The Togolese governance crisis: Lessons for Africa’s democracy

February 2, 2018
West Africa has made gains in governance in recent years, but security concerns persist. The unrest in Togo is an unhealthy political development. The Global Political Agreement (GPA) for electoral and institutional reforms, signed in 2006 between the President of Togo and the opposition parties, facilitated by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), has not been fully implemented. Key elements of the GPA intended to deepen governance, such as the re-introduction of presidential term limits and a two-round voting system have not been implemented and, more than 11 years later, the political situation remains unchanged. The former President of Togo, and father of the current president, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, altered the 1992 constitution, scrapping the presidential term limits so he could run again, and lowering the age limit from 45 years to 35 years so his son could run for president after him. These actions strike a familiar chord. Are they a new trend in Africa’s democratic dispensation?

Over the years, several protests have been held, but the protests in September 2017 were unique. The violent protests started in the capital Lomé and spread to other parts of the country including Sokodé, the base of the ruling party. Protesters demanded an end to Togo’s 50-year ruling family dynasty, and constitutional reforms including the adoption of a two-term cap for future presidents. The government’s call for a referendum is in limbo after the opposition boycotted parliament over the term limit issue—which is without retroactive effect, meaning the President may rule until 2030. The experiences of The Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh and Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaoré offer proof that the momentum against dictatorship may be rising.

Pressure from ECOWAS was crucial to The Gambia’s success. However, ECOWAS and neighboring states have been slow to respond to the crisis in Togo. Why? One key reason could be that Togolese President Gnassingbé is the ECOWAS Chairman, and the President of ECOWAS, Marcel Alain de Souza, is married to the sister of Mr. Gnassingbé.

Whether Togo’s incumbent feels the pressure and resigns cannot be foretold. However, until then ECOWAS’ resolve will be critical. ECOWAS should urge Togo’s leadership to fully implement the 2006 GPA recommendations immediately. As it stands, the upcoming referendum leaves much to be desired, and does little to remedy the situation. If ECOWAS gets it right, it could send a broader message to the rest of the continent that allowing leaders to amend national constitutions in order to elongate their hold on power is no longer an acceptable governance norm in Africa. To this end, action is needed, and quickly.

George Boateng is a Research Analyst at the African Center for Economic Transformation. He is a former Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding Scholar.

This article was originally posted by the Wilson Center

The views in this article are those of the author’s and do not represent the views of ACET.

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