The Connection Between Togo’s Struggle and the Diaspora’s Struggle
Kwame Nkrumah once explained:
Neo-colonialism is…the worst form of imperialism. For those who practice it, it means power without responsibility, and for those who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress. In the days of old fashioned colonialism, the imperial power had at least to explain and justify at home the actions it was taking abroad. In the colony, those who served the ruling imperial power could at least look to its protection against any violent move by their opponents. With neo-colonialism, neither is the case.
Decolonization in Africa was merely a transition from colonialism to the system of neo-colonialism which Nkrumah so accurately described. In Togo, for example, the difficult struggle for independence finally paid off when Togo gained its independence from France in 1960 and Sylvanus Olympio was elected president. This was short-lived because by 1963 Olympio was assassinated in a French supported coup. Olympio’s crime was that he wanted to make Togo financially independent from France by establishing a currency for Togo rather than continuing to use the CFA franc.
In the second of chapter of The Political and Intellectual Legacy of Walter Rodney, I discuss Walter Rodney’s assessment of the development of neo-colonialism in Africa. Rodney referred to Africa’s independence as “constitutional independence” which was not backed by real power. Referring to these powerless puppet regimes in Africa, Rodney explained: “They do not have the economic base. They are entirely dependent on two things: firstly, their external support; and secondly, whatever local police forces they can muster.”
The two bases of support are precisely what has sustained the regime in Togo that has been in power for the last five decades. Gnassingbé Eyadéma came to power in 1967 and remained the president of Togo until he died in 2005. During that period he was sustained by support from Western nations, especially France. That external support helped Eyadéma to build up an and maintain an extensive security force, which brutally suppressed any opposition in Togo. Togolese activist Farida Nabourema explained the vicious nature of the Eyadéma government in the video below.
When Eyadéma died in 2005, the military organized a coup and placed Eyadéma’s son Faure Gnassingbé in power. Faure has continued to rely on those two bases of support. He relies on external support from Western nations and on a brutal security force. Under Faure, Togo remains notorious for jailing and torturing political activists. And the support that Faure has enjoyed from the United States, specifically, has been bipartisan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Faure in Togo and during her trip there she spoke of the “democratic gains” which Togo was making. The reality is that Togo was making no such gains, but Hillary Clinton was doing her part to present a more favorable international image of the regime in Togo, which at the time did not even have presidential term limits in place. Togo was also among the nations that were invited to an exclusive reception by the Trump administration for showing support for Israel. Israel is also one of the supporters of the government in Togo, which has included assisting Togo with spying on its citizens.
Neo-colonialism also needs to be understand as an aspect of the global system of white supremacy, which continues to oppress African people around the world. Given that this is a global system, there is a direct connection between Togo’s struggle and the struggle of those of us in the diaspora. Malcolm X accurately predicted that with the decline of European colonialism in Africa, the United States would step in and take over from the weakened colonial powers. Malcolm stated:
After 1959 the spirit of African nationalism was fanned to a high flame, and we then began to witness the complete collapse of colonialism. France began to get out of French West Africa; Belgium began to make moves to get out of the Congo; Britain began to make moves to get out of Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda, Nigeria, and some of these other places. And although it looked like they were getting out, they pulled a trick that was colossal.
In that — when you’re playing basketball and they get you trapped, you don’t throw the ball away, you throw it to one of your teammates who’s in the clear. And this is what the European powers did. They were trapped on the African continent, they couldn’t stay there; they were looked upon as colonial, imperialist. So they had to pass the ball to someone whose image was different, and they passed the ball to Uncle Sam. And he picked it up and has been running it for a touchdown ever since. He was in the clear, he was not looked upon as one who had colonized the African continent. But at that time, the Africans couldn’t see that though the United States hadn’t colonized the African continent, he had colonized twenty-two million Blacks here on this continent. Because we are just as thoroughly colonized as anybody else.
