Togo elections: a new generation emerges

On March 4, voters in Togo for the first time ever will have a choice between two young-ish leaders, as a new generation of politicians is slowly emerging from the shadows of the aging post-colonial crop of politicians. At least they are supposed to be able to choose. Considering that the election committee that oversees the contest is deeply enmeshed with the ruling party RPT, they can hardly be considered impartial. Nevertheless, this is an interesting and important election because it pits two interesting candidates against each other: President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé and the main opposition candidate Jean-Pierre Fabre.

They both represent a new generation of politicians, albeit at different ends of the political spectrum. Faure Gnassingbe just took over the family business of ruling Togo after the death of his dad Gnassingbe Eyadema in 2005. Eyadema made a name for himself for staging Africa’s first post-colonial coup d’etat in 1963, and killing Togo’s first and only freely elected president Sylvanus Olympio. Eyadema ruled Togo with an iron fist for over 40 38 years. His rule included all the classic ingredients of African dictatorship: purges and prison-camps, tanks in the streets and death squads knocking down doors in the middle of the night. Under Faure’s management Togo has become much less repressive and some of the ethnic tension has abated. Still, last April (while we were visiting Togo) Faure had his brother Kpatcha arrested for treason. Kpatcha was charged with attempting to overthrow Faure and was locked away. Also the last election was pretty much a farce, and this time around, too, several candidates had their papers rejected on flimsy pretenses, probably because they were considered too popular. Yet – in comparison to his dad, Sorbonne educated Faure presents a new approach to dictatorship. An new, gentler dictator.

Fabre, 14 years older than Faure, is still downright youthful among the anciens combattants of Togo’s fragmented opposition, like 74-year-old Olympio, 80-year-old Emmanuel Bob-Akitani, 74-year-old Edem Kodjo, or 67-year-old Yawovi Agboyibo. No disrespect to these men. They have fought their battles valiantly, and, I’m sure, in the best interest of their country. But they also had to spend most of their lives in exile – thanks to Eyadema and his thugs. Fabre, however, returned to Togo after his studies in France, taught at the Universite du Benin in Lome, edited several newspapers, and was founding member of Olympios UFC in 1992. Since then, Fabre was one of the opposition’s main work horses, albeit in the shadow of Gilchrist Olympio,  president of the UFC and son of Togo’s first president Sylvanus Olympio. Yes – the guy Faure Gnassingbe’s dad killed in 1963. And now that Olympio junior himself is too old and too ill to run, it is time for Fabre to step out of his shadow and run for president.

I think it is unlikely that the opposition will actually win. The reality is that a fractured opposition and a UFC fraught with internal disagreements is hardly in a position to wrest power from the deeply entrenched RPT and the “heir to the throne” Faure Gnassingbe who is backed by the military establishment. Yet, there is movement in the political landscape. A new generation is taking over and things will change. If Fabre can mobilize the voters and the international observers can prevent egregious fraud, then maybe a stronger showing of the opposition can wrest some concessions from Gnassingbe Junior. Maybe they can begin to loosen the grip of the Gnassingbe clan. And maybe, just maybe, Faure can eventually become the Gorbachev of Togo.

[Correction – Eyadema ruled Togo for 38 years, not “over 40.” After he killed Olympio, his associate Nicolas Grunitzky ran Togo from 1963 – 1967]

7 Responses to “Togo elections: a new generation emerges”

  1. Toffy Says:

    Since we started voting in Togo, RPT had never won a single election. If this election is fair, then UFC will surly win this election again Faure Gnassingbe can never win a fair election in Togo. Even All the clan Gnassingbe will never win a fair election in Togo for the next seven generation. Everyone of those international observers who are trying to be silent on the ruling party (RPT) egregious fraud will be also responsible for RPT atrocities in one way or another. Some of the international community gave money to that same regime, others gave weapons, and the rest stood indifferently still and looked the other way. I cry sometimes when I remember my days in Togo where the military will come to our houses with no reason and beat us till we bleed. They will seize our ID’s and tore them into peaces. We were guilty because we were Ewe’s. We were guilty because we were born Ewe’s. My people are suffering right now in Togo.
    I believe the time will come when indifference to suffering of others will be considered a crime, at least as a moral one, so that it will be publicly condemned.
    But before that we are all Just doing it time after time again. Aren’t we?

