As Africa's longest-ruling head of state, Eyadéma has proven himself time and again to be a shrewd and often brutal political pragmatist. He rose to power as a populist leader whose main base of support lay with the army and Togo's more northern ethnic groups. Eyadéma's popular image has been enhanced by his survival of several assassination attempts and one plane crash. He has also promoted a cult of personality in which his image is found in all public places and on lapel badges worn by all civil servants. From the mid-1970s, Eyadéma initiated a national program of cultural "authenticity" in which foreign toponyms were abandoned in favor of African names, and the languages of Ewe and Kabiye were encouraged to replace French as the language of education and cultural life.
Since the 1991 national conference, President Eyadéma has coopted, intimidated, detained, tortured, and executed opposition to his rule. He maintains a strong grip on the military, most of whom hail from his own northern region. Instead of encouraging the growth of civil society, Eyadéma blames the opposition, trade unions, and student associations for crippling Togo's economy.
On 27 April 2000, Togo marked the fortieth anniversary of its independence. Many Togolese around the world celebrated with heavy hearts, while some staged protests. In September, the Togolese diaspora in North America organized protests outside the United Nations to condemn Eyadéma's government.