Headlines

POLITICS-TOGO: No Peace at Home, No Peace Abroad

Noel Kokou Tadegnon*

LOME, Feb 19 2005 (IPS) - Togo’s government found itself under siege both locally and regionally Saturday, as a protest in the capital, Lome, coincided with news that the Economic Community of West African States would impose sanctions on the administration.

Togo’s government found itself under siege both locally and regionally Saturday, as a protest in the capital, Lome, coincided with news that the Economic Community of West African States would impose sanctions on the administration.

Both developments came in response to the unconstitutional appointment of Faure Gnassingbe as head of state.

Gnassingbe was nominated to the post by Togo’s army just hours after the Feb. 5 death of former leader Gnassingbe Eyadema, his father.

The move drew sharp criticism as it contravened a constitutional requirement for the speaker of Togo’s national assembly, Fambare Natchaba, to assume power for two months in event of the head of state’s demise, until a presidential election could be held. Natchaba is currently exiled in Benin.

A compromise arrangement was put forward by Gnassingbe on Friday that would have allowed him to remain in power for 60 days while a poll was organised. This followed an amendment to the constitution hurriedly voted on by legislators Feb. 6 to legitimise his appointment.

However, the arrangement was dismissed by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo Saturday, during talks with a Togolese delegation in Nigeria’s capital – Abuja.

Lome now faces suspension from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and a travel ban on high-ranking Togolese officials. On Monday, Benin’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rogatien Biaou, told the country’s parliament that ECOWAS might also call on the African Union, European Union and United Nations to cooperate in freezing assets which these persons hold abroad.

In Lome, up to 30,000 people protested Saturday in response to a call by six opposition parties for citizens to demonstrate their rejection of Gnassingbe’s appointment.

"We don’t have other weapons (than protest); we can only mobilize the public. And, we’re counting on this to make the regime back off and step down," Jean Pierre Fabre, secretary-general of the Union of Forces for Change (Union des forces du changement, UFC), told IPS. The UFC was one of the opposition groups that organised the march.

"We ourselves must fight this illegal regime before demanding support from the international community," added Madeleine Agbelewou, a trader in Lome, although she praised Obasanjo’s refusal to accept Gnassingbe’s proposal.

Zeus Ajavon, a Lome-based attorney who heads a coalition of civil society groups which oppose Gnassingbe’s appointment, has even argued that Togolese citizens are legally obliged to protest against the latest developments in the West African state.

"We have provisions in the Togolese constitution, notably article 145, which permits us to respond to the kind of situation we now have in this country," he told IPS this week. The clause referred to by Ajavon makes it a duty of all citizens to fight attacks on democracy in Togo.

The protesters wound their way through several streets in Lome before gathering at a square in the centre of the city, shouting slogans and brandishing placards critical of the new president.

They also denounced France and French President Jacques Chirac, a close friend of Eyadema, accusing him of supporting the Togolese government despite its record of political repression and human rights abuse.

While a French flag was set alight in the course of the march, no incidents of violence were immediately reported.

Similar protests held a week ago are said to have claimed up to four lives, while another person was apparently killed on Monday. Dozens were also injured when Togolese police attempted to put down the demonstrations on Feb. 12, and when officials took action in response to a strike held on Monday.

Several thousand presidential supporters also gathered Saturday at the residence previously occupied by Eyadema, to address Gnassingbe.

"As certain critics of our country want us to hold elections, we’ll do so – and you will be our candidate," said Harvey d’Almeida, a spokesman for supporters of the ruling party, the Rally of the Togolese People.

Responding to his supporters, Gnassingbe accepted the invitation for him to contest a presidential poll, and expressed the hope that ECOWAS would assist Togo in its electoral preparations.

He said the need to maintain national peace and security in the wake of Eyadema’s death had necessitated "urgent measures".

"In a country like ours where the social fabric remains fragile, a power vacuum created by the death of the head of state may have unforeseen consequences," he noted.

Even as the pressure on Gnassingbe mounts, there are signs that Togolese officials are working to undermine the regional consensus about the past fortnight’s events that sparked the call for sanctions.

Last week, a delegation from Lome visited Benin, which reportedly joined Ghana earlier this month in suggesting that Togo be given up to six months to engineer a return to constitutional rule.

This week, a Togolese delegation held talks with Blaise Compaore, president of Burkina Faso, one of the countries that will suffer most when sanctions against Lome are implemented.

Landlocked Burkina Faso currently depends on the port of Lome to receive many of its imports and exports. Although port facilities in the Ivorian commercial hub of Abidjan are situated closer to the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou, political unrest in the Ivory Coast has prevented Burkina Faso from making use of this harbour since 2002.

Compaore apparently asked Lome for "presidential and legislative elections open to all" to be held quickly. Crucially, there was no insistence on stripping Gnassingbe of the presidency first.

"It sounds like they (the Togolese) are trying to divide the heads of state," Issa Mondi-Mondi, a political analyst based in the Beninese capital of Cotonou, told IPS.

Another Beninese analyst, Roger Gbegnonvi, noted: "I don’t believe in the firmness of several of ECOWAS’s heads of state; but I do believe that Obasanjo will stay the course. If he does, the others will too."

