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The Struggle for Democracy: Togo and the Curse of Gnassingbé

In the last year there has been serious unrest in Togo. At the heart of this unrest is the citizens’ clamouring for better representation at the legislative level and a demand for electoral reforms. There is also a demand for the reinstatement of the constitution adopted by a referendum which took place in 1992, as well as the right for Togolese in the diaspora to be allowed to vote.

The opposition has placed all these issues before the Faure Gnassingbé government and have been met with stiff resistance. Also, this has led to state sponsored violence which resulted in the death of hundreds of citizens. On Saturday 8 December, the security forces fired on protesters, leading to four deaths, and further escalation of the crises.

On the 20th of December Togo will go to the polls, which many in the opposition feel the country is not ready for. Major religious organisations such as the Catholic Church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and the Methodist Church have also pushed for a postponement to prevent an escalation of violence. However, the government has refused to yield on the December date.

Many Togolese are angry with the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), which has remained largely silent beyond calling for restraint, and accuse it of a high level of complicity in President Gnassignbe’s bid to stay in power.

It is important to keep an eye on these developments, as the situation in Togo will likely indicate what other African countries may face. For instance, in 1963 Togo carried out the first Military coup in West Africa and this set the pace for other military coups that occurred on the bloc since then.

It is worth noting as well that Togo was the first West African country to allow the succession of African Parents by their children. When it pioneered this in 2005, it cost over 1000 Togolese lives in the process, as people revolted against it but were harshly suppressed by the country’s security agencies. Togo also made changes to its Constitution, introducing a presidential term limit of two years. However, this would not stop the incumbent president from running for office for an extra two terms, having already spent three terms in office. These were dark periods in Togo’s history, to which the country does not intend to return, particularly as the country heads to the polls.

While Togo is aiming to improve its economic viability as a nation through the introduction of tax reliefs for businesses and other economically viable projects, the country has been at War with itself for 55 years out of the 58 years of the country’s independence. The Togolese have been fighting for one key component which is important in any democratic society: the ability to freely and fairly choose their leaders, while reducing the possibilities of having life-time presidents.

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