Freedom in the World
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To appease international donors in 2008, President Faure Gnassingbe appointed a nonpartisan prime minister and began discussions on the formation of a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate past injustices. Relations between the government and opposition remained tense during the year, but there were no new reports of political or ethnic violence.
After World War I, the German colony of Togoland was divided between the British and French under League of Nations mandates. The British portion was integrated into 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 set up a transitional government and prepare for free elections. However, his soldiers and secret police attacked opposition supporters, ultimately forcing thousands to flee abroad, and the transitional government was later dissolved. A series of elections were held during the 1990s under a new constitution approved in 1992, but military harassment and legal manipulation ensured that Eyadema and his Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party remained in power. The president secured a new 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.
Eyadema died in February 2005, and the military quickly installed his son, Faure Gnassingbe, in his place. Protests and opposition activity were formally banned for two months after Eyadema’s death; demonstrations were nonetheless frequent, and the law enforcement response was brutal.
Under international pressure, Gnassingbe held an April 2005 election that confirmed him as president. While the results were endorsed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), other observers noted the presence of a million phantom voters on the electoral rolls, widespread intimidation, and the enforcement of a complete communications blackout on election day. Subsequent clashes between opposition supporters and security forces killed almost 500 people, injured thousands, and forced 40,000 to flee the country. UN investigators found that most of those killed were attacked in their homes, and that security forces bore the greatest responsibility.
In August 2006, the promise of renewed economic aid from the European Union (EU)—which had cut off support in 1993—spurred the RPT and opposition parties to agree to form a government of national unity, create an independent electoral commission, and schedule 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 RPT won 50 of the 81 National Assembly seats in the October 2007 elections. The UFC secured 27, while the Action Committee for Renewal (CAR), another opposition party, captured the remainder. Many observers attributed the RPT’s victory to a lopsided electoral system in which the sparsely populated regions in the north have the same number of constituencies as the densely populated areas in the south, where the UFC is strongest. Consequently, the RPT won 62 percent of the legislative seats with just 39 percent of the vote. The UFC alleged fraud, but most international election monitors deemed the polls to have been transparent.
Rather than sharing parliamentary posts with UFC members in keeping with the August 2006 agreement, the RPT appointed party loyalists to the positions of speaker and deputy speaker in late November 2007. Gnassingbe appointed Komlan Mally, an RPT central committee member, to be prime minister a week later in December. The president also eliminated a rival within the RPT by excluding his half-brother, Defense Minister Kpatcha Gnassingbe, from the new cabinet and taking up the defense portfolio himself.
In an effort to appease international donors, Gnassingbe replaced Mally in September 2008 with Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, a nonpartisan technocrat who had most recently served as department head of the Africa Section at the UN Development Programme. While donors praised the new appointment, it did not help the RPT’s relations with the political opposition.
The EU has restored full economic aid to Togo, making it eligible for 123 million euros ($160 million) worth of funding over the next four years. In February 2008, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also resumed cooperation, approving the country for debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative; Togo’s external debt was estimated to total more than $2 billion.
Togo is not an electoral democracy. Despite international consensus that the 2007 legislative elections were relatively 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 also elected to five-year terms. The ruling RPT remains the dominant party, but the opposition UFC and CAR parties won a significant share of seats in the 2007 legislative polls.
Corruption continues to be a serious impediment to development and stability, and the government took no significant steps to tackle the problem in 2008. Togo was ranked 121 of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are guaranteed by law. In 2004, the president abolished prison sentences for libel and prohibited the seizure or closure of media outlets without judicial approval. Nonetheless, these changes have beeninfrequently respected in practice and were blatantly disregarded during the 2005 presidential election. Self-censorship remained widespread in 2008 due to the prevailing impunity for crimes against journalists. Widely respected journalist Daniel Lawson-Drackey, who had been arrested in 2007 after accusing a cabinet minister of corruption, continued to be held without prosecution at the end of 2008, but there were no new reports of attacks or harassment aimed at journalists. The government runs Togo’s only daily newspaper, Togo Press, as well as the only national television station. Private print and broadcast outlets exist, but they are limited in capacity and often heavily politicized. Access to the internet is generally unrestricted despite reports that its content is monitored by the government; however, few people use the internet due to high costs.
Constitutionally protected religious freedom is generally respected, though tensions sometimes arise between Togo’s Christian majority and Muslim minority. Islam and both Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity are recognized as official religions, but other religious groups must register as associations. A number of groups have been denied registrations in recent years, but no such refusals were reported in 2008.
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 in previous years. In 2008, the government dispensed with enrollment fees for primary school, but most schools reported that they did not receive the resources to cope with an influx of new students.
Freedoms of assembly and association have not historically been respected in Togo. All demonstrations were banned following President Gnassingbe Eyadema’s death in 2005, and advance notice is still required for political demonstrations. However, during the 2007 elections, opposition parties held rallies without crackdowns by the security forces, and there were no reports of demonstrations being prevented in 2008. Togo’s constitution includes the right to form and join labor unions, with an exception for “essential” workers such as security personnel, and unions have the right to bargain collectively.
The judicial system is understaffed, inadequately funded, and heavily influenced by the presidency. As agreed in August 2006, the government reorganized the Constitutional Court in 2007. 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.
Human rights groups and victims have repeatedly called for the prosecution of those responsible for the campaign of extrajudicial killings, abductions, and intimidation linked to the 2005 presidential election. In April 2008, President Faure Gnassingbe launched an internationally funded “national consultation” to test the waters for a truth and reconciliation commission required under the 2006 political accord. The government is consulting 3,000 Togolese citizens as part of this endeavor, including a number living abroad. Gnassingbe reportedly favors a commission authorized to dispense financial compensation to victims but not to prosecute perpetrators. Also in 2008, the president appointed Yakoubou Hamadou, an independent civil society member and the president of the Togolese League of Human Rights, to serve as minister of human rights.
Discrimination is common among the country’s 40 ethnic groups, and tensions have historically divided the country between north and south. The army has traditionally been composed of soldiers from the president’s northern Kabiye ethnic group. 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 well in ensuring peace during the October 2007 elections. There were no reports of political or ethnic violence in 2008.
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 them the legal rights of minors.
As in much of West Africa, child trafficking for the purpose of slavery is a serious problem in Togo. A child-trafficking law was approved in 2005, but inconsistencies in the measure have since made implementation difficult and prosecutions rare. In 2007, the Ministry of Child Protection set up a center to give vocational training to destitute children, and a number of trafficking victims have been sent there before returning to their families.