedly optimistic.

“It’s a good thing that the government has been formed and we hope that that will unblock things,” said Atippoe. “As for the make-up of the government, you appreciate the craftsman by the work he produces.”

Diplomats from Western countries, which stopped aid to Gnassingbe's father in protest at Togo's lack of democracy and poor standards of governance, gave the new cabinet a cautious welcome.

“Certainly the bulk of the government are Eyadema stalwarts, but there are enough new faces to offer hope for progress,” one diplomat told IRIN.

“But that all depends on just how much power the prime minister will really have in this government,” he warned. “And for that, we will have to wait and see.”

One of Prime Minister Kodjo's first tasks will be to try and persuade the refugees who fled to Togo and Benin that it is safe for them to return home.

The refugees say they fled harassment and persecution by the security forces, but the government has repeatedly denied such allegations.

It maintains that most of the refugees fled for economic reasons or because they were vandals fearful of arrest.

The Togolese government has established a commission to investigate the causes of the violence which surrounded the election.

But on Monday, the Togolese League for Human Rights (LTDH), an organisation close to the opposition alliance, said it had refused an invitation to take part in this commission.

LTDH Secretary General Togoata Ayayi Apedo-Amah said: "We cannot work as part of this commission created by Faure Gnassingbe because we have asked for an independent international commission of inquiry. This commission created by Faure Gnassingbe is not independent and is stuffed with people close to those in power.”

“Eight of the 10 people named to serve on it are linked to the military dictatorship,” he added.

The commission is headed by Joseph Kokou Koffigoh a former prime minister under Eyadema, who presided over a first attempt at democratic reform in the early 1990s.

But Apedo-Amah said: “How can the victims be expected to speak openly when they would be in fear of being handed over to soldiers?”

The LTDH estimated that 810 people died in the post-election violence. Another human rights organisation close to the government put the death toll at 58.

The commission has three months to report its findings, which are due to be made public.

However, UN commission of inquiry into the post-electoral violence wrapped up its own two-week investigation on Friday.

Its report will be submitted to UN Human Rights High Commissioner, Louise Arbour, before being made public in the coming weeks.