Editor's Note: A Peace Corps staffer in Togo during the 1970s develops skills at reading arcane indicators of change in an authoritarian government, and has an unexpected chance to celebrate American independence with a KGB officer.--Ed.
In the 1970s, I served for four-and-one-half years as Associate Peace Corps Director for Agriculture and Rural Development in Togo, where I had previously served as a Peace Corps Volunteer for three-and-one-half years. One evening, I went to Le Bowling Club in the capital city, Lome, to play billiards. There, I ran into a diplomat from the U.S. embassy. We started talking about the latest developments in Togolese politics. I remarked that the Minister of Information was not long for the Cabinet and would be fired and replaced very soon. My diplomat friend scoffed and told me that I was crazy. The embassy, he said, had identified the Minister of Information as a rising star in the Togolese government who was destined for bigger and better things.
Within six months, the Minister was fired. Not long thereafter, I ran into the same diplomat at Le Bowling Club. We sat down and he asked me, "Who told you that he was on the way out?" He reiterated that the Embassy had a number of informants who identified the Minister of Information as someone whose career was in the ascendancy.
"How did you know?" he repeated.
"No one told me," I replied. "It was very simple. Remember that the Minister was a journalist. He had been editor-in-chief of the official daily newspaper, Togo-Presse, the only daily newspaper in the country, and was elevated from that position to Minister of Information. He was also one of about a dozen young technocrats who had been tasked by President Eyadema in the 1968-1969 period to create the single political party, the RPT, or Togolese People's Assembly (Rassemblement du Peuple Togolais). Once he became Minister of Information, he supervised not only Togo-Presse, but also Togolese radio and Togolese television.
"I am a daily reader of Togo-Presse," I continued. "It's a useful tool for keeping up with what is going on in the country if you know how to read between the lines. Under the Minister's tutelage, President Eyadema's picture continued to be prominently displayed on multiple pages of the paper. There were frequently pictures of the Cabinet Ministers but they were always smaller than the pictures of Eyadema."
"I observed, however, that the pictures of the Minister of Information in Togo-Presse...