Since August 2017, thousands of people have taken to the streets in the West African nation Togo, particularly in its capital, Lome, as well as its second largest city, Sokode. Protesters are demanding President Faure Gnassingbé step down, and that the 50 year rule of the Gnassingbé family must end.
The protests were originally organized by the Pan-African National Party (PNP), one of the main opposition parties in the country. The PNP called for constitutional and institutional reform, and since then the protests have been taken up by a coalition of 14 opposition parties.
The PNP was formed in November 2014. Its leader, Tikpi Atchadam, was originally part of the Parti Democratique Pour Le Renouveau. In the early 2000s, he served in the Independent National Electoral Commission, and is said to have been behind many of the current protests.
Togo, a West African country of seven million people, has seen protests mostly centered in or near the capital until 2017. Now, the protests have spread throughout the country. Protests over the past several months have generally been peaceful. There have, however, been incidents of deadly clashes with police that have left at least 16 people dead.
The government of Gnassingbé has responded to the calls for constitutional and institutional reform by blocking access to mobile and internet services. Gnassingbé tried to introduce a law in September 2017 to reform the constitution, which led to more protests in several cities across the country.
The coalition encouraged nearly weekly protests against the presidency, and calls for the introduction of electoral reforms.
It is currently Gnassingbé’s third term as President, even though he proposed a reform a few years ago to reintroduce the two-year term limits found in the 1992 constitution. The opposition parties want to make sure Gnassingbé does not run in future elections.
The 14 opposition parties have insisted they will only talk if the government releases detainees, lifts the ban on demonstrations in several northern cities, and sends troops back to their barracks.
The opposition and the government have been planning to sit down for talks that will be mediated by the President of Ghana’s Nana Akufo-Addo and President of Guinea Alpha Conde. Conde is also currently the chairman of the African Union.
The Gnassingbé family has ruled the Togolese Republic for over 50 years. The current ignition for the protests date “back to 2002 when Eyadema Gnassingbé, 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” reports Al Jazeera.
In 2005, Faure Gnassingbé won a contested election in which at least 500 people died. After the contested election, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) moderated negotiations between the government and opposition parities, which resulted in the signing of agreement in 2006.
The agreement called for the implementation of constitutional and institutional reforms in line with the 1992 constitution. It’s been over eleven years since the GPA was signed, and little as changed. Several negotiations and dialogues have transpired since the signing of the agreement as well.
The scale and popularity of the current protest is the main difference between these protests and past rebellions. It is also an important factor that the PNP has been able to reach people in the north of Togo, and encourage them to participate in the protest. The north has traditionally been the base for the ruling Union for the Republic (UNIR) party.
In October of 2017, ECOWAS, the African Union, the UN Office for West Africa and the Shael, issued joint statements which called for Gnassingbé’s government to set up a referendum. The statement also encouraged the different parties to continue a dialogue.
Many expect a referendum the coming month.