When Faure Gnassingbe Eyadema succeeded his father, another Gnassingbe Eyadema, who died in 2005 after ruling Togo with an iron fist for 38 years, many political watchers predicted Faure would not last unless he maintained the status quo his father had established with the help of a loyal military.
They warned that any move to introduce democracy would result in the military “eating” him up. I had a different opinion. I thought he could cleverly reform the autocratic system without the military feeling he had taken power from them and given it to the people. My assumption was based on the fact that he was young, exposed to western democracies and cultures; and should therefore relish the opportunity to be the one who would transform the small West African nation from least developed to developing and then to middle income within one decade (two five year terms) as prescribed by the constitution.
I was wrong, the political observers were right. Faure chose the easier path. He has maintained the status quo and in return, largely enjoyed loyalty from the military on all fronts. But his performance as president, with the best opportunity to have transformed the country, leaves much to be desired. The republic of Togo has failed to develop as a result of bad political governance with trickle down effects on the economy and social sectors.
Last Saturday, nine persons, two civilians and seven security personnel were reported to have lost their lives in fresh political protests at Atakpame-Sokode, when security forces clashed with hundreds of civilians demonstrating against constitutional provisions that had no presidential term limits. The demonstrators believe the provision, if allowed to stay, would allow the president to remain in power ‘forever’ just like his father did until his death.
Though a legitimate advocacy tool in democracies, demonstrations in autocratic states like Togo are the weakest tools for change, as the military has always been swift and brutal in quelling such moves. The list of lives lost through disappearances and brutalities of the security agencies is endless.
There have been political protests in Togo since 2014 in favour of term limits that will bar President Faure Gnassingbe from seeking another term in office after the Constitution was amended to an open term of office for presidents.
In Saturday’s clash, two civilians were initially shot dead; angering the remaining demonstrators to respond with burning security vehicles and killing seven security men. Is this civilian reaction a signal to the 50-year-old autocratic rule and Gnassingbe dynasty that they have come to the end of the road?
Where good political governance operates, good economic governance gets the chance to flourish creating economic opportunities and prosperity for citizens who wish to participate and benefit from economic activities existing in the nation. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of present day Togo. The national and business capital of Lomé, which used to be a vibrant commercial hub in the sub-region, has become a pale shadow of itself.
In January 2013, the Grand Marche (Assigame) in Lomé was set on fire and destroyed. Days earlier, the Grand Marche in Kara, northern Togo, had been burnt down in similar fashion. Sad to say that burning down the markets in Lomé and Kara, was government’s response to agitations for democratic reforms and constitutionalism.
How can a nation that relies on international aid, for more than half of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), burn down its own commercial centres where wealth is generated, from which the state collects taxes? How can the state sponsor burning down of the markets because operators there were perceived to be in support of democratic reforms? Why have the markets not been rebuilt since January 2013? How can the George Washington University Business School alumnus, approve the burning down of his country’s commercial nerve centre and expect development partners to contribute over 50% of his annual budget through aid?
A visit to the national capital Lomé can be depressing. Assigame is in ruins. Important public buildings opposite the Atlantic Ocean, along the West African highway that gave it that refreshing scenic beauty are hard to recognise.
The buildings look deserted, bare and covered in dust. Who is responsible for the revival of economic activities in Togo?
Apart from the human and economic rights abuses that have been meted out to activists and civilians looking for good governance and democracy, the entire nation except the political elite and the ignorant, is going through hard economic times. French interest and support is reported to have dwindled to the bare bones as the Chinese dig in for what they might find from the French leftovers, to further their global economic expansionist agenda.
For good reasons, I am not asking anyone to intervene in the imminent regime change in Togo. President Faure Gnassingbe Eyadema knows what he must do to save his country from sinking any further. The signals are clear. Civilians have at long last mustered the courage to confront the military and unfortunately, killed seven in response to the killing of two of their own. The signals are boldly written on the wall. It is time to quit!
First, the open-ended term of office smuggled into the Togolese constitution must be reviewed to two term limits for presidents including Faure. He must not contemplate running for a fourth-term, as that would see him out the Blaise Compaore way, with no guarantees of surviving to seek asylum and Ghanaian citizenship as former President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, sought in neighbouring Ivory Coast. A self-initiated intervention by Faure, with a clear transitional plan to hold free and fair elections and hand over power to the winner is the only way out for Togo. There is no other way!
The Last Uprising
…with Willliam Dowokpor