Category Archives: Togo

Togo – Trouble for long-tenured President Faure Gnassingbé

President Faure Gnassingbé is facing relentless calls for his departure. The sale of T-shirts with the slogan #Faure Must Go is booming.  Since August, massive waves of protesters in the streets have demanded a return to the 1992 constitution with its two-term limits. Faure is currently serving his third five-year term. He took over as president in 2005 at the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who came to power in April 1967 through a coup. This year thus marks the 50th anniversary of one family’s rule over Togo.

Togo has become an anomaly in West Africa – the only country where a president is serving more than two terms. Along with The Gambia, Togo voted against a proposal to limit the number of terms presidents can serve across the ECOWAS region, a proposal put forward at a regional summit in 2015. Since then, long-serving autocrat Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia lost reelection in 2016. The coalition that brought his successor Adama Barrow to power has presidential term limits as one of its declared constitutional reform priorities. This would leave Togo as the only country in West Africa without presidential term limits.

Protests against presidential overstay in office have been ongoing for months. At the forefront of the demonstrations taking place in major cities across the country has been the National Panafrican Party (PNP) of Tikpi Atchadam, an opposition party created in 2014. The PNP conducted an active grassroots mobilizing campaign that demonstrated its effectiveness when on August 19  the party organized demonstrations simultaneously in four out of five regions of the country, from north to south, calling for a return to the 1992 constitution and an end to the ruling family dynasty. Thousands of Togolese took to the streets in five cities, including Lomé, Sokodé (the country’s second largest city and Tikpi’s home) and Kara, a traditional bastion of support for the Gnassingbé family (Eyadéma was born nearby). The demonstrations were violently repressed and at least two people were killed in Sokodé. Togolese of the diaspora also demonstrated in New York, Berlin, Libreville and Accra.

This show of force and capacity of mobilization has reinvigorated the Togolese opposition. In contrast to most of the country’s longtime opposition leaders who hail from the southern part of the country, Tikpi is a northerner like Faure and his family. His rise as an influential opposition leader has shattered the traditional north-south divide that has characterized Togolese politics since the 1960s. Worried by his mobilizing power, the government has sought to cast Tikpi as a “radical Muslim.” The August demonstrations led to the creation of a 14-party opposition coalition and further marches in September that drew more than 100,000 Togolese into the streets across the country. Alleging threats on his life, Tikpi has been less visible in recent weeks, leaving the limelight to historical opposition leaders such as Jean-Pierre Fabre (ANC) and Brigitte Adjamagbo-Johnson (CPDA).

The government has responded to the protests with the adoption of a constitutional reform bill that would reintroduce two-term limits – the measure would, however, not be retroactive, meaning that Faure could run again in 2020 and 2025. The opposition boycotted the legislative vote on the bill in September and it failed to muster the required 4/5 majority vote to pass. The ruling party declared it would instead submit the constitutional changes to a referendum, which is yet to take place. As clashes continued in October and led to several hundred Togolese seeking refuge in Ghana, Togo’s neighbors have gotten involved in seeking a solution to the political crisis. At least 16 people have been killed since August, including two soldiers. President Nana Akufo-Addo has been designated by ECOWAS to act as mediator and his representative traveled to Lomé in November in an effort to calm the situation and create conditions for dialogue.  In the same vein, Tikpi, Fabre and Adjamago-Johnson met with African Union President Alpha Condé in Paris on November 21 to discuss modalities for political dialogue with the government.

Regional mediation efforts may be bearing fruit. Faure Gnassingbé has declared that talks could start in “a few weeks.” It remains to be seen whether common ground can be found. The opposition would have reasons to be wary. Faure’s father Eyadéma weathered the 1991 national conference and gradually voided the constraints on presidential power and tenure introduced in the 1992 constitution through a process of “putsch by installments” (Handy 2005, p.48). Similarly, the incumbent president has ably avoided discussion of institutional reforms – notably the return to presidential two-term limits – a discussion mandated by the Accord Politique Global (APG) of 2006. The APG was signed by the ruling and opposition parties following the 2005 post-election violence in which several hundred Togolese died.  The 2010 presidential election was again contested, though demonstrations did not turn as violent. In response, Faure included historical opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio in a power-sharing government, thereby weakening the opposition.

