How Tony Blair Is Working to Rehabilitate the Image of Togo’s Dictatorship
Last week former British Prime Minister Tony Blair held a meeting with President Faure Gnassingbé of Togo to discuss economic development in Togo. At the meeting Gnassingbé made a pitch to investors. Blair has also encouraged investors to look to Togo as well. Blair stated: “I am absolutely enthusiastic about the country and its prospects.” He continued: “I see in Togo a government who is willing and able and an environment conducive to business. I hope you take this opportunity seriously, they are well worth the effort.” While he was in Britain, Gnassingbé was also invited to speak at Chatham House where he was greeted by a group of protesters.
The relationship between Gnassingbé and Blair is nothing new. Last year Blair traveled to Togo to meet with Gnassingbé to discuss economic development in Togo. The discussion about investing in Togo comes at a time when Gnassingbé is facing considerable pressure in Togo. Gnassingbé became the president of Togo in 2005 following his father’s death. The military moved to overthrow the government and installed Gnassingbé into power. The people of Togo have been demanding that Gnassingbé leave power, ending what is currently the oldest dictatorial family dynast in Africa. Gnassingbé has been desperately attempting to retain power. The constitution of Togo was recently amended to allow Gnassingbé to remain in power until at least 2030, but two more terms is too much for the opposition and the Togolese people who are demanding that Gnassingbé resign immediately.
Blair’s attempt to assist Gnassingbé with attracting British investors is an attempt to rally support for a regime that is coming under increasing international scrutiny for its failure to uphold human rights. The most recent example of this is a report from the United Nations which noted that the government of Togo was not doing enough to address the issue of child labor in the country. The report noted that poverty is a significant factor which contributes to child labor, especially since many parents in Togo cannot afford to send their children to school.
The reality about the human rights situation in Togo was completely avoided by Blair as he spoke about foreign investment in Togo. Blair attempted to depict Togo as a stable nation where the government is committed to Togo’s development. Blair’s comments about Togo are very typical of the manner in which Britain has engaged with Togo in recent years. Alex Vines, who is the head of the Africa Program at Chatham House, stated that Gnassingbé is trying to make “Togo the Dubai of West Africa.” The truth is that Togo is actually one of the poorest and most miserable countries in West Africa because Togo has had to endure five decades of a very brutal dictatorship. What Blair is advocating is that investors invest in Togo to help bolster this failing regime, as the masses of the Togolese people continue to suffer.
Blair’ involvement is especially concerning given his problematic relationship with Africa. As Prime Minister, Blair restored Britain’s relationship with Libya, which had been strained for several decades. This renewed relationship led to the Britain assisting dictator Muamar Gaddafi with capturing and torturing dissidents in Libya, so Blair is no stranger to assisting African dictators. Last year Prime Minister Theresa May issued an apology for MI6’s role in assisting Libya with capturing and torturing people. As Prime Minister, Blair also maintained a close relationship with Meles Zenawi, whose government was marked by human rights abuses, as well as suppressing freedom of speech and freedom of press in Ethiopia.
Blair was also among those who defended Paul Kagame, despite the scrutiny that Kagame has faced over suppressing political opposition and activist in Rwanda, as well as for war crimes that Rwanda’s military forces have committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Blair praised Kagame as a “visionary leader” and defended Rwanda’s invasion of the Congo. Gnassingbé has now become the latest African leader to benefit from Blair’s record of trying to rehabilitate the image of African dictatorships.
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.