Freedom in the World
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In August 2006, during talks held in Burkina Faso, all of the major Togolese political parties signed an agreement, which formed a government of national unity, created an independent electoral commission and scheduled legislative elections for October 2007. However, implementation was frequently halted by disputes between rival political factions. Nonetheless, as a result of the agreement, the EU agreed to release $20.2 million in aid contingent upon the successful completion of the 2007 legislative election. At the same time, little to no progress has been made toward investigating the large-scale human rights abuses that took place during both the coup and the presidential election in 2005; not a single perpetrator of the violence has been prosecuted.
Togoland, a German colony for more than three decades, was seized by France and Britain at the outset of World War I. The British portion became part of Ghana, and the French portion gained independence as Togo in 1960. The country’s founding president, Sylvanus Olympio, was murdered in 1963 in one of the first coups in independent African history to topple a country’s democratically elected government. Gnassingbe Eyadema, then a demobilized sergeant who had served in France’s colonial wars, participated in the revolt. He went on to lead a bloodless 1967 coup against Olympio’s civilian successor, assuming direct power and suspending the constitution. He maintained his repressive rule through a single-party political system, mock elections, and a faithful military.
In 1991, under pressure from European governments and the newly democratized African countries surrounding Togo, Eyadema agreed to institute a multiparty system and prepare for free elections. However, soldiers and secret police loyal to Eyadema harassed, attacked, or killed opposition supporters who became too assertive and too vocal with their criticisms. By 1993, Eyadema had dissolved the newly appointed government, and thousands of opposition supporters had fled to neighboring Benin and Ghana.
Despite Eyadema’s tolerance of opposition participation in the electoral process, his Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party dominated all subsequent elections, primarily through military campaigns of harassment and intimidation coupled with alleged fraud and ballot stuffing. Eyadema also altered the constitution just prior to the 2003 presidential election to prevent the strongest opposition candidate—Gilchrist Olympio, son of former president Sylvanus Olympio—from running, by requiring that all candidates reside in Togo for a year preceding an election; Olympio has lived in exile in Ghana and France since surviving an assassination attempt in 1992.
Eyadema secured another five-year term in 2003 with 57 percent of the vote, compared with 34 percent for Emmanuel Bob-Akitani, who ran in Olympio’s place for the opposition Union of Forces for Change (UFC). The European Union (EU) declined to send observers, saying it was unlikely that the vote would be fair. However, monitors from the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) claimed that the election was free and fair.
In an effort to rebuild trade relations with the EU—which had been severed since 1993 due to human rights abuses and Eyadema’s resistance to democratic change—Eyadema signed a pledge in April 2004 to undertake 22 reform measures, including the launch of talks with the political opposition and amendments to press and communications laws.
At the time of his death in February 2005, Eyadema had presided over the longest-running dictatorship on the African continent. Days after his passing, the military installed his son, Faure Gnassingbe, as head of state and amended the constitution to bolster the legality of the move. Gnassingbe, who studied in France and the United States and had a background in business, had served as minister for telecommunications prior to his father’s death. Natchaba Ouattara, the president of the National Assembly and the rightful successor to the presidency, was prevented from returning to Togo after attending a political meeting in Brussels. Protests and opposition activity were formally banned for two months after Eyadema’s death, but demonstrations were frequent and the law enforcement response was brutal. ECOWAS and the AU condemned the military coup, severed economic ties, and pushed for immediate elections and a “return” to democratic rule. Gnassingbe relented, and the poll was held in April 2005.
Gnassingbe was officially declared the winner, with 60 percent of the vote, and the results were backed by African leaders and ECOWAS. Even so, American and European diplomats and other observers cited numerous incidents of fraud, including allegations that there were almost a million phantom voters, swelling the ranks of eligible voters by a third; irregularities in the revising of the electoral rolls; and many cases of the military snatching ballot boxes ahead of the official count. Numerous instances of intimidation and repression by security forces and members of the ruling party were also cited, along with direct attacks on opposition media outlets and the enforcement of complete broadcast and communication silence on election day.