Given the less than stellar family track record in terms of respecting past agreements, the opposition may worry that any measure short of ending the family rule will again be rolled back. The military could come to play a crucial role, as it did in 2005 when it ensured the transition of power from father to son at the death of Eyadéma.  The majority of army officers are from northern Togo, notably from Faure’s home region of Kara. Faure has publicly renewed his confidence in the military and blamed the opposition for the October violence that caused two soldiers’ deaths. On its part, the opposition sent an explicit message to the Togolese security forces on November 18 during its latest round of marches with the reading of a statement declaring “you are our brothers.”

While discussions continue on conditions for initiating political dialogue, the opposition coalition is maintaining pressure and has called for demonstrations again on November 29-30 and December 2.

#Togodecides: Faure Gnassingbé poised to lead family into fifth decade as Togo’s rulers

This is a guest post by Ulrike Rodgers, Senior Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) 

Togo’s 3.5 million voters went to the polls on April 25 to elect their president for the third time since the death of long-term autocrat Gnassingbé Eyadéma in 2005. The principal opponents were incumbent Faure Gnassingbé, Eyadéma’s son, and Jean-Pierre Fabre of the National Alliance for Change (ANC). Voting proceeded peacefully on election day after months of political tensions running high. The National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) published provisional results on Tuesday evening showing a strong lead for the incumbent. Jean-Pierre Fabre filed an official complaint on Monday, citing irregularities, and has denounced the preliminary election results as a “crime against national sovereignty”.

Faure Gnassingbé’s father, Eyadéma, had governed the country with an iron fist for 38 years from 1967 to 2005. In 2002, he changed Togo’s constitution to eliminate presidential term limits and reduce the minimum age from 45 to 35 years. Faure Gnassingbé was 35 at the time. He was appointed president by the Togolese military after his father’s death in 2005.  The younger Gnassingbé’s accession to power was confirmed by the presidential election organized in April of the same year under heavy pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The election, heavily criticized by the international community and Togolese democracy activists, ignited post-electoral violence that cost the lives of hundreds of protesters.

In 2010, Faure Gnassignbé won a second term under Togo’s one-round electoral system with just over 60 percent of the votes against his principal opponent, Jean-Pierre Fabre who gathered about one third of the votes. The other five contesters reached only single digits.  Although domestic and international observers noted irregularities in the organization of the polls, they were deemed overall credible and did not result in violence as in 2005. Nearly 3,278,000 voters had registered for that election; turnout was 64.7 percent.  For the first time since Togo’s independence in 1960, non-partisan domestic election observers followed the proceedings.

The legislative elections of July 2013 further consolidated Gnassingbé’s power. His party, the Union for the Republic (UNIR), won a majority of 62 seats in the 91-seat National Assembly, up from 50 in 2007. Togo’s voter registry had dipped to 3,044,332 voters for these elections; 66.06 percent participated.

This month, Togo organized its third presidential election since 2005. The race was originally scheduled to take place on April 15. Tensions between supporters of governing and opposition parties had again been mounting for months. The opposition accused the government of manipulating Togo’s voter roll and alleged that one third of the 3.5 million registered voters in 2015 were fictitious.  Faced with domestic and international pressure, Togo’s CENI heeded the recommendation of ECOWAS chairman, Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama, in early March, to postpone the elections by 10 days to allow for an independent audit of the voter roll by the International Organization of la Francophonie (OIF). After three weeks of combing through Togo’s voter lists, the OIF published its report on April 8. It deemed the state of Togo’s voter registry “satisfactory” and gave its go-ahead for the elections to take place once some 300,000 entries were corrected. The OIF’s decision, publicly accepted by all parties, cleared the last obstacle for the contest to move forward.

