West Africa: Togo Crisis Overshadows West Africa Summit

Photo: Togonews

Leaders from western and central Africa gathered in Lome on Monday for a joint two-day summit to step up their fight against terrorism. But the event has been overshadowed by Togo's political crisis, which has dragged on for nearly a year.

The summit, the first of its kind, brings together delegates from the 15-nation regional bloc, Ecowas, and 11 members of the Economic Community of Central African States, ECCAS.

The joint event is, however, being overshadowed by Togo's ongoing political crisis, which has dragged on for nearly a year.

After playing a leading role in a historic transfer of power in The Gambia, civil society groups are now looking to west African leaders to do the same in Togo.

"We in the diaspora are very hopeful," says Paul Silly, a member of the civil society organization Togo Debout, in the UK. "We believe that Ecowas will listen to the diverse aspirations expressed by the Togolese people," he told RFI.

"When you look at the principles of Ecowas, they said that by 2020, all the countries in Ecowas would have political transition by 2020. Togo is the only exception," adds Silly.

Officially, west African leaders were only meant to discuss the fight against terrorism on Monday.

Host and head of Ecowas, Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé said in a tweet that the "26 west African and central African states are committed to achieving a durable peace."

#SOMMETCEDEAOCEEAC: Les Présidents @FEGnassingbe du Togo, Président en exercice de la #CEDEAO, et @PresidentABO du Gabon, Président en exercice de la #CEEAC, ont réitéré la détermination des 26 États de l'Afrique de l'Ouest et Centrale à créer les conditions d'une paix durable. pic.twitter.com/CnU1KKGqUw

Presidenceci (@Presidenceci) 30 juillet 2018

"The summit couldn't have come at a more opportune time," comments Kevin Adomayakpor, a political analyst with the National Democratic Institute in Cote d'Ivoire.

"Leaders will discuss this thorny topic of terrorism, which is undermining the two communities' economic and social development," he told RFI..

A G5 force is currently working to stabilize five states in the Sahel that are beset by attacks: Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Chad. This weekend's violence during Mali's presidential election, is only one illustration.

In Central Africa, Cameroon and Nigeria are too facing terror attacks notably from Boko Haram.

"This terrorism is threatening the stability and security of the region," continues Adomayakpor.

Togo crisis spillover effect

For Paul Silly of Togo Debout, Togo's own internal problems are potentially more subversive.

"If Togo's neighbours don't help us the Togolese people, it is eventually going to affect them," he says, referring to the uptick of people crossing the border from Togo into Ghana.

"There were a lot of refugees not just in Ghana but in Burkina Faso as a result of this crisis. If the Ghanaian President [Nana Akufo-Addo] doesn't help us solve this problem there are going to be more refugees in Ghana," he warns.

Protesters have held several rallies since August last year. On Monday, they were planning on further action in Lome and several European cities to put pressure on President Faure Gnassingbé to step down and end half a century of his family's rule.

France's own President Emmanuel Macron said during a trip to Nigeria earlier this month that "the status quo is no longer possible."

But although the Gnassingbé dynasty remains the longest in West Africa, a political transfer remains a sticking point between the government and the opposition.

Talks are being mediated by Ghana's Akufo-Addo and Guinea's President Alpha Conde, who are expected to present a road map to end the crisis on Tuesday 31 July.

But this mediation lacks efficiency reckons Bruno Haden, of the NGO Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), in Lome.

Ecowas' mettle tested

"The two facilitators don't have the zeal, or the full expertise to make the negotiation and dialogue," he told RFI.

He and other civil society groups published a letter Monday suggesting how Togo's crisis should be solved.

"We are saying on behalf of the G7 [an umbrella of civil society groups] that Ecowas' proposal should include bringing in technicians and personalities, maybe Koffi Anan [a former UN Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize recipient], who can push the dialogue," he said.

For the National Democratic Institute's Adomayakpor, the problem can't be the solution.

"Faure Gnassingbé is actually leading Ecowas. Since August last year, we don't see any step done by the mediators because of course he is leading Ecowas," he told RFI.

By the end of the Ecowas summit, a new chair is expected to take over from the incumbent and host.

That would give "an opportunity to take care of the situation in Togo and promote a meaningful dialogue," reckons Adomayakpor.

The Togolese government - which was not available for comment--has agreed to reintroduce term limits, but the current proposal would not apply retroactively, allowing President Gnassingbé to run for reelection two more times.

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