Togo: Kpatcha Gnassingbé, half-brother of the president, transferred to Gabon after fourteen years of detention

His departure is not synonymous with reconciliation but it does suggest a possibility of appeasement in the tense relations between the two most famous Gnassingbé sons

Togo: Kpatcha Gnassingbé, half-brother of the president, transferred to Gabon after fourteen years of detention

His departure is not synonymous with reconciliation but it does suggest a possibility of appeasement in the tense relations between the two most famous Gnassingbé sons. Thursday, March 23, after fourteen years of detention, the former Minister of Defense of Togo, Kpatcha Gnassingbé, flew from Lomé to Libreville, capital of Gabon, accompanied by his wife, in order to benefit from care there. The Togolese presidency, occupied by his half-brother, Faure Gnassingbé, gave no official reason for this exit from the territory.

Kpatcha, 52, was arrested in April 2009 after seeking refuge in the US embassy compound, which denied him asylum. Suspected of having attempted to overthrow his half-brother, he was sentenced by the Togolese courts to twenty years' imprisonment for "undermining state security", along with several other defendants, including the former Chief of Staff, General Assani Tidjani. Four other members of the Gnassingbé clan, including a half-brother of the head of state, Essolizam, had also been sentenced to prison terms.

The case deeply divided the family which inherited power after thirty-eight years of reign of Etienne Gnassingbé Eyadéma (1967-2005). The death of the patriarch, in February 2005, had suggested, for a time, an agreement between the two putative heirs with apparently opposite profiles: Faure, the discreet reformist who studied management in France, at the University of Paris- Dauphine, completed in the mid-1990s by an MBA from Georgetown University, in the United States; and Kpatcha, the physically imposing securocrat whom his father let grow up in the ranks of the army, seemed to have chosen to act in common interest.

The "most feared person in Togo"

The youngest had made a name for himself as director of the Free Zones Administration Company (Sazof). A man described as "generous" in gifts. After his half-brother took power, he was appointed Minister of Defense before being quickly accused of being one of the architects of the terrible repression which followed the April 2005 presidential election and caused the death 400 to 500 people, according to a United Nations commission of inquiry.

The rivalry between the two brothers quickly turned into a struggle for influence within the ruling party, the Rally of the Togolese People, of which Kpatcha was one of the leaders. In 2007, Faure Gnassingbé did not hesitate to dismiss his half-brother from the government, when the latter had just been elected deputy. The strong man of Togo then sought, it seems, to eliminate a rival for the 2010 presidential election.

In detention for fourteen years now, Kpatcha Gnassingbé has seen his condition deteriorate and his status as "the most feared person in Togo" evolve into that of a cumbersome prisoner. Since 2015, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has been calling for his release, as well as that of his fellow prisoners. The case has also prompted discreet attempts at mediation, as confided by Me Zeus Ajavon, the lawyer for Kpatcha Gnassingbé who has suffered from health problems for several years.

Since June 2021, he had been admitted to the military pavilion of the Sylvanus-Olympio University Hospital Center (CHU) in Lomé. According to his lawyer, who had been calling for his medical evacuation for five years, Kpatcha Gnassingbé would now be welcomed in a medical structure in Gabon, while retaining his status as "prisoner, as there is nothing official: no pardon or no conditional liberty ".

New page in the clan saga

However, this transfer "could relax the atmosphere in the family and in the region of origin of the Gnassingbé", underlines Me Ajavon. The Togolese newspaper La Nouvelle Tribune titled its March 30 edition, with photos of the two Gnassingbé brothers in support, with a simple question: "The thaw? »

In the absence of any confirmation from the Togolese presidency, the question remains unresolved. On the other hand, it is proven that Faure Gnassingbé and the Gabonese head of state, Ali Bongo Ondimba, another heir, maintain excellent relations. “The children of former President Etienne Eyadéma were close to Omar Bongo. He considered them almost like his children after the death of their father. Omar Bongo had often mediated between Faure and Kpatcha Gnassingbé", says Zeus Ajavon on this subject, specifying that "questions concerning the inheritance have always remained secret and painful".

This is not yet fully sold, but the departure of Kpatcha Gnassingbé for a trip whose return date has not been fixed opens a new page in the saga of the clan in power. By virtue of the old and cordial relations between Gabon and Togo, Kpatcha Gnassingbé should be welcomed as a distinguished guest in Libreville, protected but kept away from the political life of his country.