* With additional reporting by Ali Idrissou-Toure in Cotonou. No Peace at Home, No Peace Abroad

Noel Kokou Tadegnon*

LOME, Feb 19 (IPS) – Togo’s government found itself under siege both locally and regionally Saturday, as a protest in the capital, Lome, coincided with news that the Economic Community of West African States would impose sanctions on the administration.

Both developments came in response to the unconstitutional appointment of Faure Gnassingbe as head of state.

Gnassingbe was nominated to the post by Togo’s army just hours after the Feb. 5 death of former leader Gnassingbe Eyadema, his father.

The move drew sharp criticism as it contravened a constitutional requirement for the speaker of Togo’s national assembly, Fambare Natchaba, to assume power for two months in event of the head of state’s demise, until a presidential election could be held. Natchaba is currently exiled in Benin.

A compromise arrangement was put forward by Gnassingbe on Friday that would have allowed him to remain in power for 60 days while a poll was organised. This followed an amendment to the constitution hurriedly voted on by legislators Feb. 6 to legitimise his appointment.

However, the arrangement was dismissed by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo Saturday, during talks with a Togolese delegation in Nigeria’s capital – Abuja.

Lome now faces suspension from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and a travel ban on high-ranking Togolese officials. On Monday, Benin’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rogatien Biaou, told the country’s parliament that ECOWAS might also call on the African Union, European Union and United Nations to cooperate in freezing assets which these persons hold abroad.

In Lome, up to 30,000 people protested Saturday in response to a call by six opposition parties for citizens to demonstrate their rejection of Gnassingbe’s appointment.

"We don’t have other weapons (than protest); we can only mobilize the public. And, we’re counting on this to make the regime back off and step down," Jean Pierre Fabre, secretary-general of the Union of Forces for Change (Union des forces du changement, UFC), told IPS. The UFC was one of the opposition groups that organised the march.

"We ourselves must fight this illegal regime before demanding support from the international community," added Madeleine Agbelewou, a trader in Lome, although she praised Obasanjo’s refusal to accept Gnassingbe’s proposal.

Zeus Ajavon, a Lome-based attorney who heads a coalition of civil society groups which oppose Gnassingbe’s appointment, has even argued that Togolese citizens are legally obliged to protest against the latest developments in the West African state.

"We have provisions in the Togolese constitution, notably article 145, which permits us to respond to the kind of situation we now have in this country," he told IPS this week. The clause referred to by Ajavon makes it a duty of all citizens to fight attacks on democracy in Togo.

The protesters wound their way through several streets in Lome before gathering at a square in the centre of the city, shouting slogans and brandishing placards critical of the new president.

They also denounced France and French President Jacques Chirac, a close friend of Eyadema, accusing him of supporting the Togolese government despite its record of political repression and human rights abuse.

While a French flag was set alight in the course of the march, no incidents of violence were immediately reported.

Similar protests held a week ago are said to have claimed up to four lives, while another person was apparently killed on Monday. Dozens were also injured when Togolese police attempted to put down the demonstrations on Feb. 12, and when officials took action in response to a strike held on Monday.

Several thousand presidential supporters also gathered Saturday at the residence previously occupied by Eyadema, to address Gnassingbe.

"As certain critics of our country want us to hold elections, we’ll do so – and you will be our candidate," said Harvey d’Almeida, a spokesman for supporters of the ruling party, the Rally of the Togolese People.

Responding to his supporters, Gnassingbe accepted the invitation for him to contest a presidential poll, and expressed the hope that ECOWAS would assist Togo in its electoral preparations.

He said the need to maintain national peace and security in the wake of Eyadema’s death had necessitated "urgent measures".

"In a country like ours where the social fabric remains fragile, a power vacuum created by the death of the head of state may have unforeseen consequences," he noted.

Even as the pressure on Gnassingbe mounts, there are signs that Togolese officials are working to undermine the regional consensus about the past fortnight’s events that sparked the call for sanctions.

Last week, a delegation from Lome visited Benin, which reportedly joined Ghana earlier this month in suggesting that Togo be given up to six months to engineer a return to constitutional rule.

This week, a Togolese delegation held talks with Blaise Compaore, president of Burkina Faso, one of the countries that will suffer most when sanctions against Lome are implemented.

Landlocked Burkina Faso currently depends on the port of Lome to receive many of its imports and exports. Although port facilities in the Ivorian commercial hub of Abidjan are situated closer to the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou, political unrest in the Ivory Coast has prevented Burkina Faso from making use of this harbour since 2002.

Compaore apparently asked Lome for "presidential and legislative elections open to all" to be held quickly. Crucially, there was no insistence on stripping Gnassingbe of the presidency first.

"It sounds like they (the Togolese) are trying to divide the heads of state," Issa Mondi-Mondi, a political analyst based in the Beninese capital of Cotonou, told IPS.

Another Beninese analyst, Roger Gbegnonvi, noted: "I don’t believe in the firmness of several of ECOWAS’s heads of state; but I do believe that Obasanjo will stay the course. If he does, the others will too."

* With additional reporting by Ali Idrissou-Toure in Cotonou.

 
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POLITICS-TOGO: No Peace at Home, No Peace Abroad

Noel Kokou Tadegnon*

LOME, Feb 19 2005 (IPS) - Togo’s government found itself under siege both locally and regionally Saturday, as a protest in the capital, Lome, coincided with news that the Economic Community of West African States would impose sanctions on the administration.
(more…)

 
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