Tensions In Togo As Anti-Gnassingbe Protest Becomes Deadly

Tensions have escalated in Togo after two protesters were killed by security forces, warns Al Jazeera. The deadly protest happened in Sokode, a place 338 kilometres north of the country’s capital Lome. According to the Security Ministry, last Saturday, apart from the two deaths, 12 gendarmes were wounded in this protest against the Gnassingbe family dynasty. However, Togo’s opposition leader and President of the Pan African National Party (PNP), Tikpi Atchadam, thought the death toll should be higher. As such, on Saturday night, he said seven people were killed.

Meanwhile, although there has been no official statement by the government on the protest, human rights activist, Farida Nabourema, told reporters that “This is the time that this country that has been ruled by the oldest military regime in Africa decided to rise for its freedom.” One demonstrator said that the protest was part of the peaceful movement to reinstate a 1992 Constitution that brought democracy into the country after a decades-long dictatorship. Indeed, wearing the red colours of the opposition PNP party, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Lome and chanted “50 years is too long!”

Moreover, it is interesting to see that people are calling for the reinstatement of the constitution and showing their concerns in a peaceful way. Meanwhile, in Sokode, the demonstrators managed to seize the guns from the security forces. But, the most surprising thing, was that demonstrators didn’t become violent after they “arrested” the soldiers. Instead, they eventually let all of the“arrestees” go. In this case, the government should take full responsibilities for the violence that occurred, as no matter what the demonstrators asked for, it is wrong for the security forces to use live bullets to disperse them. Indeed, it was deeply saddening and upsetting to hear that “All we are demanding is a term limit and they shoot at us.”

With that said, no matter how long the president has stayed in power, a leader for the people would not do such a brutal thing.

Furthermore, the Gnassingbe dynasty has ruled Togo for 50 years from father to son. The 1992 Constitution stipulated a two five-year term limit for a president. But, after President Eyadema Gnassingbe served his two terms, legislators amended the Constitution so that Eyadema could run for another term. In 2005, when Eyadema died of heart attack, the military set aside the Constitution and installed his son, Faure Gnassingbe, as the interim President. Legally, Faure Gnassingbe could only be the Head of the National Assembly. As such, this breach of the Constitution led to pressure from both international and regional communities, and Faure Gnassingbe resigned after a few days. However, he later won a disputed election and became the president again. According to election observer groups, the election was described as being fraudulent. Protests followed and things were much more violent as approximately 500 people were killed and thousands were displaced.

Currently, Faure Gnassingbe remains in office after he continued his third term bid in 2015. Thus, in total Eyadema was in power for 38 years and his son has been in power for 12 years. On the other hand, opposition parties almost have no voice, as 98 percent of the Parliament is made up of the ruling party, RPT members. As such, the PNP leader, Tikpi Atchadam, has sworn to continue the protest until the end of the Gnassingbe dynasty.

“We are protesting against the arbitrary nature of governance and denial of freedom to assemble,” explained Atchadam. Indeed, the protest reflects the Togolese people’s dissatisfaction of dictatorship and their pursuit of democracy. However, President Gnassingbe hasn’t shown any sign of conducting a fair election and true democracy back to his people. In addition, it is even more discouraging to see that he resorted to violence to crack down on the recent peaceful protest. As a result, urgent measures from international partners must be taken to ensure that the Constitution cannot be easily amended in favour of the incumbent president and to make sure that fair and transparent elections must be held regularly. With that said, it is the voice of the people and the opposition parties that must be heard, not the sound of gunfire.