Togo: As Togo Goes to the Polls in February, Will Change Come?

Togo's President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe arrives at the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, Russia, 23 October 2019.

On February 22, the people of Togo will go to the polls. There have been protests against the rule of Faure Gnassingbé who took over power from his father in 2005. A constitutional change that would allow President Gnassingbé to extend his stay power till 2030 was approved by the parliament. Protesters are still demanding that Faure must go.

For the past 15 years, since taking over power from Eyadema Gnassingbé, his father, Togo's president Faure Gnassingbé has faced pressure from Togolese protesters and opposition parties who have kicked against his family's 50-year rule of the country.

In May 2019, Togo's parliament changed the constitution to give Gnassingbé permission to contest for elections in 2020 and 2025. The constitutional change means Gnassingbé could be in power until 2030. The constitution was also amended to guarantee the Togolese leader immunity for life. Gnassingbé has already served three terms in the highest office.

Togo's elections are scheduled to be held on the 22nd of February 22, and six other candidates will contest against Gnassingbé. Protests in 2017 left Togo in a political crisis, and since then the demonstrations haven't stopped. Togo is the only West African country which has not experienced a democratic change of government. The hashtag #TogoDebout, which translates from French to mean Togo Standing has been used as a rallying cry to call on Togolese citizens to stand against the government of Gnassingbé.

The coordinator of the Citizen Movement of Togo, Professor David Dosseh told Crux, "Politically, we have a dictatorship which doesn't respect the constitution. Economically, there is so much corruption... . For us, we must fight to make sure that the next elections are transparent, but it's not just an electoral problem. It's a governance problem which does not ally with the aspirations of the people."

Togo's new Archbishop, Nicodéme Barrigah-Benissan during his installation in Lomé, the capital, called on the presidential candidates to present themselves as "the servant of the people."

As the small West African prepares to go to the polls, and with protests likely to colour the elections, Togo faces a litmus test in democracy. The opposition has raised concerns about ballot papers not being verified and voters not being registered. The possibility of election rigging is high, and more protests are likely to follow.

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