Togo: The End of a Dynasty?

On 19th August 2017, protests spread across Togo as people came out onto the streets calling for the end of the Gnassingbé family dynasty. The president – Faure Gnassingbé – has been in power since 2005, following the death of his father – Gnassingbé Eyadéma – who had seized power in a coup in 1967. Thousands took to the streets across the country chanting “50 years is too long!” and calling for Gnassingbé to stand down as president. Organisers have claimed that 800,000 people attended the demonstrations, which, given Togo’s population size, raises serious concerns about the longevity of the Gnassingbé regime. Although the protests were relatively peaceful, the security forces’ attempt to break up the demonstration in Lomé, lead to the deaths of at least two protesters and left dozens more injured. Given the violent suppression of protest movements previously adopted by both the current president and his father, it is unlikely that protests will remain peaceful if they continue.

In reaction to the August demonstrations, and smaller demonstrations in early September, the government announced a constitutional amendment, which would introduce a presidential term limit. Although this could be seen as a victory for the opposition, which played an important role in organising the August demonstrations, the term limit would not be applied retrospectively, which would enable Gnassingbé to serve as president until 2030. Consequently, the opposition boycotted a parliamentary vote on the amendment on 19th September. This meant that it failed to win parliamentary approval and will be put to the public in a referendum, which will similarly be boycotted by opposition parties. Although the date of the referendum has not yet been announced, opposition parties have made it clear that they plan to disrupt it through protests. As one opposition party official stated, “we’ll set the streets against their referendum”. This indicates that the government’s attempt to reconcile with the opposition has failed and it seems that there is very little room for negotiation. Opposition parties, emboldened by the protests in August, are insisting that Gnassingbé cannot compete in the 2020 election and will not accept anything less than this.

Togo’s opposition parties, which have long been divided and largely ineffective, have benefitted from the growing protest movement in the country, which appears to be coalescing around the figure of Tikpi Atchadam. Atchadam, the former leader of the Togolese Student Union, left the country after his party – Parti pour la Démocratie et le Renouveau – joined the presidential majority in 2005 and only returned to Togo in 2014. After returning, he formed the Parti National Panafricain (PNP) and has been a vocal critic of Gnassingbé. Atchadam is considered a charismatic orator, who has been able to draw widespread support from across the country. Significantly, unlike other opposition leaders, he originates from the north of the country, which has long been a Gnassingbé stronghold, and has a large support base in this region. Despite being accused by the government of having links with radical Islamists in Togo’s majority-Muslim north, Atchadam has joined forces with opposition groups in the majority-Christian south and appears to be a unifying figure, who could pose a serious challenge to Gnassingbé’s rule. Since August, Atchadam has apparently been in hiding but, as more protests are planned, it seems likely that he will re-emerge as the opposition seek to force Gnassingbé to stand down.

With further protests planned, and currently happening, the Gnassingbé dynasty is under threat. An emboldened opposition has made it clear that there is no longer any room for negotiation and that it will use public demonstrations to force the government to meet its demands. Unlike previously, the government must contend with an opposition leader who has been able to draw support from both the north and south, which raises the prospect of country-wide demonstrations. Consequently, social unrest will increase, especially around the referendum, and, if Gnassingbé tries to hold on to power, it is likely that protests will become increasingly violent.


Francophone Africa Revisited

Artist's Map of Africa

On 17th March 2015 we published an article entitled “Troubles en Afrique Francophonie” which discussed increasing anti-government protests across Francophone Africa, not seen in either Anglophone or Lusophone regions. We assessed that in our globalised world it appears that language still has an important influence on the contagion effect of political protest. The countries we identified as experiencing unrest over the past year were Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Niger and Togo. Since then: unrest has intensified in Burundi leading to an attempted coup on 13th May 2015; Gabon has been beset by a series of protests and strikes; and violent clashes have erupted between opposition supporters and the security forces in Guinea’s capital Conakry.

