Togo’s political crisis and its expectations for the future
Mariane Monteiro da Costa
Togo is a country located at Africa’s Gulf of Guinea between Ghana and Benin, which was granted independence from France in 1960. It’s a diverse country with a population of almost 8 million people. It has cotton, cocoa and coffee as the biggest trade commodities, so it’s extremely dependent on agriculture and the main industry of the country is mineral extraction, mostly of phosphate. (CIA, 2018; GOBIERNO DE ESPAÑA, 2017).
After its independence, the country was ruled by Sylvanus Olympio, but his government didn’t last long. General Etienne Gnassingbé Eyadéma reached power through a coup d’état and started governing the country in 1967. For almost 30 years, he ruled the country unchallenged keeping the military loyal by a system of patronage and dissolving all political parties. That changed in 1991, when there was a wave of democratization which legalized once again political parties and a call for Presidential elections was made. In the period of 1993 to 2003, all of the elections were won by Eyadéma with an overwhelming majority of votes which led to accusations of electoral frauds and political repression by the opposition and the international community. (BANJO, 2008; GOBIERNO DE ESPAÑA, 2017).
In February 2005, General Eyadéma died and his son, Faure Gnassingbé, was declared the new president by Togo’s military high command that swore allegiance to Faure as president and suspended the constitution. Due to the international contestation, efforts were made to legitimize the installation of Edayéma’s successor as the ruler of the country. This situation was contested by protests that triggered a violent security crackdown that killed around 500 people and thousands became refugees, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (BANJO, 2008; GOBIERNO DE ESPAÑA, 2017; ALJAZEERA, 2017).
Faure Gnassingbé was elected, so far, three times in Presidential elections, even though in the last one (2015) the eligibility of the president for a third mandate was questioned and contested. His government has always been marked by controversy and the opposition called them a fraud. (GOBIERNO DE ESPAÑA, 2017; RITZEN, 2018).
Two years later, the rise of the prices of fuel made the tense situation reach a political crisis in the country. The increase of these prices was one more reason for people to protest against the government and also a way of pressuring it. (GOBIERNO DE ESPAÑA, 2017). Togo is an importer of petrol and because of that it is susceptible to the international commodities price movement. (WORLD BANK, 2016). As the prices were very high, one solution found was the smuggling of fuel from Nigeria to Togo: the fuel is bought legally in Nigeria, where subsidies keep prices low and then smuggled to Togo through Benin’s organized illegal routes. It is estimated that approximately two billion CFAs were lost by the state-owned oil companies due to illegal sales of the product. (FALOLA, 2017).
Since August 2017, people started going to the streets to protest against Gnassingbé’s government. Their main desire is the resignation of the president, ruling Togo for more than 12 years. Besides that, they also demand constitutional reform and term limits for the president. Although the protest has been peaceful, at least one person died and dozens were injured. In Lomé, Togo’s capital, approximately 100 thousand of people have protested (RITZEN, 2018).
The president tried to calm the situation down in September of 2017 by proposing a referendum about the limit of the presidential terms in the country and releasing some prisoners. But, the opposition keeps demanding the president’s resignation and asking for the return of the 1992 constitution that allowed just two presidential terms. Internet access was also limited in Togo by the government in order to prevent the proliferation of demonstrators in social media. (RITZEN, 2018).
Now, with the pressure of the international community, talks between the government of President Faure Gnassingbé and opposition parties were scheduled on February 2018. They were supposed to discuss policies to restore peace and confidence in the country, as well as the situation of the rule of law and democracy and the definition of a political transition. The United Nations, European Union and ambassadors of Germany, France and United Stated ask and hope for a consensus to solve the Togolese crisis. African Union and neighboring countries are also very optimistic about the talks. (TOPONA, AMEN, MUGABI, 2018).
Although there is a lot of hope of the international community in these talks, the Togolese see them with suspicion. That because since the return of the multi-party system in 1991 there have been 15 talks and negotiations that never resulted in any significant political changes. Foreseen in an agreement signed in 2006, the reform of presidential terms and electoral system were nothing but a chance to calm the nerves of the population after the great wave of violence after Gnassingbé’s took over. In that sense, Ella Jeanine Abatan, specialist in Togo, says that “the objective of the government in these talks are to achieve a consensual project of reform that is going to be submitted to a referendum and not to discuss the resignation of the president and the limit of the presidential terms will be an obstacle in this discussion”. (RITZEN, 2018; ABATAN apud TOPONA, AMEN, MUGABI, 2018).
