Togo | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Togo

Togo

Partly Free
43/100
Overview: 

While regular multiparty elections haven taken place since 1992, Togo’s politics have been controlled since 1963 by the late Gnassingbé Eyadéma and his son, current president Faure Gnassingbé. Advantages including security services dominated by the president’s ethnic group and malapportioned election districts have helped Gnassingbé and his party retain power. Opposition calls for constitutional and electoral reforms have been harshly repressed. 

Key Developments: 

Key Developments in 2018:

  • Demonstrations in favor of a return to a two-term limit for the presidency continued during the year despite the use of lethal force by the authorities.
  • Presidents from neighboring countries mediated discussions on the matter between the government and the opposition; a significant point of contention was whether the restoration of term limits would be retroactive. With the impasse unresolved, a referendum on constitutional amendments set for July was postponed first to December and then to 2019.
  • Legislative elections, also delayed from July, proceeded in December amid an opposition boycott. Seats lost by the ruling party and the boycotting opposition groups were picked up by minor government-allied parties and independent candidates.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

POLITICAL RIGHTS: 15 / 40 (−3)

A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 4 / 12 (−2)

A1.      Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 2 / 4

The president, who serves as head of state, is elected to a five-year term. The president appoints the prime minister, who serves as head of government. Presidential term limits were eliminated in 2002.

Faure Gnassingbé—who was initially installed as president by the military after the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, in 2005—secured a third term in the 2015 election, in which he took 59 percent of the vote. The election was considered largely free and fair by African Union observers, but the opposition criticized numerous aspects of the electoral process, including a new electronic vote-tabulation system and bias on the electoral commission. The vote was postponed by 10 days to accommodate voter list revisions called for by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Opposition leaders declined to dispute the results at the Constitutional Court, saying the court was tilted in favor of Gnassingbé.

A2.      Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 1 / 4 (−1)

Members of the 91-seat unicameral National Assembly are elected every five years through proportional representation in multimember districts. The most recent elections, originally scheduled for July 2018, were held in December. The main opposition parties led a 14-party boycott, citing a number of unmet demands regarding constitutional and electoral reform.

Gnassingbé’s Union for the Republic (UNIR) won 59 of the 91 seats, down from 62 in 2013. A party that led the opposition before aligning itself with the government in 2010, the Union of Forces for Change (UFC), won 7 seats, up from 3 in 2013. Independents took 18 seats, and smaller parties captured the remainder. Observers from the African Union and ECOWAS said the elections had been held “properly” in a “calm environment,” though opposition protests had been violently suppressed in the weeks before the balloting. Voter turnout, at 59 percent, was down from previous elections, and ranged from 95 percent in the UNIR-dominated far north to approximately 20 percent in the opposition-leaning capital in the south.

The constitution states that local territories should administer themselves through elected councils, but local elections have not been held since 1986. Postponements continued during 2018, and at year’s end the local voting was planned for 2019.

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because the December legislative elections proceeded without long-overdue reforms amid intimidation, an opposition boycott, and low turnout.

A3.      Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 1 / 4 (−1)

Elections are organized and supervised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), whose membership by law should be balanced between the ruling party and the opposition. In 2015, the opposition criticized delays in appointing the CENI vice president—a post to be held by the opposition—until the eve of the presidential election. In 2018, the CENI was dominated by progovernment members—with the government-aligned UFC claiming opposition seats—throughout the voter registration and election planning period, contributing to the eventual boycott by opposition parties. The Constitutional Court, which is responsible for verifying election results, is also considered to be stacked with close allies of the president.

District malapportionment has repeatedly resulted in outsized legislative majorities for the UNIR. The government in 2018 refused opposition demands to add districts to the underrepresented capital.

In 2017, the president’s constitutional reform commission, which included no opposition members, proposed a two-term presidential limit that was not retroactive, which meant that Gnassingbé would be able to run again. After the proposal was defeated in the legislature, the government announced plans to hold a referendum in 2018, but this was delayed through the end of the year.

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because the electoral commission was under the control of government allies, in violation of the law, through most of the 2018 electoral process, and long-standing legislative malapportionment went unaddressed.

B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 6 / 16 (−1)

B1.      Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 2 / 4

There is a multiparty political system, and opposition parties are generally free to form and operate. Candidates can also run as independents. However, the dominance of the UNIR—which controls government at all levels and can confer benefits on party members that are not available to outsiders—undermines the visibility and competitiveness of other parties. Opposition members are sometimes arrested in connection with peaceful political activities.

In 2017 and 2018, antigovernment protests organized by opposition parties were suppressed with deadly force, and a number of opposition supporters were arrested and tortured for their participation in the demonstrations.

