Togo election peaceful but troubled

JJ - Cry out2.jpg

Bloody and deadly violence have too often been Togo’s political “daily bread” during elections since the 1990’s. This violence has traumatized the Togolese so deeply that, by the time the 2010 presidential polling began on March 4, people had already made plans to seek refuge in neighboring countries.

Going to the polls in Togo was never the real problem. The problems occurred after the election, when the incumbent found ways, usually violent ones, to impose results he wanted.

For the last 40 years, that incumbent has been the RPT (Togo People’s Rally), either under the “dictatorial” leadership of the late Eyadema Gnassingbe or his son, Faure Gnassingbe.

In its efforts to influence the elections after the fact, the RPT and Gnassingbe family used the army to enforce bans on protests. The army dispersed crowds with beatings, tear gas, and even shooting protestors. After the 2005 election of Bob Akitani of the UFC (Union of the Forces for Change) party, the army killed some 100 protesters and prompted thousands of refugees to flee, the Afrol Times reported.

2010 Togo Election Results

  Candidate Name Party Name Vote Total % of Vote
1 Faure E. Gnassingbé RPT 1242409 60.88
2 Jean Pierre Fabre UFC 692554 33.93
3 Yawovi Agboyibo CAR 60370 2.95
4 Kodjo Agbeyome OBUTS 17393 0.85
5 Kafui Adjamagbo-Johnson CDPA 13452 0.65
6 Kagbara Bassabi PDP 8341 0.4
7 Jean Nicolas Lawson PRR 6027 0.29

To avoid a repeat of this bloody pattern, a coalition of Togolese watchdog organizations and political parties formulated a “code of good manners” that committed the signatories remain calm, whatever the outcome of the election.

This code is aimed at "implanting a calm, nonviolent, respectful political life of human-rights principles and democratic values”, and was initiated in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) by a group consisting of the National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH), National Democratic Institute (NDI-Togo) and four political parties, including the front-running RPT.

“Signing this code,” said Mr. Innocent Popole, the representative of the CNDH, “shows the strong will of the actors of the polling process, to decide by consensus a free, transparent and peaceful poll.”

Dr Badie Hima, the Director of the National Democratic Institute of Togo, pointed out that a code of good manners cannot replace the texts of the Republic, but rather reinforces them.

Two leading opposition parties, the UFC and the CAR, did not sign the code, nor did SURSAUT Togo, headed by French ex Minister, Koffi Gnamgnane.

Despite refusals to sign the Code of Good Conduct, overall events have been positive.

European Union observers, ECOWAS (Economic Community of the West African States) and average citizens agree that 2010 election was Togo’s most peaceful this decade.

“The electoral campaign took place in a calm atmosphere with no major incidents. Freedom of speech and movement for all the candidates has been respected. Several times, the candidates expressed themselves favorably for a peaceful poll,” the EU Electoral Observation Mission said.

Observers credit use of mass-media civic education campaigns for peace launched by a coalition of organizations, such as the Togolese Coalition of the Defenders of Human Rights (CTDDH), the Group of Reflection and Action, Women, Democracy and Development (GF2D), Inter Africa – Togo and the Network of African Women Ministers and Members of Parliament (REFAMP).

These groups committed themselves to promoting electoral education and particularly to sensitizing the nation about non-violent polling.

The European Union and the United States invested more than $20 million (U.S.) for this election to be “free, fair, transparent and peaceful presidential elections, according to the international standards but also to strengthen the capacities of the main actors, in the perspective of the future ballots", said Mr. Patrick Spirlet, Leader of the delegation of the Commission of the European Union in Togo.

The international funding was invested in peace-awareness campaigns daily on radio and TV and in newspapers. Billboards and "peace concerts" also called for a calm election cycle.

The international community cheered the peaceful polling process, but the election still raised concerns about democratic norms. Opposition politicians charge that the RPT was again up to its old tricks of manipulation and intimidation.

The EOM EU preliminary report points out that “TV and Radio programs and news stories dedicated to the activities of the government and of the President of the Republic went far above the normal activities of public administrators and constituted a “disguised campaign”.

Gnassingbe spent millions to import rice labeled “Riz Faure” (Faure Rice), which he distributed for just a fifth of the market price. He funded rural agricultural projects, and associations and clubs were created to organize meetings, parades and concerts to support Faure Gnassingbe in violation of the Electoral Code.

Once it became clear that the election results favored Gnassingbe, he banned protests movements.

The armed forces seized the opposition UFC's equipment and evidence. Policemen invaded a peaceful UFC prayer meeting, with tear gas, beatings, arresting about 100 partisans.

Police confiscated computers and about $40,000 (U.S.), said Patrick Lawson, the national Secretary of the UFC.

Tensions are on the rise again in the capital city as the UFC called for more protests on Wednesday (April 21), charging that the government’s crackdown violates their constitutional rights to free association and peaceful demonstration.

“When you’re in the forest and a Lion attacks you, you have nothing else to do except to cry out for help or shoot the lion," Lawson said.

"We have no guns. The only thing we can do is to cry out.”

Africa, PoliticsJerry Johnson