Togo national dialog makes some progress

TogoSaturday, the ruling RPT and several opposition parties elected the lawyer and opposition leader Yawovi Agboyibo to run their “national dialog” talks. This process began in May 2004 and had been interrupted in February when President Eyadema died. The goal is primarily to find ways to reform the electoral process in the West African nation, which had been ruled by Eyadema for 38 years, mostly as a single-party state.

The opposition’s LeTogolais voices some cautious optimism about the talks, noting the presence of foreign observers and an atmosphere that is “less tense” than previously. However, they also not that this is the 11th time since 1990 a “national dialog” has been convened.

The electoral process is a huge problem for the Togolese opposition. The electoral commission is full of RPT cronies, and the entire process is controlled by the ruling party. Agboyibo is a very smart, capable leader. I met Agboyibo a few years ago, and I was very impressed by his humility and sharp mind. I really hope that he can convince the RPT to make some concessions to allow fair elections.

However, I don’t think that the electoral process is, in fact, Togo’s biggest problem on the road towards democracy and peace. I believe that the most important issue is the ethnic divide between Ewe and Kabyé – the legacy of Eyadema’s brutal regime. The opposition has to try to start breaking down this divide by recruiting Kabyè leaders, and by reaching out to all Kabyè – at least those who are not RPT cronies.

The second, and related problem is the lack of ethnic diversity in the security forces and especially in the armed forces, which are dominated by the Kabyé – the ethnic group of the Gnassingbé clan. The opposition has been calling for reforms of the military and greater diversity, like Tido Brassier does in this recent commentary:

En tout état de cause, un vrai Dialogue aura du mal à avoir lieu car l’un des enjeux majeurs est la réforme de l’armée et des institutions. Mais, comment réformer cette armée qui est le centre de gravité et le pilier principal de ce pouvoir dont le but est de se maintenir au pouvoir quoi qu’il arrive ? L’armée, semble-il, est en pleine décomposition depuis le 5 février 2005 et par conséquent, attend vivement de ce Dialogue cette réforme qu’elle appelle de ses vÅ“ux. Encore faudra-t-il qu’elle crée elle-même les conditions nécessaires pouvant ramener la dignité à cette institution comme au Ghana et au Bénin où leurs frères d’armes sont de vrais républicains. Il n’est pas normal qu’une armée nationale soit aux ordres d’une famille ayant comme unique but de se maintenir au pouvoir. Parce que cette armée est composée à hauteur de 90 % de l’ethnie Kabyè. Les premières victimes d’une telle situation sont les Kabyè eux-mêmes, instrumentalisés à leur dépend dans une stratégie ethnocentrique de pérennisation du pouvoir, alors qu’à priori ce corps de métiers noble est destiné à toutes les ethnies de la République.
Togo : l’Alternance est-elle possible ?, Tido Brassier, LETOGOLAIS.COM – 18/04/2006

As Brassier points out, the Kabyè are trapped by the RPT’s ethnocentric system of cronyism, which brings relatively little concrete benefit to most Kabyè. Yet this cronyism is the cause of the lack of economic development and opportunity, which affects all ethnic groups, including most Kabyè, and which drags the country down.

Many Kabyè understand this, but they are worried about their situation in a post-RPT Togo. And I don’t blame them. It is up to the opposition leaders to build bridges to the Kabyè community in Togo, and to foster ethnic peace, in order to break down the divide the RPT has nurtured for over 38 years.

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