News & Politics

Togo Braces for 'March of Anger' as Opposition Forces Seek to Oust President 

See below for an update on Wednesday’s protests.

Togo is bracing for two days of protests as opposition forces plan to take to the streets to demand the ouster of President Faure Gnassingbé — known as “Faure” in the former UN protectorate under France. Tens of thousands of protesters have flooded the streets in recent weeks. At least four people have died in clashes with government forces and dozens have reportedly been injured.

Opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre has called for widespread demonstrations.

On Wednesday, a la marche d’ultime advertisement —the march of ultimate warning — is planned. Thursday’s protest is being billed as marche de la colere — the march of anger.

”We will continue our struggle until the end,” Fabre told his supporters in Lomé.

Faure has held power in the West African nation since 2005 when he took over from his father, Gnassingbé Eyadema, who seized power in a 1967 coup, seven years after the country gained its independence. In 2005, approximately 500 people died in the aftermath of Faure’s  contested election, when the government put down opposition protests.

Opponents are demanding term limits of two years for presidents, two rounds of voting in elections, and voting rights for the Togolese diaspora. The country’s bishops are supporting the opposition.

The protests began earlier this summer and spread to the entire country. Organizers claim that as many as 800,000 people—in the nation of 7.6 million—took to the streets on August 19.

The opposition coalition has accused the government of ignoring the most recent round of protests, which began in early September. Security forces reportedly used tear gas and physical force to disperse the crowds and authorities cut off 3G cellular service to prevent people from organizing.

Counter-protesters have organized marches to voice support for the ruling party.

Protests have been mostly peaceful to date, however Amnesty International reports that a 9-year-old boy was killed in Mango on Wednesday in the northern part of the country, and 70 people were injured in a protest in Bafilo, north of the capital city of Lomé. Reuters reported that “Security forces in Togo used batons, tear gas and live bullets against protesters seeking an end to President Faure Gnassingbe’s rule on Wednesday and a child was killed in the ensuing clashes.”

Earlier this month, MPs proposed a change to the constitution that would implement a two-term limit ahead of the 2020 presidential election. In order for the change to be enacted, it would need to be approved via referendum.

The opposition, however, boycotted the vote and walked out of negotiations after the ruling party refused to include any amendments proposed by the opposition, including one stipulating that term limits be retroactive. The nation’s current president could stay in power until 2030 if the term limits are not made retroactive.

The Washington Post outlines several possible scenarios in the coming weeks and months:

  • The president could be ousted, just as President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso was removed from power in 2014 after 27 years. “Not likely,” says WaPo. The opposition is fractured and the military is not likely to side with the people.
  • There could be a military coup. Again, not likely, as the military is loyal to Faure.
  • Term limits could pass, but that could still leave Faure in power for another decade.
  • A compromise could happen before a referendum vote. Faure, if he were to agree to step down, would likely demand assurances that he and his supporters in the military would not be prosecuted for past political violence.

Currently, the Internet and other forms of communications are shut down. Protesters are hoping to shut down the North-South highway, bringing commerce to a standstill. There are rumors of heavy suppression, beatings, and deaths, especially in the northern towns.

In an unverified report, the French-language site 27avril.com described military violence in Mango this week (translated via Google Translate, so forgive any misinterpretations):

In Mango, the repression of demonstrations was particularly savage. Men, women, youth and children were brutally beaten. It is now understandable why the young people have deserted the city and sought refuge in neighboring Ghana.

The site recounted the story of a woman who was subject to violence at the hands of the military:

It was around 6 am that the soldiers smashed the door of our room and returned. We were two (women, Editor’s note) inside. They started clubbing us. They brutally beat us. Then they ask us where our husbands were. We told them that we did not have husbands, my second having lost his. Dissatisfied with the answer, they once again spanked us, and in a more frightful manner.

They sprayed a child in our neighborhood and threatened to burn it alive. We do not know our wrong. They chased away the men who are no longer returning home. What have we done to deserve all this? Everyone has deserted home. It’s sad. Tell them to stop these bullying. Now we do not know which saint to devote to. They pitilessly spanked me so much that I can not sit down any more. We do not really know why they do that.

They burned our belongings, destroyed our things, carried away our cereals and so on. We want to be at peace here in Mango, tell them that. Men do not come back. Some have sought refuge in Ghana, but others have drowned in wanting to flee the atrocities. It’s pitiful. Now it’s back to school, our kids do not know where they’re going to go. They also arrested many students. What we live in is unimaginable. Even the money with which I do my small activities has been stolen by the military. I have nothing to go to the hospital for my care, when I can not put my butt in a chair.

The situation is extremely volatile and information coming out of the country is sparse because of the lack of cellular service, but here’s a taste of what it’s been like there in recent days:

Update October 4, 6:13 pm EST: Here are some scenes from Wednesday’s protest:

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