Lt-Col Bitala Madjoulba’s murder prompts govt inquiry in Togo

Togo has opened an inquiry into the mysterious death of a high-ranking army officer the day after President Faure Gnassingbe’s inauguration, a police source said Monday. Lieutenant-Colonel Bitala Madjoulba, who commanded the country’s Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), was found dead in his office on May 4.

Gnassingbe took office in 2005 on the death of his father, who had ruled the West African state since 1967. He was sworn in for a fourth term on May 3. He was reelected on February 22 with more than 70 percent of the vote according to official returns — a result the opposition contests.

A bullet was extracted from Madjoulba’s body during an autopsy, public prosecutor Essolissam Poyodi told local media.

“A commission of inquiry headed by Security Minister General Yark Damehane has been put in place to shed light on this affair,” an informed police source told AFP. He added that police directors would be aiding the minister in his investigation. There has been no official reaction to Madjoulba’s death. His replacement, Lieutenant-Colonel Tchangani Atafai, was named within hours.

Madjoulba’s battalion was at the forefront of the brutal suppression of opposition  demonstrations which attracted huge crowds in 2017 and 2018. On Thursday, residents Madjoulba’s home village of Siou some 500 kilometres (300 miles) north of the capital Lome held a rally to demand answers.

Madjoulba had commanded the battalion since 2014 and had widespread experience at home and abroad, including leading several UN peacekeeping contingents. Local media have suggested his killing was an internal settling of scores.

Opposition figures have criticised the silence authorities have thus far maintained while also demanding an independent inquiry.

Some observers say the army, largely made up  of ethnic Kabye from the president’s Kara region, is riven by internal tensions they say were ratcheted up by the 2009 jailing of Kpatcha Gnassingbe, the president’s half brother and former defence minister.

Kpatcha Gnassingbe is being held in a Lome prison on suspicion of orchestrating a failed coup in 2009. Some opposition groups say his jailing was a means of eliminating a potential rival to the president.