Togo Goes To Polls As President Seeks Likely Fourth Term

An usher holds an example of a ballot paper with a fingerprint marked next to the picture of Togolese President and presidential candidate of the ruling Union for the Republic (UNIR) party Faure Gnassingbe during a campaign rally in Dapaong, 
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

 

Togo went to the polls Saturday in an election widely expected to see President Faure Gnassingbe claim a fourth term in power and extend his family’s half-century domination of the West African nation. 

The incumbent, 53, has led the country of eight million since 2005 following the death of his father Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled with an iron fist for 38 years.

In Lome, some voters were out early to cast their vote in the hope the election may bring much-needed change.

“We suffer too much in Togo, this time it has to change,” said Eric, a driver in his 30s, near a voting centre.

“I am not going to tell you who I will vote for, but this time we don’t want to be cheated of victory,” he said, adding that he would return in the evening to watch over the counting after polls close at 1600 GMT.

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Elsewhere, ruling party supporter Balakebawi Agbang urged people “to turn out in force to make the right choice” so the government can continue its work.

The authorities faced major protests in 2017 and 2018 demanding an end to five decades of a dynastic rule that have failed to lift many out of poverty.

But the demonstrations petered out in the face of government repression and squabbles among the opposition.

Last year, Gnassingbe pushed through constitutional changes allowing him to run again — and potentially remain in office until 2030.

The current president has sought to distance himself from his father but his regime still maintains a stranglehold over the country and its financial resources.

“I don’t feel like a dictator,” Gnassingbe told AFP in an interview.

Critics insist the vote will not be free and fair and the authorities have banned a civil society coalition and the Catholic Church from fielding observers.

The president is hoping to win a resounding victory in the first round but turnout could be low if opposition supporters stay away, as many have said they will.

Results are expected in the coming days.

Stability and security are central to Gnassingbe’s message as Togo eyes the jihadist violence rocking its neighbour Burkina Faso to the north.

The country has so far managed to prevent the bloodshed spilling over and its army and intelligence service are among the most effective in the region.

The president has also made a major play of a programme that aims to provide the entire population with power by 2030 and is pledging to create 500,000 jobs for young people.

But after 53 years of his family’s rule, the country still remains deeply impoverished.

The World Bank says that around half of the population live on under $1.90 (1.76 euros) per day.

Even so, the six challengers lining up against Gnassingbe face a mammoth task to persuade the 3.6 million registered voters to oust him.

Veteran candidate Jean-Pierre Fabre came second at the last two elections but the 67-year old has failed to keep the opposition united.

Agbeyome Kodjo, who served as prime minister under Gnassingbe’s father, is seen as a potential dark horse after winning the backing of an influential Catholic archbishop.

One name not on the ballot is Tikpi Atchadam, a politician from second city Sokode who shot to prominence in 2017 at the head of anti-government protests.

But he fled Togo for Ghana in the face of a crackdown by the authorities on his supporters and has seen his influence dwindle.

AFP

Buhari Receives Togo President, Faure Gnassingbe In Katsina

 

President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday received the President of Togo H.E. Mr Faure Gnassingbe in Katsina State, his hometown.

President Gnassingbe was also received by the Governor of Katsina, Mr Aminu Bello Masari and his deputy, Mannir Yakubu.

During the meeting, both Presidents discussed the security situation in the West African region and possible solutions to the violence in member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

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Togo Talks Offer ‘Last Chance’ To Resolve Crisis

(FILE PHOTO) Supporters of various opposition groups gather during a march in Lome march at the same time as planned opposition protests demanding the removal of President Faure Gnassingbe, the scion of Africa’s oldest political dynasty. 
MATTEO KOFFI FRASCHINI / AFP

 

After six months of political crisis, a dialogue between Togo’s government and the opposition opening on Monday is seen by many as the last chance to resolve a bitter dispute over the rule of embattled President Faure Gnassingbe.

But the talks have raised a welter of emotions in this tiny west African country, ranging from hope to incredulity.

“It’s a ‘last chance’ dialogue. It is in the interests of both the opposition and the government to do everything to put an end to this unstable situation,” shopkeeper Joel Afandjigan told AFP.

“Each side must calm down.”

The decision to come to the negotiating table follows five months of massive public protest against Gnassingbe, who currently holds the rotating chairmanship of west Africa’s regional bloc, ECOWAS.

Almost every week, there have been huge marches through the streets demanding that he resign and to limit the presidential term to two mandates.

 ‘We’re tired’ 

But Edoh Klavissou, who drives a motorbike taxi, says he’s not expecting anything to result from the talks with Gnassingbe’s ruling Union for the Republic (UNIR).

“UNIR will just take the opposition for a ride again. They will talk and sign another agreement which won’t be respected by the government. It’s the same thing all over again and we’re tired of it. We have talked too much in this country.”

On social media, many sceptical voices are speaking out against holding “an umpteenth dialogue” in Togo, which has been ruled for 50 years by the same family.