Clashes between opposition supporters and security forces escalated after the results were announced. The violence claimed between 400 and 500 lives, according to a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; thousands of others were wounded. Some 40,000 people fled to neighboring countries over the course of 2005. 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.
In August 2005, Gnassingbe named Edem Kodjo—the leader of a moderate opposition party and an economist who had served as prime minister under Eyadema in the 1990s—as the new interim prime minister. The RPT and leaders of the opposition were cajoled by African heads of state—and by the promise of renewed EU economic aid—into holding talks to alleviate the political tension and prepare for legislative elections. The talks were generally sporadic and unproductive.
However, at a round of talks held in neighboring Burkina Faso in August 2006, all participating parties finally signed an agreement that formed a government of national unity, created an independent electoral commission, and scheduled legislative elections for October 2007. The agreement also proposed investigations into the 2005 human rights abuses and a restructuring of the military, although there has been little progress on either of those points. Less than a month after the deal was struck, the main opposition party, the UFC, complained about the implementation of a component that allegedly entailed a UFC representative being named as interim prime minister. Instead, Gnassingbe named Yawovi Agboyibo, a human rights lawyer and member of the Action Committee for Renewal party, a distinct opposition party, to the position.
The preparations for legislative elections were an integral part of the 22 steps required for a renewal of EU economic aid. Soon after the conclusion of the Burkina Faso negotiations, the EU agreed to release $20.2 million to support rural development. The continuance of the aid was contingent upon the free and fair conduct of the upcoming elections.
Togo is not an electoral democracy. The 2005 presidential election, in which Faure Gnassingbe was confirmed in office with 60 percent of the vote, was blatantly fraudulent and marked by violence. Democratic legislative elections are planned for 2007 and are to be monitored by the newly formed National Electoral Commission (CENI). The president is elected to five-year terms, and appoints prime minister. Members of the 81-seat, unicameral National Assembly are elected to five-year terms.
During the 2006 Burkina Faso talks, the rival parties agreed that the new CENI would consist of 10 seats for opposition parties, 5 for the ruling RPT, and 2 each for the cabinet and civil society groups. Nonetheless, the most popular opposition figure, Gilchrist Olympio, is still prohibited from participating in any elections because he lives abroad.
Corruption in Togo has been a serious impediment to development and stability. The Anti-Corruption Commission has been largely ineffective. It did not follow fair and transparent procedures in its investigations of corruption allegations against relatively low-level and former high-level officials; allegations lodged against current senior officials remained uninvestigated. Togo was ranked 130 of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are legally guaranteed in Togo, but these rights are not always respected in practice. In 2004, then president Gnassingbe Eyadema initiated legal reforms that improved the status of press freedom in Togo as part of an effort to end EU trade sanctions. The improvements included amendments to Togo’s harsh 2000 Press and Communications Law that abolished prison sentences for libel and prohibited the government from seizing and closing media outlets without judicial approval. However, following Eyadema’s death in 2005, the independent media faced frequent harassment from government security personnel. All media communications, including those on the internet, were silenced on the day of the April 2005 presidential election and remained obstructed in subsequent months. In 2006, the environment for the press largely returned to its state under Eyadema, with journalists wary of criticizing the government but infrequently facing direct physical harassment. However, in November, two of President Gnassingbe’s brothers physically attacked a journalist with the private radio station Nana FM for having criticized their late father. Media outlets that cover the government sympathetically continue to receive favorable treatment from government officials. Coupled with the severe intimidation campaign of 2005, this has led to self-censorship among much of the press.
Constitutionally protected religious freedom is generally respected, though tension sometimes emerges between Togo’s Christian majority and Muslims, who make up 15 percent of the population. In an apparent effort to rebuild interfaith ties, Gnassingbe in October 2006 joined with Muslims in Lome to celebrate the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. Academic freedom is not usually respected, and government informers and security forces are believed to maintain a presence on university campuses.
