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Togo has held regular multiparty elections since the current constitution was adopted in 1992. However, the country’s politics have been dominated since 1963 by Gnassingbé Eyadéma and his son, the current president, Faure Gnassingbé. Advantages including a security service dominated by the president’s ethnic group, disproportionately drawn election districts, and a fractured opposition have helped President Gnassingbé and his party hold on to power. However, recently the legislature has passed laws to promote good governance and human rights in response to domestic and international pressure. While political violence scarred Togo between 1958 and 2005, it has been rare in recent years.
- In UN-backed meetings held in December, the government met with opposition representatives to discuss plans to hold local elections, though no date was set. The country has not held local elections since 1986.
- In March, the National Assembly approved a freedom of information law.
- Also in March, the National Assembly adopted a law establishing a mechanism within the National Human Rights Commission to prevent torture, but the new body’s independence was questioned.
In 2016, opposition parties and international donors continued to call for the restoration of presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2002, and the organization of local elections, which have not been held since 1986, in violation of the 1992 constitution; local officials are instead appointed by the president. In March, the government agreed to began public consultations in preparation for local elections, and in December, government and opposition representatives participated in UN-backed meetings in preparation for local polls. The opposition called for the polls to be held in 2017, but the government has stated a preference that they be conducted the following year to make time for adequate preparations.
The National Assembly continued to pass laws to promote good governance and human rights in response to domestic and international demands, but the enforcement bodies often lack independence. For example, the National Assembly adopted a law to establish a mechanism within the National Human Rights Commission to prevent torture, but the measure allows the president to appoint the new body’s members without parliamentary approval.
Separately, a freedom of information law was approved in March, though it contains exemptions for some kinds of information, including that deemed relevant to national security.
Opposition leaders boycotted the country’s official independence celebration in April, in protest of the omission of opposition figures from the independent electoral commission, the ongoing failure to hold local elections, and the failure of Togo’s Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) to adequately address past violence committed by members of Gnassingbé’s Union for the Republic (UNIR) and its supporters.
The president is elected to a five-year term and appoints the prime minister. The 1992 constitution included a two-term limit for the president, but this was removed by the legislature in 2002 to enable the current president’s father, Eyadéma Gnassingbé, to run for a third term, and Togo remains without term limits despite numerous attempts by the opposition to reinstate them. In 2015, the younger Gnassingbé won reelection with 59 percent of the vote, a slightly smaller percentage than he received in the 2010 polls. At 61 percent, voter turnout was lower than at any time since he was first elected.
The African Union (AU) observer mission deemed the election largely free and fair. However, opposition critiques of the new electronic vote-tabulation system and delays in appointing the electoral commission’s vice president—a post that by law must be held by a member of the opposition—until the eve of the vote itself reinforced a lack of public faith in the electoral process. The vote was also postponed by 10 days to accommodate voter list revisions called for by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). While all presidential candidates were given equal airtime on public media during the election period, the main opposition candidate, Jean-Pierre Fabre, was reportedly prohibited from broadcasting a message viewed as critical of the government.
Fabre and his followers protested the election’s result. However, opposition leaders declined to dispute it at the Constitutional Court, saying the court was tilted in favor of Gnassingbé.
The 91 members of the unicameral National Assembly are elected to five-year terms. Legislative elections were held in 2013 after much delay. International observers considered them to be credible and transparent, though the opposition disputed the results. Gnassingbé’s UNIR won 62 seats and 23 of the country’s 28 electoral zones, including some opposition strongholds. This result was bolstered by district gerrymandering that heavily favors UNIR. The opposition Save Togo Collective (CST) won 19 seats, the Rainbow Coalition won 6 seats, the Union of Forces for Change (UFC) won 3, and an independent candidate won 1 seat.
The 1992 Constitution states that local territories administer themselves by elected councils, but local elections have not been held since 1986. In response to criticism by opposition parties and international donors, the government agreed in March 2016 to begin public consultations in preparation for local elections. In December, the government described local elections as a priority at UN-backed meetings with the opposition. The opposition called for the polls to be held in 2017, but the government has stated a preference they be conducted the following year to make time for adequate preparations.
