Growing calls for Gnassingbé to go
Publish date: 11 September 2017
Issue Number: 742
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Tiny Togo – with a population of just 7m – finds itself in the headlines as hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of the capital Lomé to demand an end to despotic rule. Legalbrief reports that they are calling for President Faure Gnassingbé – who has ruled since the death of his father in 2005 – to step aside. Police have responded by using tear gas, and the authorities have restricted Internet connections and phone calls. A report on the News24 site notes that the Internet Without Borders group said the shutdown was ‘an attack on Togolese citizens' freedom of expression online’. Information Minister Gilbert Bawara told several local radio stations last week that the government reserved the right to impose restrictions on access to the Internet. A report on the allAfrica site notes that demonstrators were last month attacked by soldiers, resulting in several deaths. A government concession to introduce a two-term presidential limit through a constitutional amendment failed to dissuade the protesters. Opposition leaders this weekend said they were not hopeful of political change, as Parliament prepared to discuss potential constitutional reform after massive anti-government protests. Togo's opposition has long called for constitutional reforms and in an apparent concession, the government has proposed a new Bill to Parliament. It will be tabled tomorrow. However, Eric Dupuy, an opposition spokesperson, described the move as a 'delaying tactic'.
The UN has warned that Togo must go the way of other West African nations and swiftly limit presidential terms to two if it wants to prevent protests escalating into a political crisis. ‘It has become unavoidable for Togo to join the rest of West Africa in having term limitations,’ said Mohamed Chambas, the UN Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel. Since Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh was forced out after losing an election last December, all West African countries except Togo have accepted two-term limits on presidential office, bucking a regressive trend across Africa to remove them and re-enable ‘presidents for life’. A report on the EWN site notes that Chambas said a move by Gnassingbé’s government to propose a draft Bill to reform the Constitution and reintroduce a two-term limit was welcome. The opposition has rejected it because it says it would enable him to stay in power until 2030. Nigeria's former President Olusegun Obasanjo has also urged Gnassingbe to introduce limits on presidential terms. A report on the PeaceFM Online site notes that Obasanjo, a former military ruler in the 1970s who has served as a civilian leader from 1999 to 2007, said Gnassingbé had to respond to the demands. 'I believe he should have a new constitution that will have a limit to the number of terms that anybody can be President and he should abide by that,' he said. A report on the Graphic site notes that former Ghanaian President Jerry John Rawlings has called on Togolese troops to approach the ongoing political protests for electoral reforms with measures that would not lead to a degeneration of the situation. A statement issued by his office yesterday (Sunday) said in the event of a civil conflict, the blood of unarmed civilians will be shed the most. ‘The recent threats of civil war come as no surprise. However, the intimidating posture of such comments shows clearly how pertinent the need to prevent an escalation beyond this point,’ he said.