Freedom in the World
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President Gnassingbe Eyadema, Africa's longest-serving leader, died in February 2005, after 38 years in power. The military unconstitutionally installed his son, Faure Gnassingbe, but international pressure forced him to hold elections. Gnassingbe's victory, which was disputed by members of the opposition and some international observers, triggered violence that claimed hundreds of lives and forced tens of thousands of Togolese to flee to neighboring countries. Efforts to form a government of national unity failed.
Togoland, a German colony for more three decades until France seized it at the outset of World War I, gained independence in 1960. The country's founding president, Sylvanus Olympio, was murdered in 1963 as Gnassingbe 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. The October 2002 legislative elections, in which the ruling Rally of the Togolese People party captured 72 of 81 parliamentary seats, were neither free nor fair. Leading opposition parties boycotted the vote to protest preparations for the polls, which they said would prevent the holding of a free and fair election.
Eyadema, who won fraudulent elections in 1993 and 1998, secured another five-year term as president in 2003 with 57 percent of the vote, compared with 34 percent for Emmanuel Bob-Akitani of Olympio's Union of Forces for Change (UFC). Four other candidates shared the remainder of the vote. The European Union (EU) declined to send observers, saying it was unlikely that the vote would be fair. Monitors from the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), however, claimed that the elections were free and fair. In April 2004, the government pledged to undertake 22 democratic reforms, including launching talks with the political opposition and amending press and communications laws.
Eyadema's death in February 2005 prompted the military to install his son, Faure Gnassingbe. Gnassingbe, who studied in France and the United States and has a background in business, had served as minister for telecommunications prior to his father's death. ECOWAS and the AU condemned the succession as a military coup and pushed for elections. Gnassingbe relented, and the poll was held in April. Four candidates contested the election, which became a race between Emmanuel Bob-Akitani, deputy leader of the UFC-the largest party in the opposition alliance- and Gnassingbe. The opposition, in a rare sign of unity, rallied behind Bob-Akitani. The favored challenger, Gilchrist Olympio, son of Sylvanus Olympio, was barred from running because he had lived in exile since 1992. Gnassingbe was declared the winner of the poll with 60 percent of the vote, compared with 38 percent for Bob-Akitani.
Western diplomats cited incidents of fraud, including allegations that there were almost a million phantom voters, swelling the ranks of those eligible to vote by a third; irregularities in the revising of the electoral rolls; and many cases of the military snatching ballot boxes ahead of the ballot count. Numerous instances of intimidation and repression by security forces and members of the ruling party were also cited. The Constitutional Court rejected an opposition challenge that the election had been rigged.
Opposition supporters immediately took to the streets to protest the results, clashing with ruling party supporters and security forces. The resulting violence claimed between 400 and 500 lives, according to a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR). Thousands of others were wounded. Some 40,000 people fled to neighboring countries. The United Nations said that most of those killed in Togo were attacked in their homes, and that security forces bore the greatest responsibility for the violence and human rights violations.
Many expressed disappointment that African leaders backed the poll results because the leaders' stand on Togo was seen as a test for their commitment to safeguard good governance and democracy on the continent. In the end, the African leaders sought a compromise solution: the formation of a unity government. However, talks between the ruling party and main radical opposition parties broke down. The leader of a moderate opposition party, Edem Kodjo, was named prime minister; Kodjo, an economist, had served in the position under Eyadema in the 1990s. Most key cabinet posts went to the ruling party. Kpatcha Gnassingbe, Faure's brother, was named defense minister.
The EU imposed sanctions on Togo more than a decade ago because of the government's resistance to democratic reform. Togo's economy is suffering from the EU sanctions, as well as from corruption and mismanagement. Corruption, military spending, and large, inefficient state-owned companies impede economic growth; 80 percent of Togolese are engaged in subsistence agriculture. In May 2005, the AU lifted the sanctions it had imposed on Togo after the military installed Gnassingbe as president. Sanctions imposed by the ECOWAS were removed as soon as Gnassingbe stepped down and agreed to hold elections.
Citizens of Togo cannot change their government democratically. Presidential elections in 1993 and 1998 were blatantly fraudulent. Gnassingbe Eyadema's supporters in the National Assembly began setting the stage in 2002 for his victory in the June 2003 presidential election by changing the constitution to allow him to run for a third term. Lawmakers amended the electoral code, reducing the power of the electoral commission and compromising its impartiality. To help assure Eyadema's win, the Constitutional Court barred the president's main rival and opposition leader, Gilchrist Olympio, from participating in the polls. Members of the unicameral National Assembly are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms.
Corruption in Togo has been a serious impediment to development. Togo was not ranked by Transparency International in its 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of speech and of the press is legally guaranteed, but these rights are not always respected in practice. At least 15 private newspapers publish in Lome. More than a dozen independent newspapers publish sporadically, and there are many private radio stations, most of which operate as pirate stations. Most of the independent broadcast media outlets, however, offer little vibrant local news coverage or commentary. The National Assembly in 2004 amended the press and communications laws to remove prison terms for most offenses. International press freedom groups welcomed the move but said that they would watch to see how the amended laws are applied. Prison sentences could still be imposed in cases of journalists found guilty of advocating theft, murder, or racial hatred, or subverting security forces from "their duty to the country." Reporting about corruption has often landed Togolese journalists in jail. Internet access is unrestricted.
Constitutionally protected religious freedom is generally respected. Academic freedom is not respected, and government informers and security forces maintain a presence on campuses. Informers report on the activities of suspected opponents of the government.
Freedom of assembly and association is often restricted for the government's political opponents. Demonstrations are often banned or violently halted. Human rights groups are closely monitored and sometimes harassed. Authorities banned public rallies for about two weeks after Eyadema's death in 2005.
Togo's constitution includes the right to form and join unions, except for "essential" workers such as security forces. Nevertheless, only 20 percent of the labor force is unionized. Unions have the right to bargain collectively, but this right is restricted in practice.
The judiciary is 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. Extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture continue. Security forces commit abuses with impunity, and illegal detention is common.
Antigovernment protesters and security forces clashed several times between the time of Eyadema's death and the election. According to a report by the UNCHR, commando units within the army had been tasked with stopping demonstrators and militants, collecting bodies, and then "systematically [disposing] of them so that they could not be counted." In addition to killings, there were reports of abduction, torture, and rape. The UN report said that opposition militants also perpetrated attacks and looted and destroyed property belonging to suspected members of the ruling party. The report recommended overhauling the military, which is weighted with members of the ruling family's northern Kabiye ethnic group. Most of the refugees who fled to Benin and Ghana are young men from the south of the country.
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 Kabiye 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 he may legally choose to 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, and a law prohibiting the practice is not enforced. Several organizations promote the rights of women.
Child trafficking for the purpose of slavery is a problem in Togo. The National Assembly passed a law in 2005 providing tough sentences for child traffickers. The legislation, which was pending promulgation, stipulates that child traffickers and their collaborators could face up to 10 years in prison and heavy fines. The U.S. State Department, which in 2005 named Togo as the only country in West Africa that was not doing enough to end child trafficking, threatened sanctions.