Five candidates competed for the president’s chair on April 25, including the incumbent for a third term and his long-term rival Jean-Pierre Fabre. Although tensions had been running high in the pre-electoral period, voting proceeded peacefully on election day. ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) deployed international election observers. The domestic 35-member civil society consortium Citizen Synergy for Democratic Elections in Togo (SYCED-Togo) deployed a total of 1200 domestic election observers across the country. After the polls closed, the consortium commended voters and the Togolese authorities for organizing peaceful elections, and highlighted the contributions made by the CENI and Togo’s security forces for the presidential elections (FOSEP2015).  United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the peaceful conduct of the election and urged all candidates and their supporters to resolve any disputes that might arise in the election’s aftermath through legal procedures.

The CENI released provisional election results in the evening of April 28. They are subject to validation by Togo’s constitutional court. According to these results, the incumbent took nearly 59 percent of the votes while Jean-Pierre Fabre scored just under 35 per cent. Turnout appears to be significantly lower than in previous elections since 2005. If the court confirms the results, Gnassingbé will lead his family into its fifth decade in power. On Tuesday, following complaints by Jean-Pierre Fabre’s electoral coalition about widespread irregularities, ECOWAS chairman Mahamane traveled to Lomé, accompanied by Côte d’Ivoire’s President Ouattara, to mediate among the political parties while the country awaits the constitutional court’s decision. Thus far, the situation has remained calm, though Jean-Pierre Fabre has released an appeal to the public to mobilize against the election results.

The coming days will show whether the peace that characterized election day will continue after the constitutional court publishes its decision.  For the first time in Togo’s history, a consortium of non-partisan domestic election observers undertook a statistically driven monitoring exercise, collecting results from a representative sample of polling stations on election day. The publication of the results collected by SYCED could provide an independent check on the official CENI results. If SYCED’s results confirm the outcome announced by the CENI, it could reinforce citizen confidence in the validity of the official results and contribute to a more peaceful post-electoral environment.


Francophone Africa – Important election year ahead

Francophone Africa will see six presidential elections take place this year, many of which in countries emerging from crisis and violence. Legislative and local polls are scheduled in five and six countries, respectively. 2015 will thus be a bellwether of democratic development trends in Central and West Africa over the next several years. Will democratic gains be consolidated in countries such as Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, which last time saw significant election-related violence in contested presidential polls? Will presidential and legislative races in the Central African Republic (CAR) finally bring peace and stability following the March 2013 coup? Will Burkina see a complete renewal of its political leadership through upcoming national and local polls, following the ouster of Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising in October 2014? How will debates around presidential term limits evolve in Togo and Burundi (and the two Congos scheduled to have presidential polls next year)?

Table 1: 2015 elections in Francophone Africa

Country Presidential Legislative Local polls
Benin April (TBC) March (TBC)
Burkina Faso October October TBD
Burundi June May May
Chad TBD
Cote d’Ivoire October
Guinea Conakry June (TBC) TBD
Mali TBD
Togo March

As indicated in Table 1 above, the Togolese will be the first to kick off the Francophone presidential contests, in March – preceded by their Anglophone brethren in Zambia (January) and Nigeria (February). Faure Gnassingbé will stand for a third term, as presidential term limits were eliminated already in 2002 under his father’s rule. Without the reintroduction of term limits, which opposition parties are clamoring for, Faure – who is only 48 years old – could well top or even surpass his father’s 38 year rule. The opposition may feel validated by the findings of a recent Afrobarometer polling of Togolese across the country. The survey found that even among the president’s supporters, 78% of those interviewed are in favor of presidential term limits.

In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza will similarly stand for a third term using a technicality – that he wasn’t directly elected the first time – to justify his candidature. The fragile peace in the country could be threatened by shrinking political space and the apparent collapse of the powersharing agreement enshrined in the 2000 Arusha Peace Accords, following opposition by Tutsi-led Uprona to Nkurunziza’s third bid for the presidency. According to Afrobarometer (Figure 2), a slight majority (51%) of Burundians agree with the opposition on the desirability of term limits.

In Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, presidents who came to power five years ago in highly contested polls marred by violence, particularly in Cote d’Ivoire, will stand for a second term – Alpha Condé in Guinea and Alassane Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire. In highly polarized political environments, characterized by deep mistrust between supporters of the incumbents and their leading rivals, the independent election commissions have a huge responsibility for the organization of well administered polls that can build confidence in the credibility of the electoral outcome. In both countries, continued dialogue between government and opposition can help build consensus around the electoral calendar and abate tensions.