World War II had destroyed Europe, which paved the way for the United States to become the dominant imperialist power among Western nations. Maintaining this dominance meant asserting America’s political and economic interests around the world, thus the period following the end of the World War II was a period of American interventionism around the world. As America’s global military empire expanded, African Americans remained neglected and exploited.
In some cases, African Americans were enlisted and sent to fight in these wars of imperialism, despite being oppressed in America. This became one of the criticisms that Martin Luther King, Jr. raised of the war in Vietnam. King explained: “We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem.” There was also the case of Daniel Fagen, an African American who defected and fought for the Philippine Revolutionary Army during the Philippine–American War. Fagen was motivated to defect from the American army by the racism that African American soldiers received during the war. The African Americans soldiers were especially outraged when one major remarked that “the Filipinos are naturally more intelligent than our colored people.”
Why is this relevant to Togo? As was noted before, Togo is one of the many African nations where the United States continues to provide support for a brutal dictatorial regime. When I wrote Faure Must Go one of the points that I raised was the fact that the resources and money that the United States spends in support of the regime in Togo could be better spent on fixing neglected African American communities. For example, it was estimated that it would cost $55 million to fix the water crisis in Flint. Last year, the United States provided $35 million to Togo through the Millennium Challenge Corporation. The money that was given to Togo through the MMC would not have been enough to cover all of the estimated costs of fixing Flint, but it certainly would have covered most of that cost. Keep in mind that $35 million does not represent all of the foreign aid that the United States provides for Togo, nor does that number factor in the amount of money that the United States provides for other corrupt regimes in Africa.
Many felt that the election of Barack Obama as president signaled real progress for African people, but this was not the case. Obama never truly addressed the racial issue in the United States. One aspect of Obama’s policies that I have been particularly critical of is the fact that he has criticized some of the racial riots that exploded during his presidents, despite the fact that these riots forced him to take action when he otherwise would not have done so. For example, Obama criticized the riots in Baltimore in 2015, but the rioting also prompted the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the police department in Baltimore. Such an investigation likely would not have been conducted had the riots never taken place. So Obama criticized African Americans for rioting, but America’s inaction on racial issues often left people so frustrated and fed up that rioting was the only way to really get the federal government to take any sort of action.
This type of hypocrisy also marked Obama’s policy in Africa. East Africans themselves were critical of the fact that Obama spoke of human rights in Africa, while failing to protect the rights of African Americans. An Ethiopian man named Shiferaw Tilahun explained: “They are interested in other people’s problems but they don’t care about black people in their own country…Most of our black brothers and sisters are suffering in the US.” The hypocrisy went deeper. Obama spoke of human rights in Africa, but continued to support some of Africa’s most brutal dictators, such as Faure, Blaise Compaoré or Burkina Faso, and Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia. Obama claimed that Africa needed to stop making excuses by blaming colonialism for Africa’s problems, but Obama himself upheld a neo-colonial policy which supported dictators across the continent while ignoring the demands for change on the part of Africans.
Many nations in the Caribbean also experienced a neo-colonial situation after decolonization as well. These neo-colonial governments of the Caribbean and Africa have at times created ties with each other. Such ties have often been framed around creating Pan-African unity between those in the diaspora and those on the motherland, but very often these ties do little more than expose the neo-colonial nature of the governments that are involved. Last year the St. Kitts and Nevis established diplomatic relations with each other. This was a move that I criticized because such a move only helps to give diplomatic legitimacy to regime that should be diplomatically isolated internationally for such flagrant abuses of human rights. But St. Kitts is a nation that has political problems of its own, given that Prime Minister Timothy Harris’ name has surfaced in the past in connection to a bribery scandal. This caused the opposition in St. Kitts to call for Harris to resign, just as the opposition in Togo has been calling for Faure to resign as president.
Neo-colonialism in Africa is part of the global system of oppression that African people around the world endure. I place particular focus on Togo because it is the struggle in Africa that I have been the most closely involved in, but this is a reality that can be extended to most other African nations as well.
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.