B2.      Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 1 / 4

Gnassingbé’s family has controlled Togo’s powerful presidency since the 1960s. He and the UNIR have retained power thanks in large part to the structure of the electoral system, including district malapportionment in legislative elections and the single-round plurality vote in presidential elections, and their de facto control over institutions such as the CENI and the Constitutional Court. Among other reforms, the opposition has called for a return to the two-round presidential vote, which prevailed before a constitutional amendment in 2002.

B3.      Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 1 / 4 (−1)

The government is dominated by members of Gnassingbé’s Kabyé ethnic group, who also make up the vast majority of security personnel. In 2005, the military installed Gnassingbé as president, in violation of the constitution. Since 2017, increased activity by the opposition has been met with increased use of force by the security apparatus. Hundreds of activists have been arrested, and many tortured, including the secretary general of the opposition Pan-African National Party (PNP). The party’s leader remained in hiding in 2018. In the weeks before the December elections, security forces repeatedly used live ammunition against opposition protesters, killing several people.

While security forces defend the regime through intimidation, the UNIR has been accused of relying on patronage and financial incentives, including the distribution of benefits to buy votes at election time.

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because the Gnassingbé family used its informal patronage networks and personalized control over state institutions to extend its rule despite mounting pressure for reform.

B4.      Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2 / 4

The Éwé, Togo’s largest ethnic group, have historically been excluded from positions of influence; they are prominent within the opposition. Since 2010, the community has been politically split, as the Éwé-dominated UFC reached a power-sharing agreement with the government while the majority remained loyal to opposition forces. Women are underrepresented in government and face some societal pressure that discourages their active and independent political participation, despite rules requiring equal representation on candidate lists.

C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 5 / 12

C1.      Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2 / 4

The president holds most policymaking power, and the National Assembly, which is controlled by the ruling party, does not serve as an effective check on executive authority. A pattern of flawed elections has undermined the legitimacy of both the executive and the legislature.

C2.      Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1 / 4

Corruption is a serious and long-standing problem. The government continues to adopt legislation that is ostensibly designed to reduce corruption, such as a law passed by the National Assembly in April 2018 on money laundering and the funding of terrorism, but these have not been followed by effective enforcement or convictions of high-ranking officials. The majority of members of the High Authority for the Prevention and Fight against Corruption and Related Offenses (HAPLUCIA) are presidential appointees, raising concerns about the body’s independence.

C3.      Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2 / 4

A 2016 freedom of information law guarantees the right to access government information, though some information is exempted, and the government does not always respond to requests. Most public officials are not required to disclose their assets. There is a lack of transparency regarding state tenders. In April 2018, French billionaire Vincent Bolloré was indicted in France for allegedly helping Gnassingbé win the 2010 presidential election in exchange for contracts to operate container ports in Lomé.

CIVIL LIBERTIES: 28 / 60 (−1)

D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 9 / 16

D1.      Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4

Freedom of the press is guaranteed by law but inconsistently upheld in practice. Numerous independent media outlets offer a variety of viewpoints, but a history of impunity for those who commit crimes against journalists, as well as restrictive press laws, encourage self-censorship. There is no mechanism to appeal decisions made by the High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC), which can suspend outlets for the violation of broadly worded regulations. In 2017, the HAAC imposed a one-month suspension on a newspaper for publishing an article on political violence with photographs of victims and a list of alleged perpetrators.

Police have engaged in violence and other acts of intimidation to discourage press coverage of opposition protests that began in 2017. Authorities have also temporarily disrupted mobile phone and internet service during protests, hampering efforts to report on them.

D2.      Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3 / 4

Religious freedom is constitutionally protected and generally respected. Islam and Catholic and Protestant Christianity are recognized by the state as religions; other groups must register as religious associations to receive similar benefits. The registration process has been subject to long delays and a large backlog in recent years.

D3.      Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 2 / 4

University figures are able to engage in political discussions. However, government security forces have repeatedly cracked down on student protests. In 2017, authorities arrested numerous students at the University of Lomé in connection with demonstrations at which participants demanded better facilities. Some of the students reported being beaten by security forces as they moved to quell the protests.

D4.      Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 2 / 4

Citizens are able to speak openly in private discussion, but they may be arrested on incitement or other charges for speaking critically of the government to journalists or human rights organizations.

In December 2018, the National Assembly adopted a new cybersecurity law that criminalizes publication of false information and breaches of public morality, among other problematic provisions that could affect online freedom of expression. The law also granted police greater authority to conduct electronic surveillance.

