Togo: Reaction to opponent Agbéyomé Kodjo’s death while in exile

Agbéyomé Kodjo; Screenshot from the Tv5monde YouTube Channel

It has become increasingly common for opponents of the Togolese regime to live out their lives in exile. That’s to say, in hiding far from home until their death for political reasons. The latest of these was Agbéyomé Kodjo, who died in Ghana on March 3, 2024.

Although there are no exact figures for the number of Togolese citizens living in exile, a few leading names stand out. In March 2021, political activist and opponent of President Faure Gnassingbé‘s regime, Foussena Djagba, died in Ghana following a short illness. On January 9, 2024, Monseigneur Philippe Fanoko Kpodzro died in Sweden after three years in exile.  Togolese citizens are currently in mourning for the former opposition leader, Agbéyomé Kodjo, who died in Tema, Ghana 

Read more: Death of Togolese Catholic priest and fervent opponent of current government

Who was Agbéyomé Kodjo?

As a former ally of the Gnassingbé family,  Agbéyomé held several important positions under the late president Gnassingbé Eyadéma. These included minister of youth, sports and culture  (1988–1991), director general of the Autonomous Port of Lomé (1993–1999); president of the National Assembly (1999–2000) and prime minister (2000–2002). Following a rift within his former political party, Rally of the Togolese People (RPT), he was relieved of his duties as head of government and went into exile in France in 2002.

Upon returning from exile after the death of Gnassingbé Eyadéma in 2005, he defected to the opposition. In 2008, he launched his political party, Organization to Build a United Togo (OBUTS), for which he stood as a candidate in the 2010 presidential elections.

Ten years later, in 2018, OBUTS became the Patriotic Movement for Democracy and Development (MPDD).  Under the leadership of Archbishop Philippe Fanoko Kpodzro, other political parties joined forces with Agbéyomé‘s MPDD to create Dynamique Monseigneur Kpodzro (DMK) and take on Faure Gnassingbé in the 2020 presidential elections. With 19.45 percent of the vote, Agbéyomé came second in the ballot behind Faure Gnassingbé, who obtained 70.78  percent. However, claiming to have received the highest number of votes cast and that his victory had been stolen, Agbéyomé declared himself the winner and “Togo’s rightful president” nonetheless.

On April 21, 2020, Agbéyomé was arrested with several charges against him. These included undermining the internal security of the state and the use of state insignia. On April 24, he was subsequently released but placed under judicial supervision. It was from here that he went into exile, where he spent the last five years of his life.

Reactions and tributes

Although Agbéyomé Kodjo’s political campaign wasn’t as successful as he had hoped, he has left his mark on the Togolese political landscape all the same.

In an interview with French newspaper, Le Monde, Paul Missiagbéto, his special advisor who is responsible for the MPDD’s political and civic affairs, stated:

Je n’avais pas connaissance du fait qu’il était malade. Je sais qu’il est mort au Ghana aux alentours de 15 heures. Sinon, nous ne parlions jamais du lieu où il était en exil. Je sais juste qu’il vivait dans la clandestinité et qu’il m’a dit plusieurs fois qu’il ne sortait pas de chez lui par crainte qu’il lui arrive quelque chose.

I didn’t know that he was ill. I know that he died in Ghana at around 3 p.m. Otherwise, we never discussed where he was living in exile. All I know is that he was in hiding, and he told me several times that he didn’t leave his house out of fear that something would happen to him.

Members of other political parties have also paid tribute to him. Togolese media outlet AfreePress quoted several of them in an article dedicated to this politician. Mouhamed Tchassona-Traoré, the national coordinator of the party, Alliance Ensemble (Alliance Together), states:

C’est avec une grande tristesse que nous apprenons le rappel à Dieu de notre compatriote et compagnon de lutte, Agbéyomé Kodjo, dont la stature intergénérationnelle fait de lui un homme politique transcendant tous les clivages et clichés.

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of our comrade and fellow countryman, Agbéyomé Kodjo. His intergenerational reputation made him a politician who transcended all divisions and stereotypes.

Gerry Taama, National President of the New Togolese Commitment (NET) party, laments:

Il s’agit là d’une grande perte. Il est regrettable que cet homme politique ‘’particulièrement brillant’’ soit parti en étant très loin du pays. M. Agbéyomé Kodjo est un patriote, il aimait son pays et la population togolaise. Je me sens triste qu’il soit parti en étant très loin du pays.

This is a great loss. It saddens me that this “particularly bright” politician died far from home. Mr Agbéyomé Kodjo was a patriot. He loved his country and the Togolese people. I feel sad that he passed away while far from home.

Also in AfreePress, Adrien Béléki from the Pan-African Patriotic  Convergence party (CPP) added:

Gardons de ce monsieur, l’homme complexe qu’il a été. On discutait toujours avec lui quand il était sur le territoire national. On sent en lui qu’il veut quelque chose pour l’épanouissement de son pays. Peut-être qu’il a été mal compris.

Let’s remember him as the complex man he was. We always talked to him when he was in the country. You could tell he only wanted to do something for his country’s development. Perhaps he was misunderstood.

Quoted by media outlet Afriqueenligne, Antoine Folly, Executive Director of the Union of Socialist Democrats of Togo (UDS-TOGO), also paid tribute to him:

Je n’ai pas souvenir d’un homme politique togolais qui ait eu dans son parcours politique, à occuper deux des trois plus hautes fonctions de la République. A ce jour, Agbéyomé Kodjo reste le seul à l’avoir fait. Au-delà des divergences d’appréciation que nous avons eues au sujet de l’élection présidentielle de 2020, nous avons toujours partagé avec Agbéyomé Kodjo et son parti politique une très haute et noble idée de la démocratie et de l’intérêt national.

I can’t recall any other Togolese politician holding two of the Republic’s three highest positions in their political career. To this day, Agbéyomé Kodjo remains the only one to have done so. Aside from our differences in opinion about the 2020 presidential election, we have always shared a high regard for democracy and the national interest with Agbéyomé Kodjo and his political party.

On X (formerly Twitter), Togolese politician Nathaniel Olympio, paid tribute to the memory of the deceased. He wrote:

Today, we learned of the sudden death of Gabriel Agbéyomé Kodjo, far from his homeland. This is very sad news. I knew him as a man of firm conviction. He had a strong personality. I send my condolences to his wife and family. May he rest in peace.

Within two months, the Togolese political establishment has lost two significant proponents of democratic change in Togo. Some politicians have expressed their wishes that Agbéyomé be buried with dignity and are calling for the repatriation of the former opposition leader’s body.

Given his status as a former prime minister and president of the National Assembly, will the current government decide to pay national tribute to him?

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