Togo | Freedom House

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President Faure Gnassingbé’s government coalition between his Rally of the Togolese People party and a faction of the opposition Union of Forces for Change party continued to hold in 2011. A 2010 ban on political demonstrations continued in 2011 as security forces cracked down on several protests throughout the year. However, the government made some reform efforts, including an audit of government ministries, and a truth and reconciliation commission began hearing testimonies during the year.

Originally part of a German colony that fell under the control of France after World War I, Togo gained its independence in 1960. Gnassingbé Eyadéma, 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.

In 1991, under pressure from European governments, Eyadéma agreed to set up a transitional government and prepare for free elections. However, security forces attacked opposition supporters, forcing thousands to flee abroad, and the transitional government was later dissolved. A series of elections were held during the 1990s, but military harassment and legal manipulation ensured that Eyadéma and his Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party remained in power. Eyadéma secured a new five-year term in 2003. Gilchrist Olympio, the most prominent opposition politician from the Union of Forces for Change (UFC), was prevented from running through a manufactured technicality.

Eyadéma died in February 2005, and the military quickly installed his son, Faure Gnassingbé, as president. While protests and opposition activity were formally banned, demonstrations remained frequent, and the police response was brutal.

Under international pressure, Gnassingbé held an April 2005 election that confirmed him as president. The poll was marred by over a million phantom voters on the electoral rolls, widespread intimidation, and 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.

In 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 schedule legislative elections. In the October 2007 polls, the RPT won 50 of the 81 National Assembly seats, the UFC secured 27 seats, and the Action Committee for Renewal captured the remainder. Polls were deemed to have been transparent and relatively fair, although the lopsided electoral system enabled the RPT to win 62 percent of the seats with just 39 percent of the vote. By the end of 2008, the EU, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF) had restored economic aid.

The electoral code was reformed in 2009 in preparation for the 2010 elections, lifting the residency requirements that previously barred Olympio from running. Nonetheless, in February Olympio was disqualified again for having missed a mandatory physical, leading the UFC to back Jean-Pierre Fabre instead. The UFC’s inability to unite the opposition behind Fabre, the president’s refusal to allow a second round in the election, and the RPT’s dominance over the state media resulted in Gnassingbé’s reelection in March with more than 60 percent of the vote. While the elections were deemed relatively free and fair by observers, a number of irregularities were observed, including vote-buying by the RPT and partisanship within the electoral commission. However, the problems were not considered serious enough to have influenced the outcome of the vote. Fabre immediately contested the results and led a series of weekly protests in Lomé. The Ministry of Security responded by banning demonstrations in Lomé and dispersing Fabre’s supporters with tear gas and water cannons.

The UFC splintered in May 2010 following disagreements over how to address the contested election results. Fabre, refusing to accept the results, boycotted parliament, while a faction led by Olympio agreed to enter into a coalition government with the RPT. UFC members were subsequently appointed to high-level cabinet and ministry positions. The RPT-UFC coalition agreement included a Monitoring Committee chaired by Olympio to help resolve inter-party disputes and marked the first time the opposition had been included in the government since 1990. 

The coalition government held throughout 2011 as Gnassingbé’s administration took steps towards reform, including moving forward with the first census in a decade, conducting an audit of government ministries and public service agencies, and exploring the possibility of universal health care. These moves have attracted international donors, including the West African Development Fund, the World Bank and France, to help fund infrastructure improvements and other development projects.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Togo is not an electoral democracy. Despite international consensus that the 2007 legislative elections and the 2010 presidential elections were carried out in a relatively free and fair manner, the structure of the electoral system largely ensures that President Faure Gnassingbé will remain in power. 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, using a party-list system that favors the RPT.