In CAR, hope is high that the upcoming presidential poll can help bring stability to the country. However, there is concern among some Central African civic and political leaders that the transition process is overly driven by the international community, which is pressuring for a compressed election calendar – with presidential polls to take place in the middle of the rainy season, in July. Greater ownership of the transition and electoral process by the Central Africans will be important for ensuring the legitimacy of the newly elected leaders of the country.

In Burkina Faso, interim president Michel Kafando has recently announced coupled legislative and first round presidential polls in October, with the presidential run-off to take place in November, if there is one. These will be the most competitive elections in nearly three decades. Some Burkinabe are worried, however, that the military maintains undue influence over the process, following the nomination of Lt. Col. Isaac Zida as prime minister. Zida was second in command of the presidential guard and appointed as transition leader by the military in the days following Compaoré’s ouster, though he was forced to rapidly relinquish power to a civilian by significant domestic and international pressure.  The transition roadmap is unclear on the relative distribution of authority and responsibilities between president and prime minister and some civil society activists are quite cozy with the military. So it will be important for independent-minded civil society groups to maintain an active monitoring of the transition process, and for political parties to remain united in their effort to push for transparent, credible polls.

All in all, 2015 promises to be an interesting election year. The stakes are high for the individual countries discussed here, and their election outcomes will influence the prospects for strengthening democratic institutions and practices across the continent.

Togo – Political dialogue ends without agreement

Political dialogue in Togo has been arduous, since the contested 2010 presidential poll that saw the reelection of Faure Gnassingbé, son of former autocrat Gnassingbé Eyadema. On May 19, 2014, a new round of talks was kicked off, with the participation of all political parties represented in parliament, including the Alliance nationale pour le changement (ANC) of presidential runner-up Jean-Pierre Fabre. The discussions were launched on the heels of a promising meeting between Gnassingbé and Fabre on March 5th, 2014, the first time the two political leaders had met since 2010.

This latest round of dialogue has thus far proved inconclusive. On June 3rd, opposition participants walked out and refused to sign off on the final report from the discussions, accusing the ruling party of being ‘inflexible’ on essential points – presidential term limits and the electoral system. The ruling party responded in kind – reproaching the opposition of dictating the terms of application of reforms to be agreed upon.

The intent of this most recent attempt at dialogue was the achievement of agreement on 12 points concerning constitutional and institutional reforms. The ambitious agenda included: Togo’s political regime, the selection and powers of the prime minister, presidential eligibility [read ‘term limits’], the creation of a senate, and the electoral code.

Following extended negotiations, Mgr. Nicodème Anani Barrigah-Bénissan, Bishop of Atakpamé, was selected to facilitate the dialogue. He had previously headed Togo’s Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Committee, established to shed light on political violence in the country since independence in 1958, and particularly following the violent 2005 presidential poll that saw the election of Gnassingbé following the death of his father.

The Bishop had successfully facilitated the conclusion of an agreement in July 2013 that led the opposition to take part in the July 25, 2013 legislative polls. That agreement had strengthened the presence of opposition parties on the election commission, secured public funding for electoral campaigns, and the release of hundreds of prisoners.

The 2013 agreement did not, however, address the opposition’s essential qualms which include the absence of presidential term limits, and the electoral system for the presidency, which is decided in a single vote, with no run-off required. The opposition has not been in a position to push the electoral and institutional reform agenda forward in a parliament that is largely dominated by the ruling party Union pour la République (UNIR). Of the total 91 seats, UNIR holds 62, while the ANC and allied parties only control 25 (this includes the two alliances Sauvons le Togo and La Coalition Arc-en-Ciel). Another sore point is the repeated postponement of local elections. The last local polls in Togo date to 1987.

Mgr. Barrigah labeled his report from the last two weeks of attempted dialogue a ‘progress report’ (rapport d’étape), as he prepared to submit it to the government which had only observer status in the discussions. It remains to be seen whether dialogue will successfully resume, or whether a promising attempt at laying the groundwork for peaceful presidential polls in 2015 will have failed.