Military dictator and president of Togo (1967-2005), leader of the first coup in modern sub-Saharan Africa, and longest-serving leader among those countries.

Born in the village of Pya on 26 December 1936, his original name was Etienne Eyadéma Gnassingbé. When he joined the French armed forces he used only his forenames, and therefore it was as Sergeant Etienne Eyadéma that he first came to prominence, with the 13 January 1963 murder of Togo's founding president Sylvanus Olympio. It is alleged that Eyadéma himself fired the shots that killed Olympio, seeking refuge in the US embassy in Lomé. The mutineers recalled Olympio's civilian rival Nicolas Grunitzky back from exile in Dahomey, to be president. Eyadéma was one of a group of veterans of France's wars, having served in Algeria and Indochina, who wanted to be admitted to the Togolese armed forces.

The then Lieutenant-Colonel Eyadéma staged another coup four years later. At first Major Kléber Dadjo headed the military committee, then Eyadéma became president on 14 April 1967. In 1974 he dropped his forename Etienne and adopted his old surname Gnassingbé instead of it, in a bout of Africanization; though this did not go to the extremes it did in Zaire, Chad, and Equatorial Guinea around the same time. His son and now successor is known as Faure Gnassingbé.

Eyadéma was an old-style military dictator, complete with sunglasses, medals, and allegedly feeding political opponents to crocodiles. Human rights abuses were often reported during his reign, though not on the massive scale of some countries. As the wind of democratization swept other African countries he introduced some token reforms: inaugurating the Third Republic of Togo and being elected civilian president of it, as party head of the Rassemblement du Peuple Togolais (RPT). Fraudulent single-party elections were replaced by fraudulent multi-party elections from 1993. In the 1998 poll his rival was Gilchrist Olympio, son of the murdered founding president, and Eyadéma only narrowly managed to win by halting counting when the votes started to go against him. In the 2003 election a new law barred Olympio from standing, as he was not sufficiently resident in the country: mainly because he was in fear of his life.

He had been having health problems including heart trouble for several years, but on 5 February 2005 he suddenly died of a heart attack. The army appointed his son Faure Gnassingbé as his successor. Faure had been groomed for a few years and was a powerful minister: the constitution had recently been altered to allow someone of his age to be president. The African Union has called the succession a military coup, since constitutionally the presidency should have gone to the speaker of parliament. The army have said they acted because the speaker was unavailable, out of the country; but part of the reason he was unavailable is that the army have sealed the national borders. The Togolese parliament met in emergency session to sack the speaker, appoint Faure in his place so the succession becomes legal, and cancel the need for elections withing sixty days, allowing him to complete Eyadéma's term until 2008. African Union sanctions were imposed, until on 25 February Faure Gnassingbé stepped down. He won (however fairly is up for debate) the presidential election on 24 April, running for his father's party the RPT.

< Kléber Dadjo -- ^ Togo -- Faure Gnassingbé >

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