In another strike against presidents who refuse to hand over power, the people of Togo filled the streets this month to protest 50 years of repressive rule by one family.
In an estimated crowd of 100,000 protesters, banners reading “Free Togo” and “Faure resign” could be seen. Police dispersed the protestors with tear gas and violence. In earlier protests in August, two people were killed and 13 injured when police fired on demonstrators.
Taking the punishment a step further, the regime shut down the internet, making it almost impossible for opponents to use social media to organize.
“This shows how far the authorities are willing to go to muzzle anti-government criticism,” said François Patuel of Amnesty International. “Shutting down Internet services is an unjustified attack on Internet freedom and freedom of expression in Togo.”
Service is reportedly being restored this week.
Togo has been led by the Eyadema family since 1967 when one-time French army officer Gnassingbé Eyadéma seized power in a military coup and dominated the country for the next 38 years, becoming Africa’s longest-ruling dictator by the time of his death. His son, Faure Gnassingbé, took over the presidency in 2005 when his father died.
Aside from demands that the younger Gnassingbe step down, Togolese are calling for wide political reforms, including a rollback of a constitutional amendment that allowed Faure to run for an unlimited term. In addition to restoring the limit of two five-year terms, demands include a two-ballot system, reform of the Constitutional Court and the Electoral Commission.
Speaking to Reuters, UN Special Representative for West Africa Mohamed Ibn Chambas said: “It has become unavoidable for Togo to join the rest of West Africa in having term limitations.”
“We are in a region where the security challenges are real and menacing and so we don’t want to see any deep political crisis.”
Gnassingbe’s offer to reintroduce a two-term limit was welcome, he said. But the opposition has rejected it because it would enable him to stay in power until 2030.
Similar efforts for reform are underway in Chad where President Idriss Deby is serving a fifth term after polls in April 2016 that prompted a nationwide shutdown. The popular opposition candidate, Ngarlejy Yorongar, was prevented from running.
The slogan of the opposition is “Ca Suffit – French for “That’s enough.”
Togo, which aspires to become an African Dubai and hosts the headquarters of pan-African lender Ecobank and other major firms, has a history of repression. Around 500 people were killed during protests against the current leader’s 2005 poll victory.