And they were not wrong. Although in the beginning the government agreed to release more than 40 people arrested during protests and the opposition parties agreed to suspend protests as long as they were talking, it did not go too far. Mainly because the government refused to discuss the president’s future. In this sense, even though the talks were not over, the opposition parties called the Togolese people to resume the protests. That because according to them the government had not honored a commitment to prepare parliamentary elections in the current year. (MUGABI, 2018; NEWS 24, 2018).
Togo has been ruled for the Gnassingbé family for more than 50 years, being the longest reigning dynasty in Africa. (RITZEN, 2018). But now, the unsatisfied population is protesting against that situation. They want the current president to resign and to avoid this from happening again to limit the presidential terms. As the crisis was getting worse, the international community pressured the government and population to sit together and try to solve this problem peacefully and, as these talks were scheduled their hope increased. But, the population has no expectations that it is going to be solved just by these discussions. They are skeptical once they have seen fifteen of those talks end up in no concrete political changes. In addition, they do not believe, although they protest and pressure, in the resignation of president Faure Gnassingbé. In that sense, it is expected that Togo’s crisis is going to continue until the citizen’s desire of fair elections, limited terms and the end of the Gnassingbé’s dynasty is reached.
The latest and surprising news is that the National Election Commission declared that Togo will hold local and legislative elections in December 2018. Specifically, the local elections will take place on December 16th along with a referendum and the legislative elections on December 20th. (AFP, 2018). These elections may start a new era in Togo’s power: the fall of Gnassimbé’s dynasty. What is now the opposition party may become the ruling party in a few months, which means a victory of the people that have been protesting for over a year. The one thing left for us to speculate is whether the electoral results are going to be legitimate or whether we need to expect another victory of President Gnassimbé that will already start his new regime with lots of tension and protests.
AFP. Togo to hold elections in December. Yahoo News, 18 september 2018. Available at: <https://www.yahoo.com/news/togo-hold-elections-december-181649710.html> Access: 18 sept. 2018.
AL JAZEERA. Why are people protesting in Togo? Al Jazeera and News Agencies, 5 oct. 2017. Available at: <https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/people-protesting-togo-171004103544908.html> Access: 30 march 2018.
BANJO, Adewale. Constitutional and Succession Crisis in West Africa: The Case of Togo. African Journal of Legal Studies, vol. 2, Issue 2, p. 147-161, 2008.
CIA. The World Factbook: Togo. Central Intelligence Agency, 2018. Available at: <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/to.html> Access: 29 march 2018.
FALOLA, Ibrahim Oredola. Fuel Smuggling. Development and Cooperation, Economy, April 2017. Available at: <https://www.dandc.eu/en/article/smuggling-fuel-nigeria-frequent-crime-togo> Access: 20 sep. 2018.
GOBIERNO DE ESPAÑA. Ficha País: República de Togo. Oficina de Información Diplomática del Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores y de Cooperación de España, septiembre, 2017. Available at: <http://www.exteriores.gob.es/Documents/FichasPais/TOGO_FICHA%20PAIS.pdf> Access: 30 march 2018.
MUGABI, Isaac. Togo: aims diverge in talks to resolve political crisis. DW, feb. 2018. Available at: <https://www.dw.com/en/togo-aims-diverge-in-talks-to-resolve-political-crisis/a-42654446> Access: 18 sep. 2018.
NEWS 24. Togo opposition announces resumption of protest demos. News 24, 03 march 2018. Available at: <https://www.news24.com/Africa/News/togo-opposition-announces-resumption-of-protest-demos-20180306> Access: 18 sep. 2018.
RITZEN, Yarno. Togo government and opposition to hold crisis talks. Al Jazeera, 15 feb. 2018. Available at: <https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/togo-government-opposition-hold-crisis-talks-180214215230816.html> Access: 30 march 2018.
TOPONA, Eric; AMEN, Elodie; MUGABI, Isaac. Togo: Diálogo entre Governo e oposição após meses de protestos. DW, 20 feb. 2018. Available at: <http://p.dw.com/p/2syFz> Access: 30 march 2018.
THE WORLD BANK. Togo: systematic country diagnostic. World Bank Group, 2016.