20 February 2018

Togo: Aims Diverge in Talks to Resolve Political Crisis

Photo: Togonews
Protests in Togo (file photo).
interview

Talks are underway in Togo to resolve a political crisis pitting President Faure Gnassingbe against the opposition. But the two sides have differing aims making it difficult to reach a lasting solution.

Some progress seems to have been made in the talks taking place in the capital, Lome. On Monday the government agreed to release over 40 people arrested during protests. In return, the opposition has agreed to suspend protests for the duration of talks.

But the opposition wants constitutional changes and ultimately for President Faure Gnassingbe to step down. While the government hopes for an agreement on political and institutional reforms, but refuses to discuss the president's future. Gnassingbe has been in power since 2005.

Ella Jeannine Abatan, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, in Dakar, Senegal, talked to DW about the prospects for the talks and what it will take to defuse the situation in Togo.

DW: Do you think that talks now being held in Lome will lead to a breakthrough?

Ella Jeannine Abatan: The international community and Togolese citizens hope that this will be an opportunity to find a lasting solution to end the crisis that Togo has experienced since August. But it is a crisis that actually dates back to 2002 when President Faure Eyadéma changed the constitution to be able to stand for reelection. So I think that everyone hopes that they actually reach a consensus.

What are the stumbling blocks in these talks?

The first one is the objective of the dialogue for each of the parties involved. The opposition wants a return to the 1992 constitution, as well as to discuss the conditions for the departure of current President Gnassingbe. They don't want the president to run again in 2020.

But for the government, the aim of the dialogue is to come up with a consensual reform project that will be submitted to a referendum. The government does not want to discuss the departure of the president. But there is also the issue of the implementation of the conclusions that will be reached in these talks. There have been a number of talks in Togo since 2006, but the reforms that everyone is waiting for have not been implemented. A clear roadmap to lead to the implementation of the reforms is also going to be a point of discussion.

Political analysts and observers think that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union should be involved in these talks. But from time to time you see that domestic problems require homegrown solutions, rather than external influence or meddling. What is your take on this?

Homegrown solutions are crucial to end the crisis in Togo. And I think that is what is happening. The involvement of ECOWAS has been very important to bring the parties together given the degree of mistrust between the government and the opposition. Besides, this time around we need a guarantor to ensure that the conclusion of this dialogue will be implemented.

What role are civil society groups playing in these talks?

I think they are playing a very important role by putting pressure on the different actors involved in the dialogue to reach a consensus. This started as a political crisis, but we have seen a lot of people taking to the street and demanding political and institutional reform. Civil society has been very vocal. The Catholic Church and many Togolese organizations have called on the different parties to reach a consensus so the crisis can be solved once and for all.

The interview was conducted by Isaac Mugabi

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