A Democracy of Guns and Spirits

A Democracy of Guns and Spirits

en years ago I taught English to the children of subsistence farmers in Togo, a tiny country on the west coast of Africa that I once thought I knew. But when I went back recently to a town seven miles from the village where I’d lived as a Peace Corps volunteer, I could no longer find my way around. The big outdoor market in the center of Kpalimé, the sprawl of tables and stalls where I used to come on Saturdays to buy pineapples and eggs and wave flies off my lunch and listen to the chatter of the girls pounding yams, was gone. The old military regime had declared it an eyesore and soldiers had razed it in 1989, on the eve of a presidential visit. The market was now a mud flat. But just across the street, the twenty-foot statue of President Gnassingbé Eyadema was gone too, pulled down in 1991 by townspeople. Some of them had been my students; a few were shot dead in the act. The emptiness of the great stone pedestal, now guarded by a twelve-year-old goalie at one end of a noisy soccer game, mocked the empty field across the street: arbitrary state power answered by the sudden power of the mob. Around the corner, a wall was covered with abusive graffiti. Someone had written: “Eyadema Has AIDS.”

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Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima