Hundreds of thousands of Togolese protest for reform


A man holds up a sign, which reads: "Faure still how many death by you", during an opposition protest calling for the immediate resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe in Lome, Togo, 6 September 2017

JOHANNESBURG – In unprecedented demonstrations, hundreds of thousands of Togolese have taken to the streets of several cities across the country calling for political reforms.

Aime Adi, head of Amnesty International in the West African country, told AFP news agency that “at least 100,000” were in the capital, Lome, with similar demonstrations taking place in some 10 other cities.

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Jean-Pierre Fabre, the opposition party leader, for his part, estimated that more than one million people were on the streets of Lome, an unverified figure.

The protests have revolved around denouncing President Faure Gnassingbe whose family has been in power for the last 50 years.

The younger Gnassingbe took over from his father Gnassingbe Eyadema who ruled Togo for 40 years.

Calls for constitutional reforms come despite apparent government concessions to these demands.

On Tuesday night, Gnassingbe chaired a cabinet meeting, approving ministers’ plans for a bill about restrictions on terms in office and changes to the voting system, something the opposition has been calling for since 2005.

“This bill to modify the constitution concerns specifically the limitations of mandates and voting procedures,” said a government statement, referring to article 59 of the constitution.

However, the parliament which is currently on summer vacation only returns for its next sitting in October and exact details of the proposals remain vague.

And the demonstrations appear to be a direct result from most of the country’s opposition groups deciding to mass in Lome, and 10 provincial cities on Wednesday, despite government attempts at reform.

What the opposition groups want is an acceleration of constitutional reforms, including the limit on how many terms a president can serve and the introduction of a two-round voting system.

“Unir (Unite, the president’s ruling party) calls for talks as soon as it is cornered,” said Tikpi Atchadam, the head of the Panafrican National Party.

“I think the people have made up their mind because they’re fed up,” he added, calling on Gnassingbe to “leave by the front door”.

“I don’t believe in dialogue with the regime anymore,” he said.

These developments portend possible unrest.

In 2005, hundreds of people were killed during violent protests following the death of Gnassingbe Eyadema and the election victory of his son.

The president was re-elected in 2010 and 2015, although the opposition rejected the results.

In August, several people also lost their lives in the city of Sokode during anti-Gnassinbge protests.

Opposition leaders, however, estimated that the death toll was at least seven.