THE fragility of African democratic reforms is underscored by the failed coup attempt in Togo and by the military mutiny in Zaire.Civilian politicians in both countries are attempting to wrest power from military dictators in order to pursue political reforms. In both Togo and Zaire, the military seems intent on showing that it can flex its muscles to put an end to reform efforts. In Zaire, in late September, 117 people were killed amid widespread destruction resulting from looting and shooting begun by mutinous soldiers. They were angered because they not been paid. As the country disintegrated around him, President Mobuto Sese Seko agreed finally to allow Etienne Tshisekedi, his fiercest critic since 1980, to form a crisis government. Over the weekend, Mr. Tshisekedi said talks on forming a new government had broken down because Mr. Mobuto had refused to yield control of defense and security. The two sides were to meet again yesterday to try to reach agreement. Tshisekedi has yet to take control and the former government has virtually ceased functioning. But pressure has increased on opposing sides to reach a settlement as French and Belgian troops, sent to protect and evacuate foreign nationals, began a partial pullout. On Oct. 1 in the West African state of Togo, elements of the Army twice attempted to take control from President Gnassignbe Eyadema, a military strongman who has ruled the country for 24 years. Neither coup attempt was successful. Togolese politicians and others reached by telephone after the attempts say thousands of civilians went into the streets, setting up barricades against the military. Others left their jobs to protest the military seizure - twice during the day - of radio and television stations. "We saw many people in the streets - thousands," says Francis Adjakly, an industrial engineer in Lome, the capital. The public resistance, and apparent splits within the Army itself, appear to have foiled the coup attempts, says Francis Ekon, a leader of the civilian opposition to General Eyadema. After months of strikes and riots, Eyadema agreed in June to a national political conference to map out a transition to democracy. At the conference, his opponents named a transitional government to prepare for democratic elections next year. The conference chose human-rights activist and lawyer Joseph Koffigo as transitional prime minister, with control over the Army. But Eyadema insists he is still in control of the Army. The coup attempts seem to have been sparked by elements of the military not willing to accept civilian rule. Prime Minister Koffigo has called on Parliament to make a quick investigation to determine who in the Army took part in the actions. But Mr. Ekon, vice chairman of the transitional Parliament, says he suspects Eyadema himself may have been behind the coup attempts, as a way of reasserting his power. "I'm willing to investigate objectively. But I have difficulty believing they happened without the general [Eyadema] knowing about it." Ekon points out that many soldiers in the 13,000-member Army are from the president's northern region, and many are from his own tribe. The task ahead, he says, is to "remove from the Army" the officers who led the attempts. But, he points out, "there was division in the Army. Some of the officers did not agree to the operations." Koffigo faces the task of reassuring the rest of the Army that they are not threatened by civilian rule. But if they refuse to play what Ekon calls "the democratic game," the people are likely to resist again with new, massive street demonstrations and confrontations with the military. In Togo, as in Zaire, civilians have shown a willingness to confront the military to back up demands for democratic reforms.