Political crisis in Togo - Lessons from history

BY: Larweh Therson-Cofie
Political crisis in Togo - Lessons from history
Political crisis in Togo - Lessons from history

The prolonged rule by a person, family (dynasty) or a group of persons, has been one of the major causes of civil conflict in modern political history.

In modern times, it is democracy and rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights that ensure peace, harmony and stability in a nation. There have been few exceptions.

In India, the Congress Party ruled India continuously for 50 years. It took an alliance of opposition parties led by the BJP to stop the perennial domination of India’s politics by the Congress Party.

In Japan, the Democratic Liberal Party ruled Japan in modern times for nearly 50 years, until it was defeated at election by an opposition political party.

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In Zimbabwe, the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe has been in power since 1980 and with the same person as leader for 37 years, and he and his party are still ruling.

The Angolan example is also worth mentioning. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos with his political party, the MPLA, ruled that country for 38 years. He opted to step down in 2016, as one of the longest-reigning heads of state in Africa.

The political crisis in Togo that erupted in the past few weeks is because of the 50-year dynastic rule of the Gnassingbe family. That is not new to modern political history.

Thousands of Togolese have expressed their frustration by demonstrating in the streets, demanding an end of the Gnassingbe family governance and restoration of the 1992 Constitution that put a term limit to presidential rule.

Two protestors were reportedly killed by security forces in Togo and 12 were injured in attempts to disperse the demonstrators. But, Mr Tikpi Atchadam, leader of the PNP party of Togo, put the death toll at seven.

“We are protesting against the arbitrary nature of governance and denial of freedom to assemble”, Mr Atchadam, Togolese opposition leader, said.

“This is the time that this country that has been ruled by the oldest military regime in Africa decided to rise for its freedom in Africa,” said Farida Nabourema, a human right activist in Togo.

A blogger wrote online: “Democracy is not about the nepotistic hegemony. Let the people speak. Let peace prevail. Stand up for your rights. 50 years is too long for one family to rule. Stay safe in your right to freedom.”

Dr Ibn Chambas, the UN special representative for West Africa and the Sahel, has been reported to have met the Togolese president, Mr Faure Gnassingbe.

Dr Chambas reportedly accepted, during talks with the Togolese leader, what appeared to be an effort by the government to meet the protesters’ demand.

It has been reported that the Togolese council of ministers had adopted the draft of a law on constitutional review. If the law is approved by Parliament, it will put a limit to presidential rule.

That was the second time, since his appointment, that Dr Chambas, a Ghanaian, has intervened in political crisis in Togo.

In 2005, Dr Chambas came in, on behalf of the UN Secretary General, to mediate a settlement and helped to stop anti-government demonstrations against amendment of the 1992 constitution.

The amendment gave Mr Faure Gnassingbe, son of the late President Eyadema Gnassingbe, the opportunity to be the interim ruler instead of the Speaker of the Togolese parliament.

The late President Eyadema Gnassingbe had ruled Togo since 1967 after the death of Sylvanus Olympio in a military takeover. Togo returned to civilian rule in 1992.

In 2002, the parliament amended the constitution to allow President Eyadema Gnassingbe to remain in office after his constitutional term had expired. Faure became President in 2005 after his father died.

One of the lessons from modern political history is that although persistent public demonstration helps to draw national and global attention to prolonged undemocratic or arbitrary governance, it does not stop it.

It is the decision of the people at election time that truncates a seemingly unending domination of political power by a party or an individual in modern times.

Togo returned to civilian rule in 1992. If the people of Togo knew that dynastic rule of the Gnassingbe family in 25 civilian years is deplorable, why did they vote them and their political party into power all the while?

Political practice and civic education in Togo must be upgraded.

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