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POLITICS-TOGO: First Female Presidential Candidate

Noël Kokou Tadégnon*

LOME, Feb 17 2010 (IPS) - Brigitte Kafui Adjamagbo-Johnson, head of the opposition Democratic Convention of African Peoples party, is Togo’s first female presidential candidate. But she has withdrawn from the electoral process.

Adjamagbo-Johnson and two other main opposition candidates in Togo’s presidential elections said on Monday, Feb. 15 they have withdrawn from preparations for the vote in the West African nation to protest at what they fear will be a rigged result.

She was in the race for the upcoming Mar. 4 elections, which were originally scheduled for Feb. 28 but postponed due to the tension regarding candidate lists.

“It’s a heavy responsibility and I’m aware of the scope of work that awaits me if voters trust me to preside over the destinies of our nation,” Adjamagbo-Johnson told IPS.

She considers her candidacy proof that Togo has increasing faith in women and is creating conditions for them to lead.

Adjamagbo-Johnson was born Dec. 26 1958 and has a doctorate in law. Her political career started in the early 1990s. A founding member of the Convention démocratique des peuples africains, CDPA, she became General Rapporteur of its National Conference in 1991.

Adjamagbo-Johnson went on to hold several senior government positions including heading a ministry. Known for her outspokenness and political commitment, she has been nicknamed “The Iron Lady”.

“I will work towards creating an atmosphere of patriotism and engagement so that the daughters and sons of this nation can once again learn to live together as one and the same people,” she says.

The president of the Commission électorale nationale indépendante (CENI – Independent National Electoral Commission), Tabiou Taffa welcomed Adjamagbo-Johnson to the presidential race. “CENI wishes her the best of luck, and hopes that her experience and courage serve as a model for our mothers and sisters,” added Tabiou Taffa.

Adjamagbo-Johnson has six opponents – all are male.

“The fact that Madame Adjamagbo-Johnson, a woman of caliber, is a candidate is a good thing and is proof that Togolese women no longer want to play second fiddle in politics,” notes Messan Agbeyomé Kodjo, a candidate for Organisation pour bâtir le Togo dans l’unité et la solidarité (OBUTS – Organisation for Building Togo in Unity and Solidarity).

“This nomination shows that women have a very important role to play on the national political scene,” commented Solitoki Esso, representative to President Faure Gnassingbé and Secretary General of the Rassemblement du peuple togolais (RPT – Rally of the Togolese People (RPT)) the ruling party. “This is proof that political leaders have made women’s progress and emancipation their battle cry,” added Solitoki.

But opinions on Adjamagbo-Johnson’s candidacy are not unanimous.

Though Adjamagbo-Johnson’s bid represents a first in Togolese history, she unfortunately does not represent the change so deeply sought by the Togolese, notes Améganvi Isabelle, a lawyer and member of the UFC in the Togolese National Assembly. “We women of Togo, we will have our say in the process and have a duty to come together and bring UFC candidate Jean Pierre Fabre to victory,” she says.

Fabre, the presidential candidate for the main opposition party Union of Forces for Change (UFC), said they needed to reach beyond elitism or promoting women simply due to a gender-based approach. “We must highlight their skills,” stresses Fabre who was in discussions with the six other opposition candidates to identify a single candidate to put forward to run against the incumbent president. However, on Monday, Feb. 15 Fabre was one of the three candidates who withdrew from the electoral process, along with Adjamagbo-Johnson.

“If we look at gender or age as a criteria then I think Adjamagbo-Johnson would fit the bill, if she gets the support of the other candidates,” Agbeyomé Kodjo noted.

“Male selfishness will spur them to fight this woman who has all the qualities necessary to govern the country,” said George Kelem, a teacher. According to him, Adjamagbo-Johnson’s experience in politics and advocacy are a great asset.

Adjamagbo-Johnson is a strong advocate for women’s rights. She’s active in several associations and is the sub-regional coordinator of the NGO Femmes, droit et développement en Afrique (Women, Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF). She also serves on the advisory committee of the African Women Development Fund (AWDF).

“We’ve always wanted a woman presidential candidate and this year our dream became a reality – she’s a shoe in,” says an optimistic Lydia Konou, a market woman in Lome.

Togo has a population of over 5.5 million people, 52 percent of whom are women. There are four women in government and nine in the parliament where women are under-represented. Adjamagbo-Johnson has been a vocal critic of the situation.

She has also spoken out against her fellow citizens’ living conditions: the fact that for many families eating three times a day has become a luxury, the number of women still dying during childbirth… But she promises “democracy, bread and work for all” before finally stating “Yes We Can”, picking up U.S. President Barack Obama’s famous slogan.

*with additional reporting from agencies.

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