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 improved from 6 to 5, and its status improved from Not Free to Partly Free, due to the success of the 2007 legislative elections, including the ability of Togo’s opposition parties to demonstrate and campaign without interference.
In October 2007, Togo held its first genuinely free and fair legislative elections. The ruling Rally of the Togolese People party maintained a majority in the National Assembly, though the main opposition party, which also won a number of seats, alleged fraud. The opposition was able to hold rallies and demonstrations without incident during the campaign. Separately, large-scale human rights abuses linked to the 2005 coup and presidential election remained unpunished.
France and Britain seized the German colony of Togoland at the outset of World War I. The British portion became part of Ghana, and the French portion gained independence as Togo in 1960. Gnassingbe Eyadema, then a demobilized sergeant, overthrew the civilian government in a bloodless coup in 1967. Using mock elections and a loyal military, he then presided over close to 40 years of repressive rule—the longest reign of any leader on the continent.
In 1991, under pressure from European governments, Eyadema agreed to institute a multiparty system and prepare for free elections. However, his soldiers and secret police harassed, attacked, or killed opposition supporters who grew too assertive. By 1993, he had dissolved the new transitional government, and thousands of opposition supporters had fled abroad.
Eyadema allowed opposition participation in subsequent elections, but military harassment and legal manipulation ensured that his Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party dominated all balloting. Eyadema secured another five-year term with 57 percent of the vote in 2003, compared with 34 percent for Emmanuel Bob-Akitani, who ran for the opposition Union of Forces for Change (UFC) after candidate Gilchrist Olympio was eliminated through a manufactured technicality.
In an effort to rebuild trade relations with the EU, which had been severed in 1993 due to human rights abuses, Eyadema signed a pledge in April 2004 to undertake 22 reform measures, including the launch of talks with the political opposition.
Eyadema died of natural causes in February 2005, and the military quickly installed his son, Faure Gnassingbe, in his place, amending the constitution to bolster the legality of the move. Protests and opposition activity were formally banned for two months after Eyadema’s death; demonstrations were nonetheless frequent and the law enforcement response brutal. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) condemned the military coup, severed economic ties, and pushed for immediate elections.
Gnassingbe relented, holding an April poll that confirmed him as president. While the results were endorsed by ECOWAS, other observers cited the presence of a million phantom voters on the electoral rolls, widespread intimidation, and the enforcement of a complete broadcast and communications blackout on election day. Subsequent clashes between opposition supporters and security forces killed almost 500 people, injured thousands more, and forced 40,000 to flee the country. A subsequent report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that most of those killed were attacked in their homes, and that security forces bore the greatest responsibility.
In 2006, the promise of renewed EU economic aid convinced the RPT and opposition parties to hold reconciliation talks. All participants agreed in August to form a government of national unity, create an independent electoral commission, and set October 2007 as the deadline for legislative elections. The UFC pulled out of the agreement less than a month later, claiming that Gnassingbe had reneged on a promise to grant the interim premiership to a UFC member.
The UFC alleged fraud in the October 2007 elections, but most domestic and international observers, including the EU, considered the polls to be transparent. With a reported 85 percent turnout, the RPT won 50 of 81 National Assembly seats. The UFC took 27, and another opposition party, the Action Committee for Renewal (CAR), took the remainder. The electoral commission that presided over the polls was comprised of two representatives from the RPT, one each from the five opposition parties, one from the coalition government, and an independent chairperson.
The elections were a key item on the list of 22 steps required for a renewal of EU economic aid. The bloc released a portion of the aid ($20.2 million) following the signing of the August 2006 political agreement and provided $18 million to support the 2007 electoral process. Despite the fact that the president was not chosen in equally free and fair elections, the EU has still promised to restore all economic aid to Togo.
