Faure Gnassingbe has ruled the West African nation of Togo for over 12 years. Gnassingbe succeeded his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled for about four decades. Following his father’s death, Gnassingbe took over power with the support of the army. With many expressing doubts on the constitutional legitimacy of his leadership, Gnassingbe’s resigned. He however won the presidential election in April 2005 and was re-elected in 2010 and in 2015 he managed to secure a third term.
Gnassingbe’s presidency has been a controversial one. In the 1998 presidential election, which he won, he was faced with allegations of fraud. The European Union (EU) suspended aid in protest of alleged voting irregularities and human rights violations. In 2002, constitutional amendments removed term limits on the office of President. This allowed Gnassingbe to hang on to presidential status. Additionally, the minimum age to hold presidential office was reduced to 35 from 45 years old. With Gnassingbe’s son being 35 at the time, people speculated that it was part of his plan to allow his son to replace him if anything were to happen.
As a reaction to the 50 year rule by one family, anti Gnassingbe protests have shaken Togo. This month (September 2017), at least 100,000 people participated in protests in Lome, the capital of Togo. Citizens are claiming that enough is enough. With a voter turnout of only 61%, it was evident in the 2015 election that citizens are either not interested in politics or are unaware of the importance of voting. Although many exhibited disinterest in the 2015 election, the population through protesting is currently demanding freedom of expression, press, assembly and constitutional reform.
Togo’s main opposition leader, Jean-Pierre Fabre, expressed that he was moved by the voices of dissent. “To see the Togolese people rise up as one is a source of great satisfaction,” he said. “I’m overcome with emotion.” The protest does have its consequences. Two have been killed and dozens have been injured in clashes with security forces. In addition, over 80 people were arrested and detained by the police. Police were deployed to control the protest and they fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. The authorities intervened during the second day of the protest by shutting down the Internet. This Internet shutdown follows the tactics adopted by other African countries including Ethiopia, Gambia and Congo.
The current instability may hinder the aspiration of Togo to become an “African Singapore”. Gnassingbe has been modeling his country on Singapore and Dubai. He aims to expand more business and encourage more trade to spur economic growth. He also aims to improve security, which will encourage trading. However, the chaos happening may falter the country’s growth.
Due to the protests, the government has proposed a new bill to the parliament. The bill includes placing a presidential term limit in order to denounce Gnassingbe and his family’s half-century in power. The announcement of the proposal is still vague. The opposition wants a maximum of two, five-year presidential terms as well as the introduction of a two-round voting system. The implementation of presidential term limit would allow fair opportunities for all. It is also important to have a majority vote as it is more accurate and provides citizens with an additional chance to vote wisely. Thus, with improvements being made may provide Togo with a fresh start.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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