E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 6 / 12

E1.      Is there freedom of assembly? 1 / 4

While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, a number of laws allow for its restriction, and police have periodically used deadly violence to disperse assemblies in practice. A 2011 legal reform retained problematic rules on prior notification for demonstrations and limits on their timing. A 2015 revision of the criminal code penalized participation in and organization of protests that had not gone through the necessary administrative procedures.

Protests that began in 2017 attracted hundreds of thousands of participants and continued during 2018, with protesters demanding the restoration of the presidential term limits and the two-round presidential election system. Authorities moved to suppress the demonstrations through temporary bans and other administrative restrictions, including a ban on all street protests during the December 2018 electoral period. Police used disproportionate force on a number of occasions, resulting in multiple deaths, arrests, and cases of torture in 2017 and 2018.

E2.      Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 2 / 4

Nongovernmental organizations are subject to registration rules that have sometimes been enforced arbitrarily to suppress activism on sensitive topics such as torture and the rights of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people. Several civil society activists have been arrested and detained for their roles in the protest movement that began in 2017. In August 2018, youth activist Folly Satchivi, whose organization supported reinstating presidential term limits, was arrested while preparing to hold a press conference; he remained in pretrial detention at year’s end. Another activist, Assiba Johnson, was arrested in April and sentenced in December to 18 months in prison (with 6 months suspended) over the publication of a report on the suppression of the protests.

E3.      Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3 / 4

The government generally protects workers’ rights to form and join labor unions outside the export-processing zone, where unions have fewer legal protections.

F. RULE OF LAW: 6 / 16 (−1)

F1.       Is there an independent judiciary? 2 / 4

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but in practice it is heavily influenced by the presidency. The Constitutional Court in particular, appointed by the president and the UNIR-controlled National Assembly, is believed to be partial to the ruling party, which contributed to the opposition’s decisions not to appeal the 2015 presidential election results or participate in the 2018 legislative elections in the absence of reforms. Judges on other courts are appointed by the executive based on the recommendations of a judicial council, which in turn is dominated by senior judges.

F2.       Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1 / 4 (−1)

Executive influence and judicial corruption limit constitutional rights to a fair trial. Dozens of people arrested for participating in the antigovernment protest movement since 2017 have been charged, tried, and convicted in hasty proceedings, often without access to counsel. In December 2018, a group of 34 such detainees were subjected to an unannounced trial at which many lacked legal representation, and more than half received custodial sentences of up to five years.

Corruption and inefficiency are widespread among the police, and there are also reports of arbitrary arrest. The new cybersecurity law passed in December contains vague terrorism and treason provisions with hefty prison sentences, and grants additional powers to the police without adequate judicial control.

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to a pattern in which antigovernment protesters and activists have been detained and tried without basic due process guarantees, including access to defense counsel.

F3.       Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2 / 4

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 transparent.

The 2015 penal code criminalizes torture. However, its definition of torture does not conform to that in the UN Convention against Torture, and instances of torture by security forces continue to be reported, including against participants in recent antigovernment demonstrations.

F4.       Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1 / 4

Although women and men are ostensibly equal under the law, women continue to experience discrimination, and their opportunities for employment and education are limited. Official and societal discrimination has persisted against people with disabilities, certain regional and ethnic groups, and LGBT people, for whom antidiscrimination laws do not apply. Same-sex sexual activity is a criminal offense, and while the law is rarely enforced, LGBT people face police harassment.

G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 7 / 16

G1.      Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 2 / 4

The law provides for freedom of internal movement and foreign travel, but these rights are sometimes restricted by the authorities in practice. Domestic travel can involve arbitrary traffic stops at which police collect bribes.

G2.      Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2 / 4

The country has made improvements in the ease of starting a business, but problems remain with regard to property rights. It is difficult to register property, and there is a widespread perception that judges can be bribed in cases involving land disputes. Women and men do not have equal inheritance rights under traditional or customary law, which is observed mainly in rural areas.

G3.      Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1 / 4

Customary law puts women at a disadvantage regarding matters such as widowhood, divorce, and child custody. Polygamy is widely practiced and recognized under formal law. Child marriage remains a problem in some regions. Rape is illegal but rarely reported and, if reported, often ignored by authorities. Domestic violence, which is widespread, is not specifically addressed by the law. UN data indicate that about 5 percent of women and girls aged 15 to 49 have undergone genital mutilation or cutting, which is illegal and less prevalent among younger girls.

G4.      Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4

Protections against exploitative labor conditions, including rules on working hours, are poorly enforced, and much of the workforce is informally employed. Child labor is common in the agricultural sector and in certain urban trades; some children are subjected to forced labor. According to the US State Department, the government has made efforts to address human trafficking for forced labor and sexual exploitation, including by identifying more trafficking victims, but its prosecutions of perpetrators and public-awareness programs have faltered.