A Response to Chatham House’s Invitation to Faure Gnassingbe

Chatham House has recently decided to invite President Faure Gnassingbe of Togo to “discuss Togo’s vision for collective security and the importance of ECOWAS in tackling future regional challenges for West Africa.” This invitation demonstrates how out of touch Chatham House is with the situation in West Africa. The regional challenge for West Africa is corrupt and ineffective leaders like Faure Gnassingbe. Chatham House’s webpage states:

Togo has remained committed to trans-regional dialogue: in July 2018, Lomé hosted a joint summit between ECOWAS and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) on peace, security, stability and the fight against terrorism with discussions at the summit underscoring the need for enhanced cooperation between the two communities.

The government of Togo has a history of presenting itself as being a government that is concerned with regional peace, security, stability, and fighting against terrorism. Togo’s domestic policies tell another story. The problem is that the international community insists on pretending as if Togo is a democracy and that the current government of Togo represents the legitimate interests of the people. What is even worse is that some insist on acting as though Faure Gnassingbe is a real statesman, rather than a visionless dictator who is desperately clinging to power at the expense of his own citizens.

Alex Vines, who is the head of the Africa Program at Chatham House, has had favorable words to say about Faure Gnassingbe. Mr. Vines said:

He is a thoughtful man and has a bit of a vision for Togo. Some of it has been a bit more successful, about making Togo the Dubai of West Africa. He is attracting international investment. He is planning on holding an Israel-Africa summit soon in Togo. I think that if he is aware that the politics is changing in Africa and particularly in West Africa, I think he is thinking of what his legacies are and when it might be advantageous for him to no longer be president.

Under the leadership of this “thoughtful man” Togo has ranked as the most miserable country in the world, which is not surprising given that Togo has also been consistently ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world. Togo also ranks very low in regards to life expectancy and has a very poor score on the corruption index. Togo is a nation where many citizens do not have access to clean drinking water and where hospital conditions are so horrific that women are made to deliver their children on the floor.

Togo’s “thoughtful man” has failed by every standard that is used to measure a nation’s development. And worse of all is the fact that the people of Togo do not have the freedom to express their misery. Those who are too vocal about the horrible state of affairs in Togo have been routinely persecuted by the state. Activists in Togo have been jailed, tortured, and brutally killed. Others have been forced into exile. The prison conditions in Togo are extremely inhumane. Prisons are overpopulated and for this reasons many inmates die from diseases. This is what Mr. Vines is referring to as the Dubai of West Africa.

Faure Gnassingbe does not have “a bit of a vision” for Togo. He has no vision. Why would he? Faure Gnassingbe was never elected to be the president of Togo. He came to power through a military coup and the military has been the tool which he has used to maintain his power in Togo. Whenever the people of Togo have risen up in protest, the military has been sent out to kill and brutalize citizens, including children. This is also the same regime which shut down the internet connection of its citizens. Most people are well-aware that the United Nations recognizes things like torture, arbitrary imprisonment, and the assassination of political activists as being violations of human rights, but the United Nations has also declared access to the internet as being a human right as well. There is not a single human right that the government of Togo has not violated since Faure became president in 2005 — and these violations are just a continuation of a tradition started by Faure’s father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who illegally seized power in 1967.

Of the brutal and systematic violence which the government of Togo has inflicted on its own people Mr. Vines stated: “There was some government violence in the August demonstrations, which is why people were injured.” To only say that there was some government violence is a gross understatement. In 2005, Faure Gnassinbge’s government killed hundreds of people. None of this information is a secret to the international community, but many prefer to hypocritically look the other way when the human rights of African people are being violated.

By inviting Faure Gnassingbe, Chatham House is not only helping to provide legitimacy to one of the most criminal governments in Africa, but it is also an insult to the victims of the Gnassingbe regime. Worst of all is the unwillingness to be honest about how horrible Faure Gnassingbe’s leadership (or rather lack of leadership) has been for the Togolese people.

Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.

Dwayne Wong (Omowale) is a Guyanese born Pan-Africanist, author, and law student.

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