In stark contrast, unrest and political protests have been muted in Anglophone and Lusophone Africa. Despite deteriorating economic conditions in Ghana, allegations of mass killings by the security forces in Angola, and the continuation of the rule of two of Africa’s longest serving ‘Strongmen’ in Uganda and Zimbabwe, these countries have largely avoided anti-government protests like those seen in Francophone Africa. Although South Africa experienced unrest caused by xenophobic, or ‘afrophobic’, riots in April 2015, these were not protests aimed at the government and therefore less dangerous to the ruling ANC.

The unrest seen in Francophone Africa over the past year is particularly anti-government in nature. Protestors have called for greater democracy, criticising long term rulers and those who they believe are exploiting their positions of power in order to prolong their rule. The protests appear to be well co-ordinated by highly active civil society groups and opposition parties which possess clear aims. This is therefore much more of a threat to ruling parties and presidents.

It is not clear why this unrest has been a particular feature of Francophone Africa but it seems that different movements have taken inspiration from each other. It is possible that this has spread through the reporting of events on social or conventional media, which has been expedited by a shared language. However, it is also possible that it has been caused by increased co-operation between different civil society groups. There was an indication that this could be the case in March 2015, when 40 pro-democracy activists were arrested in the DRC, including members of Senegalese and Burkinabe civil society groups. Thus, it could be that civil society groups in Francophone Africa are beginning to operate transnationally; sharing ideas, experiences and acting as inspirations for movements in other countries.

Nonetheless, whatever the reason behind the increasing unrest it appears that Francophone Africa’s autocratic leaders are going to face continued protests in 2015.

Togo Election Preview

On 25th April 2015 Togo will go to the polls in an election which sees the incumbent, President Faure Gnassingbé, attempt to extend his family’s rule of the country into a sixth decade. A recent report by the Tournons La Page (Turn the Page) campaign group noted that 88 percent of the Togolese population have only known one ruling family and it seems likely that this percentage will continue to rise.

In February 2015, the ruling l’Union pour la République (UNIR) selected Gnassingbé as their presidential candidate despite demands from opposition parties for a presidential term limit which would have prevented Gnassingbé from running. In 2014, this call for a presidential term limit became a rallying cry for Togo’s various opposition parties and a proposal was put before the country’s national assembly in June 2014. However, the odds were definitely stacked against the opposition, which needed 80 percent of the national assembly – where the UNIR hold 62 of the 91 seats – to vote with them to alter the constitution. Unsurprisingly, the proposal was rejected. Following this, the opposition parties focussed on cultivating popular support for the cause, which was given impetus by the formation of the coalition Combat pour l’Alternance Politique (CAP) party in October 2014. This was demonstrated in November 2014, when large scale protests broke out in Lomé. It was reported that thousands took to the streets to call for constitutional change and were met by a heavy police presence. Togo’s Security and Civil Protection Ministry announced on state television that all necessary measures would be taken to prevent demonstrators from reaching Togo’s parliament and the police used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell the protests.

Although further demonstrations took place in late November and early December, the turnout was reportedly considerably smaller on both occasions. Nonetheless, the opposition managed to organise negotiations with the ruling party over constitutional changes in January 2015. These soon broke down as it became clear that the UNIR was not willing to discuss presidential term limits and both the opposition and the ruling party blamed each other for the breakdown in negotiations. Nevertheless, presidential term limits and constitutional change remain a key aspect of Gnassingbé’s closest competitor’s campaign. CAP’s presidential candidate, Jean-Pierre Fabre, has stated that he is committed to constitutional reform which would weaken the position of the presidency. This would not only include imposing a presidential term limit of two five year terms but also a strengthening of the power of the prime minister. Thus, term limits remain a key topic of this year’s election.