Corruption continues to be a serious problem, with nepotism and bribery commonplace. In 2011, the government worked towards improving transparency with a large-scale audit of all ministries and public services to trim government spending. Togo was ranked 143 out of 183 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of the press is guaranteed by law, though it is often disregarded in practice. Impunity for crimes against journalists and frequent defamation suits encourage self-censorship. A 2009 law gives the state broadcasting council, the High Authority of Broadcasting and Communications, the power to impose severe penalties—including the suspension of publications or broadcasts and the confiscation of press cards—if journalists are found to have made “serious errors.” This law is frequently used, and in November 2010, the Posts and Telecommunications Regulation Agency (ART&P) suspended the operations of three independent radio stations for not having the right permits. The stations remained shut down throughout 2011, provoking public protests by media workers. In August, a demonstration by press freedom advocates criticizing the country’s National Intelligence Agency for threatening and attacking journalists with impunity was dispersed by police using tear gas. Private print and broadcast outlets are limited in capacity and often heavily politicized. Access to the internet is generally unrestricted, but few people use the medium due to high costs.

Constitutionally protected religious freedom is generally respected. Islam and Christianity are recognized as official religions, but other religious groups must register as associations. While political discussion is prohibited on religious radio and television outlets, and government informers are known to watch the streets, ordinary citizens are now able to speak more openly than in previous years.

Government security forces are believed to maintain a presence on university campuses. In 2011, students at the University of Lomé protested government-enacted education reforms. For over eight weeks, students staged sit-ins, refusing to attend classes. In June, police attempts to disperse the student protesters resulted in violent clashes. By August, however, international pressure led the government to hold talks with leaders of the student union and agree to their core demands, including an increase in the number of exams and lectures available to help students transition to a new academic system and finish their studies more quickly, improved facilities in the library and lecture halls, and a new information and communication technology center.

Freedoms of assembly and association were challenged throughout 2011. The Ministry of Security’s 2010 temporary ban on demonstrations was extended into 2011, and security forces blocked access to protest locations and used force to disperse a diverse array of demonstrations, including those supporting former presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Fabre, demonstrations advocating for press freedom, and student protests against education reforms and lack of adequate facilities. In March 2011, the Council of Ministers adopted a draft law allegedly aimed at improving the rights of freedom of assembly and demonstration.  The new law, which was adopted by the National Assembly in May and heavily criticized by civil society, requires that demonstrations receive prior authorization and only be held during certain times of the day. Togo’s constitution guarantees the right to form and join labor unions, and most workers have the right to strike. A number of strikes occurred in 2011, including by the student union, teachers’ union, and doctors’ union. The government eventually met with each of these striking groups. While the government agreed to the students’ demands, the doctors eventually abandoned their strike when the government appointed a new health minister.

The judicial system, including the Constitutional Court, lacks resources and is heavily influenced by the presidency. The high-profile trial of leaders of the alleged 2009 coup attempt concluded in 2011 with the conviction of 33 defendants, including the President’s half-brother, Kpatcha Gnassingbé.  Kpatcha and others were sentenced to life imprisonment despite a lack of evidence against them and verified accounts of their torture while in detention. Overcrowding is a serious problem in Togolese prisons, and prisoners lack adequate food and access to medical care.

After widespread domestic and international demands for investigations into the political violence that scarred Togo between 1958 and 2005, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC)—including a diverse array of civil society representatives—was finally launched in 2009, but did not begin hearing testimonies until 2011. The TJRC has no punitive power and can only recommend prosecutions and reparations, though none were made in 2011 as the commission focused on holding public hearings and gathering statements from over 20,000 people. Formal hearings for the 523 accepted cases began in August, and the TJRC is expected to release its recommendations by May 2012.

Discrimination is common among the country’s 40 ethnic groups, and tensions have historically divided the country between north and south along political, ethnic, and religious lines. The army is traditionally composed of soldiers from the northern Kabyè group, and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the civil service.

Togolese citizens are typically free to travel overseas and around the country, despite numerous roadblocks set up by vigilante groups or unemployed youths attempting to extort money. Citing security concerns, the government temporarily closed all international borders prior to the 2010 presidential election.

Despite constitutional guarantees of equality, women’s opportunities for education and employment are limited. Customary law discriminates against women in divorce and inheritance, giving them the legal rights of minors. Spousal abuse is a widespread problem due to a family code making men the legal head of household, and spousal rape is not a crime. Child trafficking for the purpose of slavery remains a serious problem, and prosecutions under a 2005 child-trafficking law are rare.