Friday, October 26, 2012

Togo troubles. How long can the crocodiles cling on ?


Nigerian eye reports

Several Togolese women who are protesting under the opposition name, “Sauvons Le Togo” (“Let’s Save Togo”), have on August 28 in Togo’s capital Lome, dropped their trousers in front of police forces to provoke them, to the great amusement of fellow protesters, bystanders and journalists.

The day before, the collective had called on its female members to join a week-long “sex strike”, designed to motivate more men to join them in their fight against President Faure Gnassingbé.
For the moment there is no way of knowing if this appeal to “close their legs”, as local journalists describe it, has been adhered to.

Another demonstration is planned this week, where this time women have been openly invited to undress.

I blogged about the Togo Sex Strike  it was an amusing way to protest and had the advantage that there was absolutely nothing the authorities could do about it. It got the message out that 45 years of rule by the  Gnassingbé father son  double act was deeply resented. I had no idea that around the same time there was  a Femen style drop your trouser campaign also occurring. 

African Crocodiles do not tolerate dissent and unfortunately change is something that must be forced upon them and the women not sleeping with their husband's or for that matter dropping their pants at the police  was never going to force change. It was inevitable the stakes would have to be raised.

Togo: Simmering Discontent Ahead of Polls

All Africa reports
Lome — A recent wave of protests by Togolese opposition groups and a heavy-handed clampdown by security forces have set the scene for a tense struggle for reforms in a country that has been ruled for 45 years by the  father and his son.

North Korea anyone ? Who came up with the idea that the role of president was to be held for life or even more bizarrely that it could be inherit ? 
Since April, the opposition has been holding demonstrations to press for electoral reforms ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for an as yet undeclared date this month. Their demands have steadily grown tougher: They now want to see the back of President Faure Gnassingbé who came to power following a bitterly contested poll after the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadema, in 2005. Eyadema had ruled the tiny West African country for 38 years.

We have already seen one of Africa's crocodiles come to a bad end  and a further four African leaders died in office this year. I hope President Gnassingbe falls and a genuine democracy takes shape. 
"This is a citizen's movement working to break the election-dispute-crackdown-dialogue cycle which is hampering Togo's progress towards a democratic and lawful state," said Zeus Ajavon, the coordinator of Save Togo, a coalition of opposition groups and civil society organizations.
The coalition is demanding transparent and fair elections, a two-term limit for the presidency - currently there is no presidential term limit - and respect for human rights among a raft of reforms. The last parliamentary polls were in 2007.

Parliamentary elections were scheduled for October this year but they have been delayed in no small part due to an attempt to rig the results through electorate boundary changes and increase the size of the parliament by the ruling RPT ( Rally of the Togolese people ) although now renamed Union for the Republic (UNIR).  

An Electoral Commission is being set up to agree the rules under which parliamentary and presidential election will be run  as far as I can tell only six of the 17 members of the Electoral Commission have been selected. (Not speaking French means I may well have missed some developments )  
Street protests in June, August and September were violently quashed by security forces using rubber bullets and teargas.

Not all were quashed 

" The march started from colombe de la paix and finished at the beach in Lomé in front of the Presidency, without major incident.

Women have also been seeking a delay in parliamentary elections to allow reforms to first take place, as well as the repeal of changes to electoral laws that they say the government pushed through, the implementation of institutional and constitutional reforms as well as the electoral framework and the reintegration of the 9 ANC members illegally expelled from the parliament….."

I think using women protesters has been a smart move but the opposition need to be aware they will not remain immune from violent repression indefinitely. 
The government in September led talks on electoral reforms, but the main opposition groups boycotted the negotiations. The talks' outcome did not specify whether the two-term limit would take effect in future elections, implying that Gnassingbé could run for two more five-year terms.
"For the sake of political change... Faure Gnassingbé should not stand for re-election in 2015. Any scheme crafted to breach this limit exposes Faure Gnassingbé to yet unknown consequences," said Agbéyomé Kodjo, an opposition party chief.

That sounds almost like a threat. Faure Gnassingbé came to power with the connivance of the security forces. That should scream caution.
The government insists it is committed to holding peaceful elections and implementing reforms after negotiations with the opposition.
"The government's aim is to hold inclusive dialogue to advance the country's institutional and constitutional reforms, improve the electoral system and hold peaceful elections for Togo to consolidate democracy and build a lawful state," said Gilbert Bawara, the territorial administration minister.
Prime Minister Arthème Ahoomey-Zunu said the negotiations in September were meant to calm tension and create "ideal conditions for transparent, credible and fair legislative polls".

That isn't how the opposition view them and with some justification.
In 2005, soon after his father's death, the military installed Faure Gnassingbé, sparking a barrage of international condemnation that forced him to resign and organize elections. However, the polls were disputed by the opposition as fraudulent, and triggered deadly violence. His re-election in 2010 also drew opposition complaints of malpractice.

Faure Gnassingbé is not immune to international pressure and the women's protests are getting that vital international attention.
"Every election time there are talks, whose recommendations are quickly shelved, then a fraudulent poll to cling to power is organized. We are no longer going to be duped," said Jean-Pierre Fabre, head of the opposition group National Alliance for Change.

For to long, far to long in fact, this has been the nature of African Politics but the winds of change are again blowing across the continent, change is inevitable and the Crocodiles must eventually accommodate it, in much the same way the colonial powers of the 19th century were made to in the middle of the last century. 
Vox pop
For Agbalè Homéfa, a market trader in the capital Lomé, the upheaval has awoken fears of a recurrence of the deadly 2005 poll unrest, a concern voiced by other residents IRIN spoke to.
"This is how things started in 2005. The opposition and the government clashed over the elections. Everybody knows what the outcome was," said Homéfa. Fellow trader Da Yawa added: "The president's silence is worrying. Faure should speak to the people and reassure us that his militia will not massacre us like they did in 2005."

Unfortunately crocodiles react instinctively as was shown last month.

Those who had the misfortune to be in Adéwui – a neighborhood of Lomé – this Saturday morning learnt a hard lesson. It seems that Faure Gnassingbé and his entourage want to repeat the 2005 massacres by arming their militiamen.

Caning, beating, lynching with nail-studded clubs, pickaxes and machetes, and the police tear gas was the response, when the opposition supporters gathered for a protest march. There are no words to express this sudden escalation of the government militia in my dear beautiful and beloved country.
"The situation is very worrying. The opposition is hardening its stance and the government doesn't seem to be listening. Holding elections under such conditions is a risky bet and a threat to peace," said Saturnin Akué, a sociology student at Lomé University.
"I'm worried about the upcoming elections. I'm afraid they'll cause violence if the government and the opposition don't agree on the rules. If the make-up of the national electoral commission is already being contested by the main opposition groups, what about the results?" said Kokou Amékoudji, a mason.

They almost certainly will cause violence and the results will be manipulated to perpetuate the status quo. But the opposition will grow stronger history is siding not so much with the democrats but against the crocodiles.
The protests and the security forces' heavy-handedness portray a country mired in crisis, argued Victor Komla Alipui, Togo's former economy and finance minister.
"The peoples' determination, despite the repression and threats, shows how much Togolese are angry about the government's slip-ups in terms of human rights, acting arbitrarily and using the judiciary to cling to power," Alipui told IRIN.

Another point that is worth reflecting on is the African diaspora and the influence that the people of the diaspora will exert on Africa as they start moving into positions of power Alex Engwete addresses a recent manifestation of this phenomena  although one need only look at the White House for a more obvious example. "strong institutions not strong men" is the Obama policy with regard to Africa.

The era of the crocodile's is drawing slowly but inevitably to a close.

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