Gnassingbe has been in power since 2005 after taking over from his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who himself ruled Togo for 38 years after seizing power in a coup in 1967.

Back in 1992, Togo saw the introduction of a multiparty system with a new constitution, but since then there has been little sign of democratic progress despite repeated attempts at dialogue.

A series of constitutional reforms, which would have changed the voting system and set presidential term limits, was written into a key 2006 agreement in a bid to draw a line under the bloodshed that occurred a year earlier following Gnassingbe’s victory in a disputed election.

But the reforms were never implemented.

Since August, anti-government demonstrations across the country nearly every week have demanded Gnassingbe’s exit after he proposed changes to the constitution that would allow him to stay in power longer.

The opposition wants to restrict the presidential term to a maximum of two five-year stints in office, and introduce a two-round voting system.

Calls for consensus 

Last week, the UN and the EU as well as the ambassadors of Germany, France and the United States all hailed the upcoming talks, calling for all of Togo’s political actors “to work in good faith to reach a consensus”.

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, who has been involved in mediation efforts, was expected to arrive in Lome on Sunday to open the talks the next day.

But few concrete details have emerged ahead of the talks, which will run for about 10 days, with the ruling party and the opposition each represented by seven delegates.

“What has impressed us is the goodwill and the enthusiasm on both sides to find a lasting solution to the crisis,” Ghanaian delegation spokesman Daniel Osei told reporters on Saturday.

He said Ghana’s role was one of “facilitation” after the heads of ECOWAS decided that a solution “would only be found through dialogue between Togolese”.

According to a statement released on Sunday, several key issues will be on the table, including the reinstatement of the 1992 constitution which sets a two-term limit to the presidency — as well as an eventual transition and election reform.

However, sources close to Gnassingbe have repeatedly told local media in recent weeks that there would be no discussion of an imminent departure by the president, or of any commitment by him to step down in future.

AFP

Opposition Leader Urges Togo President Not To Stand Again

Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe. PHOTO: ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP

Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe was on Tuesday urged not to seek re-election in 2020 to guarantee his place in history as the man who ushered in peaceful political change.

Gnassingbe, who has been in power since the death of his father in 2005, has been the target of a wave of protests since late August calling on him to quit.

Three more opposition marches are scheduled to take place on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Opposition stalwart Gilchrist Olympio said Gnassingbe and his government should accept a return to the 1992 constitution, which sets a 10-year limit for presidents.

“Faure Gnassingbe must then accept the principle of not running in the presidential elections of 2020, to leave the field clear for democratic consultation,” he told reporters.

“The chance is being offered… to go down in history by creating the conditions for the peaceful change of power,” he added.

Olympio also called on the opposition to be united and plot a way forward, as well as announcing his retirement from politics.

The 80-year-old’s father Sylvanus, was Togo’s first president after independence from French colonial rule in 1960.

He was killed in a military coup in 1963 in which President Gnassingbe’s father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, took part.

Gilchrist opposed the general for years after he seized power in 1967 but in May 2010 signed an agreement that brought his UFC party into government.

A coalition of 14 opposition parties want the re-introduction of a two-term limit for presidents plus a two-round voting system at elections.

At least 16 people have been killed in a series of protests, which have seen hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets across Togo.

The opposition has rejected a government proposal for two-term limits because it is not retroactive, which potentially means Gnassingbe could stand at the 2020 and 2025 elections.

Mediators such as Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo and Guinea’s Alpha Conde are trying to open up talks between the two sides.

AFP

Togo’s Opposition Calls For Nationwide Shutdown

Togo’s opposition on Monday cancelled its latest wave of planned anti-government street protests and instead called for a nationwide shutdown.

Three days of demonstrations against President Faure Gnassingbe’s regime had been scheduled to take place from Tuesday.

But 14 opposition parties instead called on the public to “stop all professional and economic activity” on Friday and to “pray for the memory of the martyrs”.

At least four people have died and dozens more have been injured since August during protests that have seen unprecedented numbers of people take to the streets calling for political reform in the tiny West African nation.

Gnassingbe, who has been in power since the death of his father in 2005, is the scion of Africa’s oldest political dynasty, which has ruled Togo since 1967.

The opposition said it welcomed the public support in the face of the “illegal and heavy-handed” reaction of the authorities, which also saw mobile internet networks suspended.

Calls are mounting for Gnassingbe to step down despite the government having proposed changes to the country’s constitution limiting a president to a maximum two, five-year terms.

A referendum is due to take place in the coming months but the opposition wants the measure to be retroactive, as it allows Gnassingbe to stand in the next two elections.

That means he could still be president until 2030.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the weekend called on both sides to engage in “constructive dialogue” about institutional and constitutional reform.

Nathaniel Olympio, head of the opposition Togolese Party, said no-one was against dialogue but there needed to be clarity about the nature of the discussions.

