Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Togo's political rights rating declined from 5 to 6, and its status from Partly Free to Not Free, due to the holding of legislative elections that were neither free nor fair.
After numerous delays, Togo held flawed legislative elections in October 2002 that were supposed to be more credible than the 1999 legislative polls, which were boycotted by the opposition over allegations of electoral fraud. Nevertheless, a boycott of the 2002 polls was led by the Union of Forces for Change of veteran opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio. The ruling Rally of the Togolese People won 72 of 81 parliamentary seats. Under a 1999 agreement with the political opposition, the polls were to have been organized and supervised by an independent electoral commission. However, the government changed the electoral framework that had been agreed upon. The National Assembly in December 2002 amended the constitution to allow President Gnasignbe Eyadema, Africa's longest-serving head of state, to run for a third term in 2003. The National Assembly also passed a restrictive media bill that increased prison sentences for defaming public officials. Eyadema in 2002 resumed his role as regional elder statesman by mediating talks between the government of Cote d'Ivoire and rebels.
Togoland was a German colony for more three decades until France seized it at the outset of World War I. It was held as French territory until its independence in 1960. The country's founding president, Sylvanus Olympio, was murdered in 1963 as Eyadema, then a demobilized sergeant who had served in France's colonial wars, led an army coup to topple the country's democratically elected government. After assuming direct power in 1967, Eyadema suspended the constitution and extended his repressive rule through mock elections and a puppet political party. In 1991, the organizing of free political parties was legalized, and multiparty elections were promised. The transition faltered, however, as soldiers and secret police harassed, attacked, or killed opposition supporters. Eyadema won fraudulent elections in 1993 and 1998.
Eighty percent of Togolese are engaged in subsistence agriculture. Corruption, military spending, and large, inefficient state-owned companies impede economic growth. The government in 2001 created a national anticorruption commission, and several public and private officials were arrested for alleged fraud. Western aid to Togo remained suspended in 2002 because of failure to improve political rights and human rights.
The Togolese people cannot choose their representatives freely. In the 1993 presidential election, which the opposition boycotted, President Gnasingbe Eyadema claimed to have won 96 percent of the vote. His June 1998 reelection was blatantly fraudulent, with the government claiming he had won approximately 51 percent of the vote, thereby enabling him to avoid a runoff election against the single opposition candidate. Electoral rolls were suspect, and multiple voter cards were issued. The electoral commission was not independent and was either unable or unwilling to provide adequate logistical support. Hundreds of domestic, EU-trained observers were denied accreditation.
The October 2002 legislative elections were neither free nor fair. Leading opposition parties boycotted the vote to protest preparations for the polls, which they said prevented a free and fair election from taking place. The ruling party won 72 of 81 parliamentary seats. Amendments to the electoral code violated the Lome Framework Agreement of 1999 that the government had signed with the political opposition. The agreement had provided for an independent electoral commission that would have 10 members from the ruling party and 10 from the opposition. The amendments reduced membership by half and stipulated that the commission would reach its decisions by majority and not by consensus. Presidential candidates are also now required to reside in Togo for at least one year prior to presidential elections. The country's main opposition leader, Gilchrist Olympio, lives in exile.
The judiciary is still heavily influenced by the president. Traditional courts handle many minor matters. Courts are understaffed and inadequately funded. Pretrial detentions are lengthy, and prisons are severely overcrowded. Killing, arbitrary arrest, and torture continue. Security forces commit abuses with impunity, and illegal detention is common. Human rights groups are closely monitored and sometimes harassed.
At least 15 private newspapers publish in Lome, but independent journalists are subject to harassment and the perpetual threat of various criminal charges. There are more than a dozen independent newspapers that publish sporadically and some 30 private radio stations, most of which operate as pirates. Most of the independent broadcast media outlets, however, offer little vibrant local news coverage or commentary. The Press and Communication Code of 1998 declares in its first article that the media are free, but restricts press freedom in most of the 108 other articles.
The National Assembly in September 2002 passed an amendment to the media bill that imposes heavy sentences for "defaming or insulting" the president, state institutions, courts, the armed forces, and public administration bodies. The amendment increases the penalty for "insulting the head of state" from the previous penalty of one to six months imprisonment to a jail term of one to five years. Authorities have seized newspaper print runs, harassed and jailed journalists, and shuttered media outlets. The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Togo "has one of the most repressive climates for journalists in Africa." A number of journalists were arrested and sentenced to prison terms during 2002.
Constitutionally protected religious freedom is generally respected. Freedom of assembly is allowed, but is often restricted among the government's political opponents. Demonstrations are often banned or violently halted. Ethnic discrimination is rife among the country's 40 ethnic groups. Political and military power is narrowly held by members of a few ethnic groups from northern Togo, especially Eyadema's Kabye ethnic group. Southerners dominate the country's commerce, and violence occasionally flares between the two groups.
Despite constitutional guarantees of equality, women's opportunities for education and employment are limited. A husband may legally bar his wife from working or receive her earnings. Customary law bars women's rights in divorce and denies inheritance rights to widows. Violence against women is common. Female genital mutilation is widely practiced by the country's northern ethnic groups. A 1998 law prohibiting the practice is not enforced. Several organizations promote the rights of women. Child trafficking is a problem.
Togo's constitution includes the right to form and join unions, but essential workers are excluded. Health care workers may not strike. Only 20 percent of the labor force is unionized. Unions have the right to bargain collectively, but this right is restricted.