On June 30, Togo held its first local election in more than 30 years. The election came partly as a result of the international pressure that is beginning placed on Togo to effect serious democratic reforms. In the past, international governments have often touted superficial changes in Togo as a sign that Togo was implementing democratic reforms, but the Togolese government has been coming under increasing scrutiny to implement actual reforms such as local elections and most recently presidential term limits. Togo’s 1992 constitution implemented presidential term limits, which were reversed in 2002 so that Gnassingbé Eyadema could run for more terms. Eyadema died in 2005 and since then his son Faure Gnassingbé has been the president of Togo. Up until this year, Faure had no term limits and it appeared as though he planned to remain in power until he dies like his father did.
In August 2017, the people Togo rose up in protest, demanding that Faure resign as president. Despite the repression that the Togolese people have endured for daring to demand an end to five decades of dictatorship, the fact that the government of Togo is making more of an effort to present itself as a truly democratic government demonstrates that the Togolese people have forced certain concessions from the government. For example, opposition parties in Togo have been fighting for the return of term limits for several years. The government was finally forced to give into these demands, although with certain stipulations that are favorable to Faure. The term limits are not retroactive, which means that Faure can still serve two more terms, meaning he can remain in power until 2030. Moreover, the new constitutional terms stipulate that former presidents cannot be “prosecuted, arrested, detained, or tried for acts committed during their presidential term”. This provision was clearly implemented to ensure that Faure escape facing justice for his crimes once his two terms are over.
One of the tactics which Faure has typically engaged in to help maintain his rule over Togo is to distract from the human rights abuses that his government has been committing by presenting himself as a leader who is concerned with regional security. This has included warning about the threat of jihad from Islamic extremists. In May of this year, Faure was even invited by Chatham House to speak on the topic of regional security. Not only does focusing on regional security and the treat of terrorism help to win Faure international support while distracting from his own dictatorial rule, but the threat of terrorism in Togo has also allowed Faure to delegitimatize the activities of some of the Togolese activists who have been fighting for change in Togo by presenting such activists as terrorists as well. The reality is that the government of Togo is one that has been terrorizing its own citizens for the last five decades. In the past the international community has been willing to ignore such brutalities on the part of the Togolese government, but it is becoming more difficult for the Togolese government and its international allies to continue this façade.
The recent apparent reforms in Togo are concessions that are being made by a regime that is desperately trying to cling to power and the changes that have been made thus far are more superficial than anything else. A few political prisoners in Togo have been released, but there are still hundreds of more political prisoners that are locked up. The Togolese people themselves have little confidence in the judiciary precisely because of abuses like this. Togo still has a political culture in which ordinary citizens have their rights violated and the violators face no consequences. We need to look no further than the violence during the parliamentary elections which were held in December of last year, which left some citizens dead and many more were injured. Among the casualties was a child, who was shot and killed by government forces. Thus far the government has not held anyone accountable for these killings, but released a statement expressing regret for the violence which the government itself caused. The fact that the Togolese government has finally decided to hold local election is a positive sign, but not because it suggests that the government is committed to real change. It’s a positive sign because it demonstrates that Faure’s absolute power in Togo is weakening and with continued pressure that rule may very well come to an end sooner than later.
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.