Protests, Photocopiers, And Motorcycles Drive Togo's Revolution
SOME African revolutions are waged with machine guns and tanks. But pro-democracy activists in Togo turned to photocopiers and motorcycles to distribute their antigovernment pamphlets by night.Instead of guerrillas, the struggle in this tiny West African nation involves lawyers, students, professors, and sometimes women market vendors. In place of battles, there have been clandestine meetings, strikes, protests, and finally, in July and August, a public conference of opponents of Gnassingbe Eyadema's 24-year dictatorship. The struggle is not over. But President Eyadema's acceptance of the conference's election of Kokou Koffigoh as interim prime minister for one year, to be followed by democratic multiparty elections, has bolstered the activists' confidence that their strategies are paying off. Togo is becoming "a model of conciliation," claims Leopold Gnininvi, a Togolese physics professor who helped organize a secret political party here last year. It is his party, the Democratic Convention of African People (CPDA), which provided some of the typewriters and photocopiers student activists used. "We had no money, no materials," says Francois Kloutse, a student opposition leader. Last May, Mr. Kloutse and eight other students formed the secret Student Movement for the Struggle for Democracy (MELD). Each student recruited five other students. At night they distributed antigovernment literature. "Each time he [Eyadema] lied on the radio, we distributed tracts," Kloutse says. The tracts spread quickly through markets, hotels, even government ministries. But in August 1990, 13 activists, mostly from MELD and CPDA, were arrested. Among them was CPDA member Doussouvi Dogolo. "We were 13 in a little cell," Mr. Dogolo says. "We had made a pact not to reveal the names of [those] we worked with." And despite electric shocks given by government security agents, Dogolo says he refused to reveal names. "We prayed a lot," he says of himself and the others arrested. But the torture of Dogolo and one other person backfired. At his trial in September last year, Dogolo revealed his treatment. Dogolo's lawyer, Djovi Gally, was one of few in Togo who publicly criticized the government for several years before the trial, primarily through a series of lectures. The key lecture, according to Mr. Gally and other activists, was one organized by United States diplomat Dudley Sims, in Lome in late 1989. There, Gally called for a multiparty government to replace Togo's one-party rule. The next day, Gally and other Togolese lawyers were lectured themselves by security officials. At the trial, Gally got Dogolo's sentencing postponed from the day of his conviction in late September to Oct. 5, 1990. That gave activists enough time to organize a massive antigovernment demonstration at the courthouse, described by both Togolese and diplomats here as a turning point in the opposition's efforts. At least 5,000 people turned out the day Dogolo was to be sentenced, catching the government off guard. After some hesitation, security forces wielded batons to disperse the crowd. Before that protest, "you didn't demonstrate," says a Western diplomat in Lome. Following the demonstration there were strikes and demonstrations. Sometimes the government lashed back. In one confrontation, several people reportedly were run down by government trucks. Others were killed by grenades thrown by government agents, according to Eyadema's critics. The government admits about two dozen people were killed, but the opposition and some military sources claim the death toll is much higher. The government's use of force hardened the opposition's resolve. By early June, Eyadema's government had agreed to the national conference. Delegates were elected to the conference from the array of the now-open political parties, from professional groups, farmers, and tribal chiefs. Activists Kloutse and Gally were there. So was Dogolo, and even some of his torturers. "I shook hands with them," he says.