Togo opposition protests are shaking the Gnassingbé regime

Despite the limitations of Internet and social networking, the expulsion of foreign journalists from the country, and the harsh repression of police, in Togo continues the opposition protest against President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé.

A man holds up a sign which reads, "leave the power", during opposiition protest to call for the immediate resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe in Lome, Togo, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Noel Kokou Tadegnon
A man holds up a sign which reads, "leave the power", during opposiition protest to call for the immediate resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe in Lome, Togo, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Noel Kokou Tadegnon

Opposition supporters dressed in orange and red seeking more democratic laws than those currently in force, and reintroducing the constitution adopted in 1992 by the father of the current president, Gnassingbé Eyadema, who for 38 years ruled the African country with the iron fist, having taken power in 1967 thanks to a coup d'etat.

Gnassingbé father, following a wave of protests similar to what has invested Togo in recent days, had limited the maximum number of presidential mandates to two. Ten years later, however, it was his Parliament to review Article 59 of the Constitution by deleting the mandate limit to allow the same president to be re-elected and lowering the minimum eligibility requirement from 45 to 35 years, to allow the possible turnover of his son, at the time thirty-nine years old.

The Bill to amend the Constitution

Faure seems to want to follow paternal footsteps, as demonstrated by the approval on 6 September of a Bill tied to the limit of presidential mandates and the two-party elections.

The parliament is now considering the Bill, and for that reason, the Togolese president has received the praise of the Special Representative of United Nations Secretary-General for Western Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, who met on September 7 in Lomé, the capital city of Togo.

UN Special Representative also had a consultation with Jean-Pierre Fabre, leader of the main opposition party, the National Change Alliance (ANC), encouraging him to take part in talks with the government to move forward with 'agenda of reforms.

It would seem, therefore, that the political crisis affecting the country is close to a solution. Really, it is unclear whether Gnassingbé in power since 2005 and reached the third consecutive term that will end in 2020 will be prepared not to re-enter. Because the details of the constitutional revision proposal in parliament are very vague about this.

Moreover, last Tuesday, the Togolese Parliament was summoned in an extraordinary session to discuss constitutional changes to art. 59, but on the agenda there was only the debate on the budget law.

On the rest, it is not easy for Gnassingbe to agree to put an end to more than fifty years of absolute power exercised by his family on the nation of West Africa. On the other hand, the Togolese who oppose his regime do not seem to give up, and for today (September 15) they have called for another great popular event.

All 14 opposition parties also denounced the violence perpetrated by police in the night between 7 and 8 September last, which resulted in several injured. They also called for the release of about one hundred people arrested during protests on August 19 and 20, during which two demonstrators were killed and another 13 were injured when the security forces opened fire on the crowd.

The postponement of the Africa-Israel summit

The strong protests in these days in Togo have certainly also affected the government's decision to postpone the Africa-Israel Summit, which should have been held from 23 to 27 October in Lomé.

The summit was postponed by the Togolese government, in agreement with Tel Aviv, to a later date, officially for organizational reasons. It is evident, however, that there is internal political turmoil behind the referendum, in addition to opposition to the event by influential African countries, such as South Africa, and some Arab states, who believe that the initiative would legitimize policies oppressive of Israel against the Palestinians.

The situation is becoming more and more critical, and in this troubled political landscape, there is a figure that makes a difference. This is the 47-year-old Tikpi Salifou Atchadam, the most charismatic between opposition leader and founder of the Panamanian National Party (PNP), who in a clear and direct language continues to call crowds in his events.

Muslim and native to the north of the country, like President Gnassinbé, Atchadam succeeded to join opposition closing PNP at Fabre's ANC. After years of unsuccessful talks on constitutional reform and campaigns against the government, the leader of the PNP began to travel along and off Togo, trying to weave new ties with allied parties and managed to shake a practically paralyzed opposition.

And according to the Ghanan expert on international relations, Vladmir Antwi-Danso, repeated protests by opposition parties against the decades Gnassingbe's dynasty will only get tangible results if the anti-government coalition, with the active involvement of civil society, will seize of the reform process initiated by the government.


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