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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Kabre in Togo

View Group Chronology

Togo Facts
Area:    56,785 sq. km.
Capital:    Lome
Total Population:    4,410,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

As the dominant group in politics, the Kabre are unlikely to become involved in militant or non-militant protests against the government. Under Gnassingbe Eyadema’s 38-year dictatorship, the Kabre ethnic group consolidated power as an advantaged minority. Their biggest threat to power has been the predominantly Ewe-led opposition, but recent events have diminished the likelihood of Ewe rebellion. Eyadema died in February 2005 and although Eyadema’s son won the disputed emergency elections held after his death, Faure Gnassingbe (Eyadema’s son) has demonstrated a willingness to reform the government, decreasing the threat of rebellion by the opposition. If the country successfully transitions to a power-sharing, democratic government, then most likely the Kabre’s current political, economic and social freedoms will not be affected, while the Ewe will see their political fortunes rise.


Analytic Summary

The Kabre represent about 15 percent of the Togo’s population. There are about 40 other ethnic groups in Togo, but the Kabre, Ewe and Mina are the three largest ethnic groups. The Kabre (also known as Kabye, Kabrai or Kabiye) have been in the area now known as Togo for hundreds of years. They are mostly found in the northern half of the country, though some have migrated to the south (GROUPCON = 2). They are communal contenders for power against the Ewe of the south. They speak the same language as the Ewe (LANG = 1), and the only real difference between the two groups is that some have somewhat different religious beliefs (BELIEF = 0; CUSTOM = 1).

Generally there do not appear to be any demographic disadvantages plaguing the Kabre. As the politically dominant group, the Kabre are well represented in government positions and they dominate the civil service and armed forces (POLDIS06 = 0). The Kabre largely support the Rally of the Togolese People, which has dominated the political landscape since 1967. Since power and access to it relies on which ethnic group one belongs to in Togo, the Kabre are very organized and cohesive. With their ethnic clan in charge of the government, the Kabres have generally been well taken care of, and their only demand has been for protection from the Ewe. The Kabre have not been reported to engage in protests (PROT06= 0).

Economically, the Kabre and Ewe seem to keep their distance. With the Kabre located mostly in the north, they do not compete with the Ewe in most sectors of the economy. Although it appears the Ewe are slightly better off than the Kabre, no economic discrimination has been reported (ECDIS06 = 0). After 40 years as the dominant group in Togolese society, it is not surprising that there are no cultural restrictions against the Kabre. In addition, no reports of government-instigated repressive action targeting the Kabre were found.

During the early 1990s, an increase in violent conflict between the two ethnic groups led to hundreds of deaths and large numbers of refugees. Some Kabres were involved in militant activity against the Ewes in 1991. Conflict spiked again in 2005: in the run up and aftermath of the election held after Eyadema’s death, ethnic street violence was reported and opposition supporters were killed and disappeared by the military. Some Kabres fled to the north to escape reprisal violence by the opposition (INTERCON05 = 1).

The Kabre have not always dominated politics. Until April 1960, Togo, a one-time German colony, had been administered by France as a UN Trust Territory. During the German period, southern Ewes had been designated as German agents and had also benefited from missionary education. When the French succeeded the Germans in Togo, Ewes became administrators for colonial management throughout French Africa. By the time of independence, Ewes played a significant role in the country’s civil service and dominated it politically, while the northern Kabres suffered economic backwardness, illiteracy, and few educational and social opportunities. Yet, the Kabres and other northerners had been recruited for military service under French rule, and the Togolese army at independence mostly consisted of ethnic Kabres. Ewes supported Togo’s independence government, headed by Sylvanus Olympio, and Ewes emerged victorious across the board in the post-colonial elections. In 1963, though, Olympio was assassinated in a military coup, with Nicolas Grunitzky eventually taking power. Under the rule of Olympio (1960-1963) and Grunitsky (1963-1967), Ewes formed almost 70 percent of the cabinets and Kabre 20 percent.