Although opposition parties are free to operate, the structure of the electoral system, including district allocations dramatically favoring the UNIR and the single election round, have helped Gnassingbé and his party remain in power. The opposition is weakened by internal divisions. The results of the 2015 presidential election added another five years to the Gnassingbé family’s decades long hold on power.
The opposition, led by Fabre, continued to voice their grievances against the government in 2016. Opposition figures including Fabre boycotted the country’s official independence celebration in April 2016 in protest of the omission of opposition leaders from the independent electoral commission, the ongoing failure to hold local elections, and the failure of the TJRC to adequately address past violence committed by UNIR members and supporters. Fabre delivered a similar message at an opposition colloquium in October. (Implementing recommendations of the TJRC are at the president’s discretion; one of these recommendations, to restore the two-term limit, was ignored when the president was elected for a third term in 2015.) Fabre’s party, the National Alliance for Change (ANC), participated in the December meeting to discuss local elections.
Separately, Antoine Randolph, head of the National Rally for Democracy and Pan-Africanism (RNDP), a mostly dormant opposition party, was arrested by the Togolese intelligence services in February 2016 under mysterious circumstances, and released nearly one month later.
The government is dominated by Gnassingbé’s Kabyé ethnic group, who also make up the vast majority of the security services. The Éwé, Togo’s largest ethnic group, are persistently excluded from influential government positions, but are prominent within the opposition.
The National Assembly was freely elected in 2013 and has influence over policy, but in the absence of local elections, local officials are appointed by the president. Perhaps as a result of the lack of local elected officials, a 2014 Afrobarometer survey indicated that the vast majority of Togolese citizens have little to no interaction with their political representatives, and instead tend to reach out to religious figures and traditional leaders. However, the government began discussions of local elections in in December 2016 meetings on decentralization that were attended by opposition representatives, and supported by the UN Development Program (UNDP).
Corruption remains a serious problem. Reforms in 2015 empowered the National Assembly to appoint members of the Anticorruption Commission (CAC), but the body has been slow to make progress, in part due to a weak legal mandate, and appears to be aligned with the president and UNIR. In July 2015, the National Assembly passed a law to create a new body under the auspices of the CAC to prevent and combat corruption. Four out of the seven members are to be appointed by the president, raising concerns about its independence. A year later, there appears to have been little activity by the new body.
Also in 2015, a group of 40 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) created a civil society anticorruption network, intended to serve as an independent body to support the capacity of existing anticorruption actors, expand judicial reform, and inform the public about the negative consequences of corruption. The NGO network held at least one meeting in 2016, but its impact remains unclear.
In March 2016, the National Assembly approved a new freedom of information law guaranteeing the right to access government information, though some information was exempted from the law on security or privacy grounds. A National Statistics Institute makes monthly national accounts and other information available on the internet.
Freedom of the press is guaranteed by law but can be disregarded in practice. The availability of diverse and critical voices in the media has increased in recent years. While the government can hand down punishments to critical journalists by invoking punitive laws, there appear to have been no such prosecutions in 2016, though some journalists faced charges the previous year. The National Assembly passed a new Criminal Code in 2015 that punishes the publication of false information with between six months and two years in prison and a hefty fine. Journalists’ associations and media outlets in Togo have spoken out against the new law, while the government defends it as a necessary step to fight cybercrime and terrorism. The High Authority of Broadcasting and Communications (HAAC), Togo’s main state regulatory body, can 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” or are “endangering national security.”
Access to the internet is generally unrestricted. Although penetration is low, Togolese activity online is increasing, and internet access is now free at public universities.
Religious freedom is constitutionally protected and generally respected. Islam and Christianity are recognized as official religions; other religious groups must register as associations.
Academic freedom is somewhat limited. Government security forces are believed to maintain a presence on university campuses and have cracked down on student protests in past years. However, university figures are able to engage in political discussions, and have participated in recent debates surrounding the issue of constitutional reform.
