Togo protests: What is the way out of the crisis?

As unrest continues, Al Jazeera speaks to W Africa expert about the root of the crisis and possible scenarios forward.

A still image taken from a video shot on October 18, 2017, shows protesters walking past burning tyres in Lome
Protesters in Lome set tires on fire and put up roadblocks [Reuters]

Security forces and police have shut down Lome, the capital of Togo, in a bid to prevent anti-government demonstrations from taking place for a second consecutive day.

Protesters have held several rallies since August, demanding an end to Togo’s 50-year ruling family dynasty. They want to see constitutional reforms introduced, including a two-term limit for presidents.

On Thursday, security forces used tear gas to disperse demonstrators who had put up roadblocks and set tires on fire. 

Damehame Yark, the country’s security minister, told reporters that at least four people were killed this week as protesters clashed with security forces in the capital and the northern town of Sokode. At least 60 people were arrested across the country.

According to Amnesty International, the death toll since August has now risen to eight. Activists say it is at least 13.

With the protests showing no signs of slowing down, Al Jazeera spoke to Jeannine Ella Abatan, a West Africa researcher based in Dakar, Senegal, about the protests against President Faure Gnassingbe and how the crisis may be resolved.

Al Jazeera: There have been a series of protests against the president. Can you give us a sense of the situation now?

Jeannine Ella AbatanSince August, people have been taking to the streets. The first protest was led by the Pan-African National Party (PNP), which called for constitutional and institutional reform.

These demands later evolved to a call for the president to step down. There was another set of protests in several cities in early September after the government introduced a draft bill to reform the constitution.

Opposition leaders refused to accept it because it does not retroactively address the issue of the mandate of Gnassingbe, who is actually in his third term of presidency. They also argue that the proposed bill is not in line with the 2006 Global Political Agreement (GPA), neither the 1992 constitution that guarantee, among others, a two-term presidential limit.

Al Jazeera: But the calls for institutional and constitutional reforms date back many years. Why has it reached such intensity now?

Abatan: Yes, this issue dates back to 2002 when Eyadema Gnassingbe, the former president and father of the current president whose term of office was drawing to an end, revised the 1992 constitution to run for election.

Following Faure Gnassingbe’s victory in the contested 2005 election, during which around 500 people died, the government and opposition parties signed the GPA in 2006 with the support of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).


That eased tensions, precisely because it provided for the implementation of constitutional and institutional reforms in line with the 1992 constitution. Eleven years after the GPA was signed, little progress has been made to implement those reforms despite the numerous follow-up dialogues that were organised.

What is new about these protests is their scale, especially the amount of people that took to the streets on September 6, and the fact that the PNP has been able to mobilise people in the north of the country, particularly in the town of Kara, the base of the ruling Union for the Republic (UNIR) party.

Al Jazeera: Tikpi Atchadam, leader of the PNP, is said to be behind the protests. What do we know about him?

Abatan: The PNP was set up in November 2014. Atchadam is a former member of the Parti Democratique Pour Le Renouveau and served on the Independent National Electoral Commission in the early 2000s on behalf of that party.

He led the August 19 protests and managed to mobilise in Lome, but also in his hometown of Sokode. It is not clear who is backing him, but what is known is that he has been able to unite the opposition behind the call to have the 2006 agreement honoured.

Al Jazeera: There is a lot of frustration with the lack of reforms. But what is the main driver of these protests?

Abatan: Yes, there is a delay in the implementation of the 2006 agreement. This has driven the protests, and people have been frustrated for a long time. The implementation of the long-awaited constitutional and institutional reforms is meant to create the necessary conditions for democracy in the country.

Togo is among the lowest-ranking countries in the Human Development Index, according to 2015 United Nations data. The reforms were meant to create institutions and stabilise governance – this was seen to be important for economic development. 

Al Jazeera: How have regional bodies like ECOWAS responded to this crisis?

Abatan: During the election stalemate in The Gambia earlier this year, ECOWAS played an important role in solving the crisis. But Gnassingbe is the current chair of ECOWAS, and this has placed the body in a difficult situation when it comes to the organisation’s response to the situation in Togo.

On October 4, ECOWAS, jointly with the African Union (AU) and the UN Office of West Africa and the Sahel, published a communique in which they call on the government to set the date for the referendum and also urged the different stakeholders to continue dialogue to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Al Jazeera: What are the possible scenarios going forward? Are we likely to see these protests expand or will they be resolved through dialogue?

Abatan: There certainly needs to be a peaceful way out of the crisis. The need for political dialogue cannot be understated. It is an important step to ease tension and prevent an escalation of violence.

Regional and international organisations such as ECOWAS, the AU and the UN, but also neighbouring countries such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana have an important role to play in creating the framework for an inclusive dialogue between the different stakeholders.

Source: Al Jazeera