However, in a bloodless military coup on January 13, 1967, Gnassingbe Eyadema, an ethnic Kabre army colonel, usurped the power of the presidency with the help of the military (REBEL60X = 1). Eyadema’s hold on power in Togo lasted until his death in February 2005. Under Eyadema’s military regime, the cabinet’s composition was only 25 percent Ewe (half the Ewe proportionate share), while northerners represented over 65 percent of the cabinet, even though they only represent about 15 percent of the population. The early years of Eyadema’s dictatorship were marked by ruthless repression of pro-democracy movements and Ewe nationalism. Facing mass protest and rioting, Eyadema finally agreed in 1990 to draft a new constitution intended to place Togo on the path to plural democracy. However, blatant vote-fixing and continued human rights abuses led to ever increasing tension between the northern Kabres and southern Ewes. Prior to the 1995 presidential elections, Eyadema’s soldiers repeatedly blocked democratic reforms and killed opposition figures. The Togo government also frequently accused infiltrators from Ghana, which hosts both Ewe secessionists and many Togolese exiles, of trying to destabilize Togo. After the 1998 fraudulent elections declared Eyadema the winner, ethnic violence exploded and hundreds were killed. About 250,000 people (7 percent of total population) fled to Ghana and Benin by the end of 1999. In 2000, the Eyadema government instituted a more repressive ban on negative press against the government.

In the immediate aftermath of Eyadema’s death on February 5, 2005, Togo faced tumultuous events. The military immediately installed Eyadema’s son, Faure Gnassingbe, as president. This was a blatant affront to the constitution that mandated that the parliamentary speaker take over as the interim president and elections be held within 60 days. The military with the help of the loyal parliament quickly altered the constitution to give some veneer of legality to the coup, but neither the opposition nor the international community responded positively to the moves; both denounced the power-grab as an illegitimate military coup. Thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets while the African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions to force Gnassingbe to step down.

After a few weeks of political maneuvering and negotiations, Gnassingbe agreed to hold elections, step down and restore the wording of the old constitution. He was nominated to be the Rally of the Togolese People’s presidential candidate in the hasty elections that were organized for April 24, 2005. He won, but the opposition denounced the elections as rigged, and violence erupted, mostly between the Ewe opposition supporters and the armed forces. Some civilian Kabres fled to the north, fearing reprisal violence from the angry and frustrated opposition. The UN reported 400 to 500 deaths as a result of the conflict, and 40,000 political refugees from the opposition party fled to Ghana and Benin.

Since taking office after the elections, President Gnassingbe has demonstrated a willingness to negotiate with the opposition under the auspices of the international community. After months of rocky and failed negotiations between the Gnassingbe Government and the exiled opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio to form a national unity government, in August 2006 an agreement was finally reached. President Faure Gnassingbe and the Union of Forces for Change (UFC) signed the agreement on August 20, after a 10-day meeting in Burkina Faso. It created a national unity government, abolished strict eligibility conditions for running in elections, and guaranteed equal access to public media during the campaign season. A revamped electoral commission was also part of the deal: the National Electoral Commission’s new composition included ten members of opposition parties, five representatives of the ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT), two members of cabinet, and two members of civil society groups. The agreement also included measures to facilitate the return of refugees, who fled the political violence after the 2005 elections, and to reform the Kabre-dominated security forces. The upcoming 2008 elections will be a test of Gnassingbe’s commitment to democratic reform. Most likely democratic reforms will benefit all ethnic groups in Togolese society.

However, if the Ewe seize power in the fledgling, unstable democracy, most likely the Kabre would suffer retaliatory discrimination and violence. In this case, it is likely the Kabre would resort to militancy against a Ewe dictatorship. Yet, the chances of the Ewe seizing power are unlikely because the Kabre comprise 75 percent of the Togolese Armed Forces. Also, the international community clearly wants Togo to transition to full democracy and would not support either a Kabre or a Ewe dictatorship. Although Gnassingbe has made promises to reform the military, it is unlikely he will do this until the Kabres can be assured that the opposition will agree to share power and not seek retaliation for being shut out of the Kabre-dominated government for almost 40 years. If Faure Gnassingbe does not follow through on the 2006 agreements for a unity government, ethnic violence in Togo will escalate; the opposition will rebel and the military will crack down on them as has been the case in the recent past. Most likely, though, Gnassingbe will continue to slowly reform the government under pressure from regional and international government bodies such as the African Union, Economic Community of West African States, and the European Union.



Gordon, Raymond G., Jr., ed. 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International., accessed 10/4/2008.

Horowitz, Donald L. 1985. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

LexisNexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

Minorities Rights Group. 2008. “Togo Overview.” World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples.

Murray, Jocelyn, ed. 1993. Cultural Atlas of Africa. New York: An Equinox Book

U.S. State Department. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Togo. 2000-2006.

U.S. State Department. 2007. International Religious Freedom Report: Togo, 2006., accessed 10/4/2008.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006