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Opinion | Jan 5, 2019

To all citizens of ECOWAS So that no one ever says "I was unaware"

By Nathaniel Olympio - President of the Parti des Togolais

The Togolese people have been fighting against a regime that has confiscated the instruments of State Power for over half a century. In this regime, power has been passed down from father to son, through the use of violence. In the last decade, this reign of terror has incited numerous protests which led to casualties amounting to over a thousand deaths. Since August 2017, the Togolese population has risen under the leadership of a coalition of 14 political parties of The Togolese Opposition with gigantic peaceful demonstrations. The severity of this crisis—which threatens the stability of Togo and that of the entire sub-region—has forced the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to engage in a dialogue aimed at helping to find a peaceful way out of this political turmoil.

Furthermore the Conference of Heads of State and Government, held on July 31st, 2018—at the time during which the dialogue was taking place—has established a roadmap. This aforementioned plan essentially recommended the following:

Measures of mutual appeasement: the release of political prisoners; the lifting of the state of siege in certain cities; and the temporary suspension of demonstrations;

Constitutional reforms: limiting the number of presidential terms; a two-round presidential election system;

Institutional reforms: namely the restructuring of the Constitutional Court and other institutions involved in the elections;

A consensual and inclusive organization of the parliamentary elections, with December 20th, 2018 as an indicative date.

Although very insufficient compared to the expectations of the Togolese population, the content of the roadmap was nevertheless accepted by the coalition as a compromise towards a peaceful resolution. However, the latter warned ECOWAS that the indicative date would not allow adequate time for the completion of all the tasks necessary to guarantee the transparency and the democratic nature of the ballot.

While the coalition effectively fulfilled their part of the negotiation by suspending the protests, the regime's implementation of the roadmap challenged the credibility of ECOWAS in the following ways:

  • By refusing to release a large number of political prisoners and even making further arbitrary arrests;
  • By keeping the cities of Sokode, Bafilo and Mango under siege while strengthening their military presence;
  • By rejecting the constitutional revisions drafted by ECOWAS and thus preventing the implementation of constitutional and institutional reforms.

Given the extreme tensions in the country, the civil society, Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist churches, Muslim mosques and the imams of Togo, unanimously called for the postponement of the elections. Despite the public’s efforts to create peaceful and credible election conditions, ECOWAS still decided to turn a deaf ear to all these calls:

The regime proceeded with the unilateral organization of the elections, using both an electoral register in which 75% of the voters do not have any forms of identification, and an anachronistic electoral division that allows certain deputies to be elected with four times less votes than others.

The regime responded to the peaceful demonstrations with extreme violence that led to the death of six (6) people during the elections—including a 12 year old bystander—thus increasing the casualties to, twenty-eight (28) deaths (including six (6) children) by the security and defense forces since August 2017.

On polling day—December 20th, 2018— the number of electors appeared to be less than 5%, making it clear to the special correspondent of Radio France Internationale that at midday in the offices, there were more observers and soldiers than voters. The Togolese massively followed the instructions of the coalition not to participate in this fraudulent vote.

Due to these scandalous conditions, the coalition did not take part in this electoral masquerade.

Despite the violations of the roadmap and the extreme violence which the Togolese government has inflicted on the populations, The Conference Of Heads Of State And Government held in Abuja on December 22nd, 2018 welcomed the electoral masquerade that they described as "free and transparent"; the fallout of which brought an end to the dialogue, hence leaving the Togolese crisis in a worsened state than pre-ECOWAS intervention.

While the additional protocol of democracy and good governance of ECOWAS suggests that no one should have the right to serve more than two presidential terms, the Togolese Head of State is currently completing his third mandate and continues to manoeuvre through deception and violence to exercise two additional terms.

This dangerous practice inflicted on the Togolese people by ECOWAS is an unfortunate precedent that threatens democracy and the stability of its member states. Such an occurrence could lead to extreme acts of desperation escalating to armed conflicts, or even to terrorism which are both already prevalent in the sub-region.

  1. Is the stance of ECOWAS not akin to an encouragement to state violence and transgression of community rule?
  2. Are we willing to accept that the example of Togo be applied in other countries of our community?
  3. Are we prepared to allow Togo’s unfortunate situation to serve as a precedent for other heads of state who would consider manipulating their way into mandates beyond the recommended limit?

Question our conscience today, so that no one can ever say "I was unaware".

Lome, January 2nd, 2018

By Nathaniel Olympio - President of the Parti des Togolais

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