#TBT “Stevie Wonder’s” Magic Watch A story of an African propaganda watch by Tomas Rosputinsky April 30, 2020 MIN READ#TBT “Stevie Wonder’s” Magic Watch
Gnassingbé Eyadéma was the longest-serving ruler in Africa at the time of his death. He survived a plane crash and an assassination attempt. He was believed to have superpowers. Rumor has it that his watch was magical too.
We have all seen them throughout our years of watch hunting. A watch with a face on the dial of a more gentle or cruel ruler, Soviet astronauts, or different regime symbols. I never paid attention to any of them. I had no reason. This changed recently when one of the Fratello readers shared a story as exciting and interesting as the one behind the moon watch.
The story is surreal from the very beginning. Gnassingbé Eyadéma was born on 26 December 1935 in Togo to a peasant family. According to the political scientist, Comi M. Toulabor, his official date of birth is “based on fertile imagination,” and it would be more accurate to say that he was born around 1930. In his twenties he left Togo, joining the French army. He returned to Togo in 1962. Shortly thereafter, he participated in two successful military coups and eventually became president in 1967. He remained president until his death in 2005, making him the longest-serving ruler in Africa at the time. His son, Faure Gnassingbé, is the current president of Togo.
Image Source: Wikipedia
John Mishanec had a high enough lottery number in the US military draft that he was able to finish college. Like a lot of people, he didn’t know what to do afterwards. “As someone who had grown up in the ’60s, the Peace Corps had always appealed to me. I was sent to West Africa and my job was to organize agricultural cooperatives.“ John spent five years in Africa working in Benin, Togo, and Niger. “I visited Togo many times. Before the French took control, Togo was a German colony and I felt the best thing about the country was that it had great beer. I often went to Lomé, the capital, for a weekend. Every bar had beer on tap.“
Airplane crash survivor
When John came to Togo for the first time in 1976, Eyadéma had been president for almost a decade already. It was two years after he had survived a plane crash in the northern part of the country. In reality, he was not the sole survivor, but he deliberately misrepresented the details of the accident to make himself look like a hero with superhuman strength who miraculously survived the disaster. All to strengthen his personality cult. That’s also why he dropped his Christian name Étienne and adopted the name Eyadéma, meaning courage. He also carried the bullet removed by a surgeon as an amulet after an unsuccessful assassination attempt.
West Africa is the ancestral home of voodoo, so magic was historically an especially powerful way to influence the people. “The president made all the civil servants in the country purchase a magic watch,” says John. When you first look at the simple gold-plated watch, the dial is black. Every 30 seconds the president’s face appears. “Animism was strongly believed by everyone. Everyone also believed in magic. The president was billing himself as immortal. He had survived an airplane crash and an attempted assassination and he was trying to make the people believe he had really strong magical powers.“
The polarized sweep disk that made the president’s face appear and disappear was enough to underline the magic image. If you remember, we reviewed a similar Ghost Dial Buler earlier this year. John managed to find a picture of an almost identical watch with Muammar Gaddafi’s picture on it. During my research, I also bumped into other polarised dials with the Zurex movement.
Every civil servant or government worker got one, whether they wanted it or not. The watch was paid for by deducting the amount from their salary.
I was taken aback when John said that the President MADE civil servants buy the watch. I could not imagine how this was technically performed. John explained how every civil servant or government worker got one, whether they wanted it or not. The watch was paid for by deducting the amount from their salary. “I have also kept a large format comic book telling the story of Eyadéma’s rise from simple peasant to the president. This too was required reading for all civil servants.“
African Stevie Wonder
“When we, the American ex-pats, didn’t want the locals knowing we were talking about the President, we referred to him as Stevie Wonder.” This was a reference to his Christian given name (Étienne means Steven in French). “Being an agrarian society, everyone from the president down, started life working the land. There was a phrase ‘square fingers’ meaning you had callouses on your fingers from holding a hoe. The goal was to get some education and get a job sitting in an air-conditioned office. Once you left working the land, you generally wore a watch.”
Outside the cities, practically no one wore a watch except for the civil servants. “I bought my watch in the big outdoor market in the capital Lomé. The watch still has its original band in the colors of the Togolese flag. I wore the watch proudly while I was in Togo but since then only wear it on special occasions. I’ve never had the watch open,” says John.
After a twenty-five-year career working for Cornell University as a Vegetable Specialist, working with commercial farmers, John Mishanec is retired today. He has a pretty awesome collection of Seiko chronographs (of which even Mike would approve). Neither John nor I have a lot of sympathy for African dictators. “The watch is not so much about propaganda as about what it represents. For me, the Eyadéma watch is magical and brings me back like a time machine to all the things I experienced in Africa. It’s about a time in your life that is long gone. While I don’t have a watch from the moon, I do have a watch from another world.“
Image Source: Wikipedia Watch of the Week
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About the author
During the day time, Tomas is an entrepreneur in the advertising, automotive and IT software industries. At night he turns into a watch enthusiast searching for quirky movements or vintage pieces with strong stories behind. Tomas was born and bred… read more
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