Citizens are increasingly able to speak openly in private discussion, though political discussion is prohibited on religious radio and television stations.
Freedom of assembly is sometimes restricted, particularly in election years. A 2011 law requires that demonstrations receive prior authorization and only be held during certain times of the day. The amended penal code adopted in 2015 further limits the right to peaceful assembly, by outlawing both participation in and organization of assemblies that have not been granted administrative approval. Those prosecuted under the law can face prison sentences up to five years if violence occurred at an unauthorized demonstration. A leader of a human rights group was arrested in March 2016 for organizing a sit-in that had been refused by local authorities. However, in May, supporters of opposition parties protested for local elections and other reforms, apparently without incident.
Police in recent years have refrained from employing violence against opposition protests. However, police did open fire on a student protest in March 2015. Separately, following the government’s attempts to revitalize an inhabited nature reserve in the north of the country, protests by local residents in November 2015 turned violent after security forces opened fire on peaceful protestors; seven protestors and one local police officer were killed. As of March 2016, five men remain in prison in connection with that protest, including four organizers who claim they did not initiate or encourage the violence.
Freedom of association is largely respected, and NGOs generally operate without government interference.
Togo’s constitution guarantees the right to form and join labor unions, though workers’ rights in the lucrative export-processing zone are regularly violated.
The judicial system lacks resources and is heavily influenced by the presidency. The Constitutional Court in particular is believed to be partial to UNIR; Fabre chose not to appeal the 2015 election results with the court for this reason. In 2015, the government announced plans to improve the judiciary; these included providing greater access to the courts and modernizing judicial facilities. That year, the High Court of Magistrates also cracked down on judicial corruption by suspending and firing two judges for “unethical behavior.”
In March 2016, the National Assembly adopted a law to establish a mechanism within the National Human Rights Commission to prevent torture, but the law allows the president to appoint its members without parliamentary approval, raising concerns about the new body’s independence.
Lengthy pretrial detention is a serious problem, particularly for Gnassingbé’s political opponents. One former minister accused of fraud in 2012 was released from jail in February 2016, but the charges against him have not been dropped.
Prisons suffer from overcrowding and inadequate food and medical care, sometimes resulting in deaths among inmates from preventable or curable diseases. The government periodically releases prisoners to address overcrowding, but the process by which individuals are chosen for release is not sufficiently transparent.
The 2015 penal code criminalizes torture. However, its definition of torture does not conform to the definition in the UN Convention against Torture.
Many of these gradual moves on the part of the government directed at the judiciary and prisons came in response to recommendations from the 2012 TJRC, which investigated political violence and human rights violations that occurred in Togo between 1958 and 2005. Despite these apparent efforts, impunity persists for many Gnassingbé supporters, perpetuating a climate of fear for those critical of the government.
The north and south of the country have historically been divided along political and ethnic lines. Discrimination among the country’s 40 ethnic groups occurs. Same-sex sexual activity continues to be punishable by fines and up to three years in prison under the revised penal code passed in 2015. The relevant laws are rarely enforced, though LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people face societal discrimination.
Travel within Togo can involve arbitrary traffic stops as a means for police to coerce drivers into paying bribes.
Some 60 percent of the population is employed in agriculture. The country is increasingly seen as a Western-friendly investment environment and has moved to privatize a number of industries and implement reforms to reduce the time and financial means necessary to start a business.
A 2013 amendment to the Electoral Code requires that women have equal representation on party lists. The Law on Political Party and Electoral Campaign Funding, passed after the 2013 legislative elections, requires that a portion of a party’s public financing be determined in proportion to the number of women from that party elected in the most recent national and local elections. Of the 91 seats in the National Assembly, 16 are held by women. A 2014 provision to the Family Code assigned women equal status in the household as well improved inheritance rights. Even so, women’s opportunities for education and employment are limited. Spousal abuse is widespread, though the new penal code provides for 5 to 10 years in prison for rape and no longer excludes spousal rape.
The government has been making increasing efforts to reduce trafficking, which is most common in (though not limited to) the sex industry and for forced labor inside Togo.