What Ending Africa’s Oldest Military Regime Means to the Pan-African Struggle
In recent years Africa has witnessed several dictatorial regimes fall. In 2014, Blaise Compaoré was driven out of office by protests in Burkina Faso. Compaoré had been the president of Burkina Faso since 1987, when he seized power through a coup in which Thomas Sankara was assassinated. In 2016, Yahya Jammeh was voted out of office in the Gambia. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe was overthrown by the military in 2017 after having been in power since he was elected as prime minister of Zimbabwe in 1980. In 2018, Hailemariam Desalegn resigned as prime minister in Ethiopia in response to the pressure that was being placed on him by protests. And this year Omar al-Bashir was the most recent African leader to be forced out of power. Bashir, who came to power through a military coup, has been the president of the Sudan since 1989. Although there is still much work to be done in these countries — for example, Sudan still has not fully transitioned to civilian rule — there seems to be a general feeling across Africa that the days of oppressive dictators who remain in power for life are over. Still, there are some dictators who continue to cling to power in Africa in spite of the pressure they find themselves now facing.
Togo, which has the oldest military regime in Africa, has been one country where the government has been very resilient in the face of growing pressure. Massive protests against the regime in Togo began in August 2017, demanding that Faure Gnassingbé step down as Togo’s president. Faure has been the president of Togo since 2005 after his father Gnassingbé Eyadéma died. Eyadéma served as the president of Togo since 1967 after he came to power through a military coup. The Gnassingbé dynasty has been in power in Togo now for the past 52 years. Earlier this year Togo implemented presidential term limits which would allow Faure to remain in his position for at least another ten years, meaning that Togo could be stuck with Faure as president until 2030. It could perhaps be even longer than that. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is an example of the fact that African presidents are willing to resort to postponing elections to prolong their time in power. It wouldn’t be surprised if Faure attempted something like this to prolong his stay in power beyond 2030.
There are various reasons why Faure has been able to withstand the pressure against him thus far, even as dictators around Africa continue to fall. One reason for this is that Togo continues to enjoy international support, despite the human rights abuses and the calls for democracy. The problem in Togo is not only the violence which the government employs, but the fact that the international community has effectively turned a blind eye to the violence in Togo. By international community I am not only referring to nations such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Israel — nations which have a long record of supporting African dictators because those dictators advance their own neo-colonial policies in Africa. African nations themselves have continued to support the regime in Togo. The African Union recently suspended the Sudan over the violence against protesters there, but Togo has not been sanctioned by the AU for its violence against protesters. Likewise, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has not taken serious action against Togo, despite previously intervening in the Gambia and placing sanctions on Guinea-Bissau.
ECOWAS’ intervention in Togo has actually benefitted the government more so that the opposition. President Nana Akufo-Adoo of Ghana and President Alpha Condé both intervened in Togo and urged the opposition in Togo to suspend protests. There was no pressure placed on the government to cease its violence against the citizens of Togo. ECOWAS also failed to act last year when the Togolese government again resorted to violence to handle the protesters in Togo prior to the legislative elections, which the opposition boycotted.
Whereas the Gambia was able to vote Jammeh out of power, it is unlikely that Togo can repeat these same results without significant changes. The international pressure on the regime in Togo has forced some minor concessions from the regime, but none of these changes have been significant enough to ensure a transparent election in Togo next year. I noted in a previous article that ECOWAS’ failure to pressure the regime in Togo will work in the regime’s favor next year when Togo has its next presidential elections. In order for there to be transparent elections in Togo, ECOWAS, the AU, and other international bodies will have to be more forceful than they have been. Moreover, division among the main opposition parties has also weakened the protest movement in Togo and will work in the government’s benefit if this division continues into next year’s election.
Dictatorial regimes often rely on presenting an image of invincibility to discourage any form of rebellion or resistance. The dictatorial regime that has been in power in Togo since the 1960s certainly has been no different. It is for this reason that the fact that the regime in Togo is also the oldest military regime in Africa is of great significance to me. In recent years we have seen that African dictators are not as powerful as they often present themselves to be. Finally putting an end to the Gnassingbé dynasty in Togo would further reinforce the message that no regime in Africa is beyond the reproach of the African masses, which is one of the reasons why I think putting an end to the 52 years of dictatorship in Togo is not only necessary for the advancement of the Togolese people, but for the advancement of Africa has a whole. As I explained in Faure Must Go:
Togo is of great importance to this struggle because the regime there is the oldest military regime in Africa. A successful revolution in Togo would send the message that no dictatorship in Africa is invincible where the African masses are concerned. This step is especially important because dictators not only use force to maintain their power, but they also use propaganda to foster a cult of personality in order to both satisfy their inflated egos and to present an all-powerful image of themselves to their 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.