Togo names new premier

Time of article published Sep 8, 2008

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By John Zodzi

Lome - Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe has named Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, an accountant and senior United Nations official, as prime minister of the small West African state, the government said on Monday.

Houngbo, who since late 2005 has directed the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)'s regional bureau for Africa, replaced Komlan Mally who resigned on Friday as premier, the Togolese government's website said.

Togo, a former French colony that is the world's fourth-largest producer of phosphate, has obtained debt cancellation accords this year from the World Bank and Western creditors and Houngbo's appointment was expected to further cement relations with foreign donors and lenders.

Although no official reason was given for Mally's resignation, critics said he had appeared increasingly powerless and lacking control over his own ministers, an impression that opponents of the government had begun to exploit.

The government website described Houngbo, 47, as "a man of consensus" and said his appointment was part of President Gnassingbe's efforts to foster national reconciliation and reconstruction following riots in 2005.

Analysts said the nomination of an experienced technocrat like Houngbo as premier seemed aimed at bolstering the government's image and performance as Gnassingbe sought to strengthen his position for possible re-election in 2010.

But they noted that Houngbo was a political outsider.

"I think it's just a patch-up job," said Togoata Apedo-Amah, professor of humanities at the University of Lome.

Gnassingbe's ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) won multi-party elections in October which led to a restoration of major international aid flows to Togo, especially from the European Union.

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