Togo is not an electoral democracy. Despite international consensus that the 2007 legislative elections were generally free and fair, the 2005 presidential vote was blatantly fraudulent and marked by serious violence. The president is elected to five-year terms and appoints the prime minister. Members of the 81-seat, unicameral National Assembly are elected to five-year terms. The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) was able to function without excessive political interference in 2007, and technology brought in from the Democratic Republic of Congo eased the registration of eligible voters. The ruling RPT remains the dominant party, but the opposition UFC and CAR parties won a significant share of seats.
Corruption continues to be a serious impediment to development and stability. Despite the successful electoral process, corruption and bribes remain a central mechanism for achieving political goals. Togo was ranked 143 of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are legally guaranteed. In 2004, President Gnassingbe Eyadema abolished prison sentences for libel and prohibited the seizure or closure of media outlets without judicial approval. Nonetheless, these policy changes are infrequently respected in practice. Journalists were particularly susceptible to government harassment during the 2005 presidential election, and self-censorship was widespread in 2007 due to the culture of impunity that continues to pervade the country. The government regularly arrested or suspended dissenting journalists and media outlets on allegations of “unethical” operations during the year. One such journalist, the widely respected Daniel Lawson-Drackey, was indefinitely suspended after he accused a government minister of corruption. The government runs Togo’s only daily newspaper, Togo Press, as well as the only national television station, Togo Television. Private print and broadcast outlets exist, but they are more limited in capacity and many are heavily politicized. Access to the internet was generally unrestricted despite reports that its content is being monitored by the government.
Constitutionally protected religious freedom is generally respected, though tensions sometimes arise between Togo’s Christian majority and the Muslim minority. In 2006 the government rejected the registration applications of a number of religious groups for activities it deemed to be immoral. While government informers and security forces are believed to maintain a presence on university campuses and in other public places, ordinary citizens are now able to speak more openly and critically than they had been in previous years.
Freedoms of assembly and association have not historically been respected in Togo. All demonstrations were banned following Eyadema’s death in 2005, and any political party planning a demonstration on public property must still notify government officials. However, during the 2007 elections, opposition political parties peacefully held rallies and demonstrations without violent crackdowns by the security forces. The fact that Gilchrist Olympio, the exiled UFC candidate, was able to return to Togo and campaign without interference was particularly impressive.
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 attacks on state security.
The judicial system is understaffed, inadequately funded, and heavily influenced by the presidency. In May 2007, as agreed in August 2006, the government reorganized the constitutional court. However, the changes were superficial, as six of the nine judges were chosen by the RPT-dominated parliament and the other three were appointed by the president. Prisons are overcrowded and reportedly rife with corruption, and many inmates are pretrial detainees or incarcerated for political reasons.
Ever since the campaign of extrajudicial killings, abductions, and intimidation linked to the 2005 presidential election, human rights groups and victims have been calling for the prosecution of those responsible. More than 100 victims formally lodged complaints with prosecutors in 2007, but no suspect has been tried to date.
Discrimination is common among the country’s 40 ethnic groups; during the 2005 electoral conflict, violence often erupted between northern and southern groups. While tensions persist, no serious incidents of interethnic violence were reported in 2007. The army has traditionally been composed of soldiers from the president’s northern Kabiye ethnic group and has played a central role in the political system, including the unconstitutional installation of Faure Gnassingbe as president in 2005 and the concurrent abuse of the political opposition. As part of the 2006 political settlement, security forces were slated for reform. A law passed in early 2007 mandated that the military be kept separate from the political system and permitted women to serve. While implementation of the measure remains uncertain, the security forces performed admirably in ensuring peace during the October legislative elections.
Despite constitutional guarantees of equality, women’s opportunities for education and employment are limited, and improvements are either absent or slow in coming. 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 legal rights of a minor.
As in much of West Africa, child trafficking for the purpose of slavery is a serious problem in Togo. A long-pending child trafficking law was finally approved in July 2005. However, inconsistencies in the measure have since made implementation difficult and prosecutions rare. A draft child code would improve the law if adopted, and a bill criminalizing all forms of human trafficking has been debated in the National Assembly for the last two years.