  2. yovo Says:

    Toffy I appreciate your comments.
    The crimes against human rights the RPT thugs committed shall not be forgotten. I stayed in in the Hôpital neighborhood during the strike in 1990, and every night we saw the military trucks rumble through the streets. we could hear gunshots and the screams when houses were ransacked. But I also heard of horrible crimes committed against Kabiye communities by Ewe militias during that same strike. I saw the burning farms near Adeta and the bloody machetes of the Asafo in Kpalime.

    The ethnic divisions of the past have to be overcome for Togo to move forward. Eyadema skillfully exploited tensions between Ewe and Kabiye to keep the country in his death-grip. I know there is still much distrust and tension lingering, but only if the opposition can guarantee safety and political inclusion of the Kabiye people in Togo is there any chance for change. The Togolese voters should focus on a new generation of leaders who are able to reach out across old divisions and form alliances that represent the diversity of this great country.

  3. Anangra Says:

    Faure Gnassingbe has inherited the family business from his daddy, Gnassingbe Eyadema: TDR Dictators Inc. – Exploiting Togo since 1967. Like father, like son, Faure was installed by a military coup on Feb. 6, the day after Eyadema died. He will govern the same way as his dad had governed because Faure Gnassingbe knew that he can never win a fair election in Togo not today nor in the near future. The only way Faure Gnassingbe can stick on the power is to be a dictator. Faure is a modern dictator. Even if the opposition is fractured, the opposition will win if the election is fair and balance. RPT is hated in all part of Togo. In a fair vote, they will represent only 2%.
    It is very sad because others countries are progressing in all areas while Togo is retrieving towards poverty.
    TDR= Totalitarian and Despotic Regime.

  4. bataie Says:

    The Togolese opposition did not need unity among them to win any election against the RPT regime in Togo if the election is fair.

  5. yovo Says:

    Thanks for your comments!
    Let me clarify: when I say the opposition is unlikely to win the election, I mean that the RPT is unlikely to concede that they failed to win a majority of the votes. But in the long term, an inclusive opposition movement, united behind a competent leadership might make it easier for some in the RPT and maybe even in the military to accept change.

    Consider what will happen if an opposition candidate wins the election and Faure steps aside and allows a peaceful transition of power. If the new government is not united behind its leadership and instead begins to fight internally, what will happen? Look a the USA. Obama is possibly the most powerful president in US history, but his party is fractured and ineffective. Nothing gets accomplished and people are getting frustrated.

    Also consider the military. As you know, most soldiers are Kabiye. I don’t think they love the Gnassingbe clan, but the military leadership appears to be quite loyal to the Gnassingbes. I think the opposition has to find a way to address the concerns of the soldiers and gain their confidence. Right now I think most soldiers are just scared of change, and so they fight the opposition. And they are the ones with the guns.

    As much as I would love to see the Gnassingbe clan return to Pia, I doubt it’ll happen easily and soon. But it also looks like some of the new generation of political leaders in Togo have the potential to make that change happen eventually. And I do think inclusiveness and unity in the opposition are critical to make this change possible.

  6. zovi Says:

    I’m Togolese. I was born there and I spent almost my entire life over there. To be honest with you, Togo has only one opposition party which is UFC. All the rest of the opposition parties are finance by RPT regime. Patrick Lawson was arrested in Ghana for fraud and it was Faure Gnassingbe and Bodjona who bailed him out- Google it. You know where Leopold Gnininvi lives?
    All the Togolese know about all those parties that RPT regime are financing just to destroy the popularity of UFC. We know who they are and we vote for the party that we trust the most. That party is UFC.

  7. zovi Says:

    Sorry, it was Nicolas Lawson actual candidate in togo election 2010 who was bailed in Ghana by the RPT regime- NOT Patrick Lawson. Thank.