Next year Togo will be holding a presidential election. Faure Gnassingbé has been the president of Togo since 2005. Faure, who came to power as the result of a military coup, has been under pressure recently as the people of Togo have been demanding for him to step down as president. The upcoming elections in Togo will be the first presidential election to be held since presidential term limits were restored.
Since 2017 the people of Togo have been protesting for Faure to resign as president, which would put an end to Africa’s oldest military regime. The upcoming presidential election provides an opportunity for the people of Togo to accomplish this task, although it will be no easy task given the fact that Togo is a nation where elections are neither free nor fair.
Voting a brutal dictatorship out of power is not easy, but it is possible. There is a recent example of this very thing happening in Africa. In 2016, Yahya Jammeh was defeated in a shocking electoral defeat which ended Jammeh’s reign over the Gambia which began when he seized power in 1994 through a coup. Jammeh initially accepted defeat, but then later refused to concede, The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) acted swiftly to intervene on behalf of the Gambian people and this intervention forced Jammeh to finally accept the electoral results.
In Faure Must Go, one of things that I pointed out is that ECOWAS has not been as proactive with working to resolve the political crisis in Togo. ECOWAS’ ineffective response to Togo is also one of the reasons why defeating Faure through electoral means will be more difficult for the Togolese people than it was in the Gambia three years ago.
President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana and President Alpha Condé of Guinea served as meditators during the dialogue between the Togolese government and the opposition. Based on the report by the two meditators, ECOWAS adopted a roadmap for Togo with recommendations for the Togolese government to make institutional, electoral and constitutional reforms. The Togolese government decided to go ahead with preparing for legislative elections without implementing these reforms. This included also making no reforms to the Electoral Commission, which is made up of appointees of the ruling party.
The Togolese opposition boycotted the legislative elections that were held last year because none of the reforms that ECOWAS had suggested were implemented by the government. The opposition also raised concerns regarding irregularities in the electoral process. What is worse is that ECOWAS took no precautions to try to prevent further violence in Togo. Therefore, when the people of Togo decided to organize protests against the election, the government reacted by banning protests and then proceeded to brutalize the protesters, killing some of them in the process. ECOWAS made no attempt to sanction the Togolese government for these killings and for clearly violating the right to assembly of the Togolese people which is enshrined in Title II, Article 30 of Togo’s constitution by banning protests. In short, elections in Togo were imposed on the Togolese people against their will, with the complicity of ECOWAS. Despite the bloodshed and lack of electoral reforms, ECOWAS observers stated that the election was held properly.
ECOWAS’ failure to handle the situation in Togo is inexcusable in light of how ECOWAS was able to handle the situation in the Gambia when Jammeh refused to step down. ECOWAS was willing to resort to military intervention in the Gambia to ensure that Jammeh stepped down, so at the very least ECOWAS could have mobilized troops in Togo to ensure peace and stability was maintained for the protection of the Togolese citizens who have been trying to exercise their constitutional right to organize protests, but ECOWAS has made no such effort to protect the safety of the Togolese citizens.
Why ECOWAS’ handling of the ongoing political crisis in Togo is also inexcusable is because of ECOWAS’ own past dealings with Faure’s government. When Faure initially came to power through a military coup, ECOWAS acted by imposing sanctions on Togo, which forced Faure to step down and hold an election. Despite the electoral violence and the charges of electoral fraud, ECOWAS lifted the sanctions and recognized Faure as the president of Togo following the results of the election that was held in 2005. Since then ECOWAS has ignored the many horrific human rights abuses that have been taking place in Togo.
With presidential elections scheduled to take place next year, ECOWAS is again showing no sense of urgency in working to help resolve the political crisis in Togo. The Togolese people have endured 37 years of brutal dictatorship under Gnassingbé Eyadéma and 14 years of brutal dictatorship under Faure. Another five year term for Faure means five more years of misery for the Togolese people. In order for democracy to work in Togo — and in the rest of Africa — institutions like ECOWAS need to take a more proactive approach to ensure electoral transparency and to protect the right of citizens to express their discontent with their government. ECOWAS’ action or inaction regarding the 2020 election in Togo could have a significant impact on the outcome of that election and on the future of the Togolese people, who are tired of being ruled by the same family for the last five decades.
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.