Freedom of assembly and association are often restricted for the government’s political opponents, and all demonstrations were banned immediately after Eyadema’s death in 2005. Though citizens’ ability to assemble peacefully improved in 2006, the memory of 2005 continues to discourage anti-RPT rallies, and many people refuse to go back to the Be district of Lome, an opposition stronghold where the majority of the 2005 nighttime raids by security forces took place. Any political party planning a demonstration on public property must notify the minister of territorial administration and decentralization. Violent demonstrations in August 2006 broke out in the northern city of Kara, an RPT stronghold, after police failed to apprehend the suspected murderer of a local motorcycle-taxi driver. Unable to disperse the crowd of angry motorcycle-taxi drivers on their own, the police called in military troops, who used tear gas and imposed a strict curfew.
Togo’s constitution includes the right to form and join labor unions, with an exception for “essential” workers such as security personnel. Unions have the right to bargain collectively, but the government often views demands for better working conditions as political manipulation or attacks on state security. In November 2006, the five main syndicates in Togo joined together and staged a general strike to protest the government’s lack of progress in implementing a labor agreement signed earlier in the year.
The judiciary is heavily influenced by the president, and tribal courts handle many minor matters. Courts are understaffed and inadequately funded, pretrial detentions are lengthy, and prisons are severely overcrowded. Lome’s central prison, intended for 500 inmates, currently holds close to 1,200. Almost all of them are pretrial detainees, and many have been incarcerated for political reasons. There are also reports that prison guards require inmates to pay fees for access to medical treatment, showers, and places to sleep.
Following the 2005 campaign of extrajudicial killings, abduction, and intimidation, human rights groups and victims called for justice in the prosecution of those responsible. However, in the summer of 2006, then prime minister Edem Kodjo ordered the police and the courts “to urgently abandon all pending cases and investigations against persons believed responsible for crimes in connection with the elections.” Soon afterward, two senior army officers suspected of past human rights abuses were promoted, and no investigation into their behavior is currently expected. An Amnesty International report released in 2006 noted that the country’s long-standing culture of impunity made the 2005 abuses possible and did not subside in 2006. In the course of the Burkina Faso negotiations, all parties agreed that impunity was a serious problem in Togo, especially during elections, and they pledged to establish a commission to investigate all past politically motivated violence. However, this proposal has not been implemented, and independent investigations and impartial hearings on the 2005 abuses are still lacking.
Ethnic discrimination is rife among the country’s 40 ethnic groups and, during the 2005 electoral conflict, violence often erupted between northern and southern groups. While tensions still persist and discrimination remains prevalent, the level of inter-ethnic violence diminished in 2006. The army is composed predominantly of soldiers from the president’s northern Kabiye ethnic group and was responsible for many of the 2005 abuses. Critics have called for the Togolese military to be restructured to more accurately reflect the diversity of the population and ensure equal treatment for all ethnic groups, including the Kabiye’s traditional rivals in the south. In the agreement signed in Burkina Faso in August 2006, the security forces were slated for reform, but there was no action on that front by year’s end.
Despite constitutional guarantees of equality, women’s opportunities for education and employment are limited. A husband may legally bar his wife from working or choose to receive her earnings. Customary law discriminates against women in divorce and inheritance giving women the mere legal rights of a minor. Female genital mutilation is widely practiced by the country’s northern ethnic groups, and a law prohibiting it is not enforced.
Child trafficking for the purpose of slavery is a problem in Togo, as in much of West Africa. Togo serves as both a an active participant in and a point of transit for the trade. A long-pending, tough anti–child trafficking law was finally approved in July 2005. However, inconsistencies in the law have since made implementation difficult and prosecutions rare. A draft child code, currently pending, would improve the law if adopted, and a law criminalizing all forms of human trafficking is currently being debated in the National Assembly.