AFP

Togo Readies For Fresh Protests Amid Charges Of Repression

Supporters of various opposition groups gather during a march in Lome on September 20, 2017. Thousands thronged the streets of Togo’s seaside capital on September 20. Photo:
MATTEO KOFFI FRASCHINI / AFP

Opposition parties in Togo readied for a second day of demonstrations on Thursday over the rule of President Faure Gnassingbe, the scion of Africa’s oldest political dynasty, amid accusations of harsh repression by the security forces.

Opposition leaders, at the start of a march in the capital Lome, condemned a crackdown by security forces of demonstrations in the far north of Togo, and accused troops and militia of infiltrating the rallies.

At least 77 people were injured in the town of Bafilo when security forces fired rubber bullets at the crowd on Wednesday, according to the opposition.

Four people who were critically wounded were sent for treatment in Sokode, the country’s second biggest city, about 50 kilometres (31 miles) to the south, it said.

In statement, the opposition added that soldiers and militiamen in civilian dress “infiltrated demonstrations” in the northern cities of Bafilo, Kara, Mango, Sokode and Dapaong.

“In Dapaong, soldiers staged punitive operations all night,” the coalition said.

“The town is burning,” opposition leader Brigitte Adjamagbo-Johnson said. “The market is at this moment burning and there is shooting”.

But a source close to the presidency blamed the violence on Panafrican National Party (PNP) of opposition leader Tikpi Atchadam, accusing its supporters of attacking officials of the ruling Union for the Republic (UNIR) and torching houses.

In Mango, the source said, a nine-year-old child was killed and 25 people were injured, including 10 by gunshot.

The injuries were caused by hunting rifles and other guns — types of weapons that the security forces did not use, the source said.

Francois Patuel of Amnesty International said that “despite official declarations in favour of appeasement, the repression of demonstrations by the armed forces continues.”

Amnesty called for “an independent and impartial inquiry” into the child’s death in Mango and use of force by security forces.

Patuel also said on social media that the popular messaging service Whatsapp had been blocked.

The opposition has boycotted a vote on constitutional reform that would have included a presidential term limit, arguing it was a ploy to let Gnassingbe stay in power until 2030.

They want the limit to apply retroactively so that Gnassingbe, who has been in power since 2005, could not run again in 2020.

His father Gnassingbe Eyadema ruled from 1967 until his death in 2005.

– Historic demonstrations –
To press their demands, the opposition staged rallies on September 6 and 7 that drew more than 100,000 people — an unprecedented turnout in a country widely criticised for stifling democracy.

The 14-party coalition has called for follow-up rallies for Wednesday and Thursday.

Thousands of people thronged Lome in rival demonstrations on Wednesday.

Police said 10,000 to 15,000 people marched nationwide on Wednesday, but Eric Dupuy, spokesman for the main opposition National Alliance for Change (ANC) party, said “tens of thousands of protesters” marched in the capital alone.

Mobile phone networks and 3G services had been severed for more than 24 hours on Thursday morning, while wifi networks ran intermittedly.

Veteran political opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre has called for new demonstrations to be held on September 26, 27 and 28.

AFP

Togolese President Visits Dangote Refinery

Togo_presidentTogo’s President, Faure Gnassingbe, is in Lagos for a visit to the Dangote Refinery at the Lekki Trade Zone.

President Gnassingbe on Tuesday arrived the Presidential Wing of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.

The President and his entourage were received by the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enalemah, President of Dangote Group, Alhaji Alinko Dangote and some members of the business community.

President Gnassingbe’s visit to the refinery is premised on a possible business partnership between Dangote Group and the West African country.

The Togolee President also met with President Muhammadu Buhari. Both presidents met for about an hour in the President’s office.

While President Buhari commended Mr Aliko Dangote for his effort in the building of the refinery, the visiting president said that the refinery would go a long way to promote trade and contribute to reduce import from non-African countries.

Stabilise Niger Delta

President Buhari also promised that the Nigerian government would do all in its powers to stabilise the Niger Delta region to make the pumping of gas to other West African countries easy.

President Buhari had made a similar promise to the new President of Benin Republic, Mr Patrice Talon who also visited Nigeria for bilateral talks.

The discussion between the two leaders at the Presidential Villa centred on security, power and trade relations.

President Buhari thanked Benin Republic for contributing to the effort to check the Boko Haram insurgency and called on the West African nations to beware of restrictions on trade relations.

President Talon described Nigeria as a big brother who is needed at all times for his country to stabilise, especially in the power sector.

Togo’s Prime Minister resigns

Togo’s prime minister and government have resigned, according to a statement on national television and radio, but no reason was given for their stepping down.

A statement issued late on Wednesday said that President Faure Gnassingbe had accepted Prime Minister Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo’s resignation but the former United Nations diplomat would temporarily continue to run daily business.

No official reason was given for the resignation and close aides to Houngbo did not comment.

Houngbo was virtually unknown on the Togolese political scene when he was named prime minister in 2008. He was kept in the post following Gnassingbe’s re-election in May 2010.

Togo is due to hold parliamentary elections in October. In recent weeks, there have been a number of protests in the former French colony ahead of the poll as opposition groups seek to reverse changes to voting rules.

REUTERS