by Chude Jideonwo and Damola Morenikeji
“Fifty years is too long” was one of the slogans easily displayed on the streets of Lome in Togo. The year was 2017, and with thousands of Togolese on the street, it was the infamous electoral reform protests and rejection of the elongation of the Eyademan family’s five-decade rule. Roughly three years after that series of protests, it seems the citizens of Togo have resigned to fate, waiting for another decade of the Eyadema to happen.
First gaining access to power in 1967 after his second military coup, and installing himself as President in April 1967, General Gnassingbe Eyadema — the father of the incumbent president — ruled over Togo, enriching himself and his cronies and gave little regard for the citizens of the country.
Following his strategic plan to hold on to power, even after a promise to welcome civilian rule, he created his own party, installed a one-party rule on the country and became sole presidential candidate, and over the next decades removed term limits from the constitution, reduced the presidential election to a single round, and in a move to plant his son as next President in the case of uncertainty, decreased the minimum age for presidents from 45years to 35 years.
After ruling the country with a strong fist for 38 years, the General died of heart attack while being flown out of the country on February 5, 2005. With the death of the General, the military closed the country’s borders, preventing the next in line to the presidency to land in the country and be sworn in as interim head of government, and within a few hours, announced the Son, Faure Gnassingbe Eyadema as head of the nation. The people had their first small win when Faure was forced to step down later in February 2005, shortly after he accepted the nomination to run for elections in April — an election he was declared as winner, amidst tensions and killings.
Regardless of the process that brought young Eyadema into office, it sometimes is best, in the interest of the nation to be optimistic and observe how things will turn out with the young ruler.
However, things remained the same.
The reports of violence against members of the opposition, and the persistent “arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and other ill-treatment, and impunity for human rights violations” have continued. According to Amnesty International, “Togo accepted various recommendations that arose from the examination of its human rights record under the UPR process, including to take steps to prevent torture and other human rights violations by the security forces, and to ensure adequate investigation and prosecution of anyone suspected of being responsible. It rejected recommendations including to amend or repeal laws used to crack down on journalists and human rights defenders, including laws criminalizing defamation; and to ensure the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.”
More than half of the country’s population have been classified as poor by the World Bank. “Poverty remains widespread, especially in rural areas where 69% of households were living below the poverty line in 2015”, it reports. “Female-headed households experience higher rates of poverty than male-headed households — 57.5% against 55%. Vulnerability is higher among women because they have fewer economic opportunities and are underrepresented at high levels of decision making.” the country overview concluded.
After a fifteen year rule as President, Faure has presented himself to participate again in the first election since the constitutional change he orchestrated which allows for a maximum of 2 term limit of five years each. This change, which led to protests in 2017 and boycott of the 2018 parliamentary election by the opposition didn’t have a retrogressive effect and will not take into account the 15 years (2005–2020) he had spent in office.
For the Togolaises, the option is between the incumbent and six other contenders. The contenders are Jean-Pierre Fabre, 68, leader of the opposition and president of National Alliance for Change (ANC), Agbeyome Kodjo, 66, former Prime Minister under the late Gnassingbé Eyadema and candidate of a coalition, the Patriotic Movement for Democracy and Development (MPDD), Aimé Tchabouré Gogué, 73, a second time presidential contender who is a former vice-rector of the University of Benin in Lomé and candidate of the Alliance of Democrats for Integral Development (ADDI), Komi Wolou, 56, of the Socialist Pact for Renewal (PSR), Mohamed Tchassona Traore, 60, candidate of the Citizen Movement for Democracy and Development (MCDF) and Georges William Kuessan, 53.
But this is really no choice. There is no citizen action, there is very little electoral activity. The people of this country have apparently given up — assuming their destinies have been bought by a family that will never leave.
This is a tragedy; a singular in a continent that from Sierra Leone to the Gambia, from the Republic of Benin to Senegal, there has been a renaissance of a democratic tradition — people reclaiming their voices and their spaces, hearts and spirits soaring, markets opening up and civic spaces expanding.
What is happening this weekend in Togo is not what democracy is supposed to be like. What is happening on Saturday is the demonstration of what it looks like when a people have almost completely given up on their own country.
*Jideonwo is co-founder of Joy, Inc. and RED. One of RED’s company StateCraft Inc. has worked extensively in national elections including in Ghana, Kenya and Senegal. Morenikeji is a DESPLAY Africa Fellow interested in a future hinged on flourishing people, platforms and policy.