Fabre also ran against Gnassingbé in 2010 and secured 33.9 percent of the vote under the Union des Forces du Changement (UFC) party; he subsequently challenged the legitimacy of the election and declared himself the winner. Although the creation of the CAP coalition has definitely improved Fabre’s chances of challenging Gnassingbé through uniting different parties, the opposition remains divided. This even includes on matters such as whether to compete in the election as six smaller parties, and influential civil society groups such as Organisations de Défense des Droits de l’Homme, are calling for a boycott. There is certainly rising discontent over Gnassingbé’s continued rule, as shown by a recent teachers’ strike in March 2015 which drew hundreds of supporters, but it’s questionable whether this will equate to votes for Fabre.

Furthermore, it is unlikely that Gnassingbé and the UNIR will allow themselves to be removed from power through the ballot box. The government has demonstrated its willingness to use force to impose its rule and this was again shown in March 2015 when the army was called to support the police in response to the teachers’ strike. In preparation for Election Day the government announced that the armed forces will vote on 22nd April so as to allow them to provide security on 25th April, and Gnassingbé replaced the head of a special 8000 strong election security team (FOSEP) by presidential decree on 16th April. Although it has been reported that the former head of FOSEP was suffering from ill health, the decision still demonstrates Gnassingbé’s focus on election security. Thus, it appears that Gnassingbé is bolstering his position in terms of security in anticipation of opposition to his expected victory. Moreover, despite the 10 day delay to the election due to irregularities concerning the voter registration list – which has been resolved by International mediators – there remains a strong possibility of electoral fraud based upon previous elections.

Thus, Togo’s election and post-election atmosphere could be quite tense. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has announced that it will send 100 election observers to Togo for the election and the group’s chairman, Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama, has warned that “the whole international community will be watching you”. Mahama also added that all candidates must be prepared to accept the election results and that there can be “only one winner”. This statement is presumably aimed at Fabre after the election in 2010. Nevertheless, it is likely that Fabre will challenge Saturday’s election result if he loses again as he approaches this election in a stronger position politically than in 2010. If this results in protests, they will undoubtedly be met by a security crackdown for which Gnassingbé appears to be preparing. Although similar protests were predominantly peaceful in 2010, there is a possibility that if protests do arise they may see a return to post-election violence like that seen in 2005.

Troubles en Afrique Francophonie

Artist's Map of Africa

Following the overthrow of Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore in October last year a number of other Francophone countries have experienced anti-government protests, predominantly in relation to the tenure of their long-term leaders. In the midst of the events in Burkina Faso commentators coined the phrase “African Spring” drawing comparisons with the Arab uprisings in 2011. However, it appears that “Printemps Africain” is a more appropriate term than “African Spring”.

In the last year and predominantly after the events in Burkina Faso, large-scale unrest has been seen in Burundi, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger and Togo. With the exception of Cote d’Ivoire, where protests came from within the military concerning pay, the other countries witnessed protests against their long-term governments and presidents. As recently as February 2015, protests against Burundi’s government broke out in reaction to the arrest of journalist, Bob Rugurika, in connection with a murder investigation. Witnesses said that the demonstration which took place after Rugurika’s release was the largest in the country in over 20 years. Evidently, these types of events are not on the same scale as those seen during the “Arab Spring” but nonetheless, they do demonstrate a rising undercurrent of unrest.

Significantly, Anglophone and Lusophone Africa have managed to avoid these powerful rumblings of discontent. However, this is not due to a lack of dictatorial zeal on the part of these regions’ leaders, as demonstrated by three out of the five longest serving African presidents being from either Anglophone or Lusophone Africa. Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza with his mere 10 years as president must look in envy as the nonagenarian Robert Mugabe enters his 35th year in power.

Thus, on the surface at least, it appears that in our increasingly globalised world of the Internet and social media, language still has an influence on the contagion effect of political protest. It is not clear whether this is through conventional or social media, or links between civil society organisations, but it does seem that it has so far been confined to the Francophone region in which it originated. If this trend continues, 2015 could be an uncomfortable year for Francophone Africa’s longest serving leaders in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and elsewhere.

[The above is an extract from Africa Integrity’s new quarterly newsletter – Africa Integrity Reports – which is to be launched in March 2015. To request a copy of this newsletter and join the mailing list please contact us]