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Profile: Faure Gnassingbe, the Contested President-Elect

  • Nico Colombant

Faure Gnassingbe casts his vote in Lome
Togo's newly elected president Faure Gnassingbe is the son of Gnassingbe Eyadema who ruled 38 years until his death earlier this year. Mr. Gnassingbe has strong support among the northern-based army, which backed his father, but his election victory is being contested in the south.

After voting Sunday, Faure Gnassingbe said he was confident he would win, as was confirmed Tuesday when results were announced.

The ruling party's candidate, though, made clear he did not intend to become president before his father's death in February.

"No, I did not want to be president," he said. "I just wanted to do some politics for maybe 10 years, then go for business because before coming into politics I was in business, and then everyone knows what happened, and then my party selected me to go for the candidacy."

What also happened is that when his father died, he was installed by the military as Togo's new leader. Under international pressure to resign, he did so a few weeks later and allowed an interim government to organize quick elections, as called for by Togo's constitution.

Most army soldiers and police officers are from his late father's Kabye northern-based ethnic group and they appear fully behind him as well.

The 39-year-old was educated in international relations in France and in business in the United States. He was minister in his father's last government and led negotiations with the European Union to resume aid to Togo, suspended because of a lack of democracy.

During the campaign, Faure Gnassingbe tried to reach out to all Togolese. His mother is from the Ewe southern ethnic group and he said he felt as much a southerner as a northerner.

He said he represented the country's youth and that as a modern, progressive technocrat, he would help the economy as well. He said he would not enjoy being president initially, because of southern opposition resistance.

"This is a difficult time so my mindset is probably I will not enjoy, but I am sure this period will not last and maybe in two or three months the country will be very peaceful and then I will enjoy," he said.

Immediately after he was proclaimed the winner, the army and police deployed heavily in opposition strongholds of the southern coastal capital Lome, trying to disperse angry crowds.

One youth explained his distaste for the new president.

"We do not like that small boy to govern us, we do not like that small boy to govern us. His father did bad against us," he said. "How can we leave his son to treat us as animals. We are not animals."

Opposition leaders, who allege there was massive fraud in Sunday's voting, have called for their militants to stay in the streets and organize a resistance movement until Faure Gnassingbe resigns, so it remains to be seen if his elected tenure in office will be longer than when he was installed in a constitutional coup.

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