Togo opposition calls for stay-at-home protests

Opposition coalition wants constitutional reforms and introduction of presidential term limits of a maximum of 10 years.

Togo''s president Faure Gnassingbe
Faure Gnassingbe came to power in 2005 following the death of his father [File: Reuters]

Opposition parties in Togo have called on supporters to observe a sit-at-home protest on Monday amid growing political tensions.

Mass anti-government rallies have repeatedly been held across the country in recent months, with protesters demanding an end to the 50-year rule by the Gnassingbe family and constitutional reforms, including a two-term limit for presidents.

“Ghost Monday” aims to “protest the stubbornness of the military regime to hold local and legislative elections amid the crisis the country is facing,” human rights activist Farida Nabourema said in a message on Twitter on Friday, referring to polls expected to take place until the end of next month.

For its part, the government has reportedly called on people to boycott the protests and resist opposition “intimidation” in advance of the general strike. 

Previous nationwide demonstrations have led to clashes between security forces and protesters, resulting in the deaths of several people.

‘Social contract broken’

Togo’s political crisis started in August, when large numbers of people rallied against the administration of President Faure Gnassingbe. 

Apart from the reintroduction of presidential term limits, calls for institutional reforms included reinstating a two-round voting system and allowing the diaspora to cast ballots in elections.

Speaking to Al Jazeera earlier this year, Nabourema said the protesters’ demands changed as the demonstrations intensified in the months since August.

“They have shifted from the return of the 1992 constitution to ‘Faure Must Go’, meaning people are no longer just protesting for constitutional reforms or term limits,” said Nabourema

“They want the end of the Gnassingbe dynasty and they clearly stated that.”

Nancy Muigei, a political analyst at Kenya-based Maendeleo Group told Al Jazeera on Saturday that scenarios like this emerge when the “social contract between the government and citizens” breaks down amid challenging economic conditions and poor service delivery.

“These conditions make it difficult for citizens to have a decent and dignified life,” she said.

“This is the reason why many young people are risking their lives to cross borders and die in seas,” added Muigei, referring to the Togolese who are willing to undertake dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean in hopes for a better future.

Family dynasty

More than half of Togo’s 7.5 million population is under 25. These people have only known life under the rule of Faure Gnassingbe and his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema.

The ruling family’s dynasty started in 1967 when Eyadema seized power in a coup. 

In response to demonstrations, he introduced the Constitution of 1992 that brought in notional multiparty democracy and limited presidential terms to two. Ten years later, legislators scrapped the term limit so that Eyadema could serve for additional terms.

He stayed in office until his death in 2005, when he was succeeded by his son.

In September, the government did try to give in to some demands by releasing prisoners and proposing a draft bill to reform the Constitution and reintroduce a two-term limit.

However, the opposition pushed for the term limits to be applied retroactively, instead of allowing Gnassingbe to run for two new terms and potentially rule until 2030, and refused to support the bill when their demands were not met. Without opposition support, the bill did not gather enough support in parliament to pass.

With reporting by Fidelis Mbah

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies