The Myth of Reform in Togo
I read recently that the regime in Togo is boasting that it is the second best reformer in Africa. This claim is based on the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)’s scorecard. Togo validated 15 out of the 20 indicators on the MCC’s scorecard for 2021. This placed Togo second behind Cape Verde among African countries.The the five indicators where Togo performed best are business start-ups, primary education expenditures, freedom of information, fiscal policy, and access to credit. The scorecard also noted significant improvements were recorded in other key indicators, such as control of corruption, land rights, and rule of law.
The report was celebrated by President Faure Gnassingbé. he attributed the score to the “many reforms implemented in multiple sectors, especially relative to governance, economic freedom, and investment in human capital.”
The reality is that not only has the regime in Togo not engaged in the necessary political reform, but the resilience of the military dictatorship in Togo stands out in a region that seems to witnessing a steady slide back into authoritarianism. This year, Faure Gnassingbé was elected to his fourth term. Alpha Condé was elected to his third term, despite Guinea’s constitution imposing a two-term limit. The protests against Condé’s bid for a third term were met with violence which has resulted in several citizens being killed and wounded — this is not unlike the violent force which the government of Togo employed against protesters in 2017 and 2018. In the Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara won his third term in a controversial election which was boycotted by the opposition. Condéhad previously announced he would not seek a third term, but decided to run for a third term, arguing that the current constitution’s two-term mandate does not apply to him under the new constitution which was adopted in 2016.
Last year Togo reinstated a two-term limit on the presidency, but the term-limits are not retroactive, which would allow Faure to remain in office until 2030. Faure was originally placed into power in Togo in 2005 by the military. Faure has been the president of Togo since then. He was won every election in a nation where there are no fair and free elections, and where government critics are harassed, threatened, imprisoned, tortured, and killed.
In 2017, Togo shut off internet access to its citizens. This year the ECOWAS court ruled that this was an illegal action on the part of the Togolese government because it violated the freedom of expression of the citizens. This was a small victory for the Togolese people, who live in a country where citizens are still subjected to strict government surveillance.
According to the MCC’s scorecard, Togo is the second best reformer in Africa, but the fact is that Togo remains one of the most oppressive and backwards regimes in Africa. More so than this, Togo seems to be providing a model for other West African leaders who are seeking to extend their time in power by undermining constitutional term limits. In 2018, Joel Amegboh wrote: “Togo is the only country in the 15-member ECOWAS bloc currently not on a democratic path.” Today, other ECOWAS members have followed Togo’s example and are now moving off of a democratic path.
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.