First family's grip on Togo takes tense turn
The Togolese first family's long hold on the country's politics took a tense turn this week, with President Faure Gnassingbe having his half-brother Kpatcha arrested over an alleged anti-government plot.
Originally of peasant stock from the north of the small, poor west African country, the family's hold on Togo took shape when the late Gnassingbe Eyadema ousted the first president, Sylvanus Olympio, in a January 1967 coup led by a chief sergeant in the French-trained army.
With the Olympio family always leading the opposition, the politically deft Gnassingbe Eyadama controlled Togo with his iron rule and enough human rights violations to lose European Union financial support almost until his death in February 2005, when he was the doyen of African leaders.
Eyadema left a complex legacy to a large family, with many children born of different mothers.
When his sudden demise created a power vacuum, the army and the ruling Togolese People's Rally (RPT) catapulted Faure Gnassingbe into office. They thus put a man who had studied management in France and got an American master's degree in business administration at the helm.
The means of his accession to power led to a domestic and international outcry, so Gnassingbe stepped down just long enough to have himself elected with help from the RPT.
Gnassingbe has been likened by some analysts to Morocco's King Mohammed VI, another African leader to inherit control of a nation after decades of hardline rule, and who has set out to ease tensions, improve human rights and win over foreign donor nations.
Togo is a major phosphate producer and produces cocoa, coffee and cotton, but the majority of its six million people live off subsistence farming. The four major exports are all in decline and Western financial help is at a premium.
Kpatcha Gnassingbe, whose house was raided on Sunday by elite troops in an operation that led to a bloody gunfight, has been accused by state prosecutors of "trying to undermine state security," with five named military officers and a number of civilians.
A stocky former defence minister, from 2005 to 2007, Kpatcha is perceived as being the heavyweight hardliner and conservative of the family, who combined his ministerial work with running the Lome port free trade zone.
Kpatcha's mother hailed from the north of Togo, while Faure was born to a woman from the south near the Gulf of Guinea.
"One of them (Kpatcha) has taken his father's legacy on board and has kept the same interests, the same methods and the same way of doing things: the other one (Faure) is sometimes ill-at-ease" with some of the darker chapters of his father's reign, one foreign observer told AFP.
"For Togo there is no other solution than to continue on the road of democracy. The Eyadema era is well and truly over ...," the former speaker of the National Assembly Fambare Natchaba said.
He dismissed the current falling out between Faure and Kpatcha as "just an incident" that should not have a significant impact on the country's politics.
Three other brothers include the eldest, Ernest, who led the much feared paratroopers of Kara military base in the north, but whose career ended with a cerebral stroke.
The other, Rock, long led the Togolese Football Federation and now commands a military armoured division. He went to Kpatcha's house on Sunday to bring an end to violence there.
The Gnassingbe succession is apparently being secured. Mey Gnassingbe, a brother still in his 20s, has been made a close adjoint to the head of state.