Understanding Protests In Togo Q&A By Farida Bemba Nabourema
Since the protests in Togo have started in August 2017, I have been asked a series of questions repeatedly by non-Togolese people who are curious about the situation in my country. I have therefore decided to group these questions in this Q&A article.
1. Why are the people of Togo protesting against the current government?
We are protesting because we are tired of being ruled by the oldest military regime in Africa. Eyadema Gnassingbe, father of the current dictator Faure Gnassingbe has ruled Togo since April 1967 and has a record of the worse human rights atrocities ever committed by a head of state in Africa’s history. When his son took over in a bloodshed that left at least 500 people dead according to a UN Report, things only went for the worse for Togo both in terms of human rights violations and straining economic conditions.
From 2009 to 2013, Togo has lost over 5000 billion CFA in illicit capital outflow making it the 3rd country after Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire with the highest capital fight despite its small population of 6 million. From 2010 to 2016, Togo was listed four times as the country with the unhappiest people on earth by the World Happiness Report.
Fed up with the long tenure of the only regime within the ECOWAS without a term limits that maintains its grasps on power trough violation of rights, nepotism, corruption, and aggravated by the constant tricks of the government to avoid political reforms that it has promised meant to put the country on the right track for political change and democracy, we the people of Togo have decided to take the streets to ask Faure Gnassingbe to step down.
2. Why did you vote for him three times if he is that bad?
As the Freedom in the World 2013 report explained, the current President of Togo, Faure Gnassingbe, was installed in power by the military when his father Eyadema Gnassingbe died in February 2005. Let me clarify that when his father died in 2005, constitutional provisions were supposed to have the president of the parliament take over as head of state. Within 30 minutes, in a preposterous ceremony, Faure Gnassingbe went from being a minister to being appointed as a parliament member, then voted as head of parliament and finally as president. Yes, as unbelievable as it sounds, this happened in Togo.
Following that saga, the most fraudulent elections in the history of Togo if not Africa during which militaries were sent to polling stations to steal ballots, arrest, beat, and kill voters, Faure Gnassingbe declared himself the winner. In 2005, 2010, and again in 2015, elections in Togo are a theatrical performance with many foreign observers finding there an opportunity to make money through bribes, with militaries gaining bonuses trough repressions and foreign musicians and celebrities amassing millions trough deceiving campaigns and electoral commission members of the opposition being violated, expelled from the commission and or arrested.
In sum, Faure Gnassingbe was NEVER, EVER, EVER elected by the people of Togo. Him being recognized as elected by certain foreign institutions does not in any way increase his credibility before us the people of Togo.
3. Why not let him finish his term? He has till 2020.
I am sorry to say this question aggravates me. Yes, it does pinch the most sensitive of my nerves. It is unacceptable to ask people who are being violated to wait until the end of the term of their violator to take action. Elections are a tool of democracy but are not the democracy. A democratic government ought to respect the rights and protect the freedoms of its people as well as the institutions of the republic.
We live in a country where the government expels elected members of parliament, shutdowns media houses, arrests and kills journalists, violates domiciles (by sending militaries to beat people in the comfort of their homes), tortures citizens, shoots and kills elementary students protesting against the strike of their teachers, shutdowns internet to block citizens’ access to information, represses every single protest in blood, and we are being asked to WAIT? Wait for what? For their power to grow stronger? For their abuse to heighten? For them to embezzle more of our resources? For more of our children to die in the hands of wicked militaries? What right do we still have in this country that they have not yet violated? Freedom of association, speech, press, the rights to vote, petition the government, the right to an education, you name it, they’ve marched on it.
NO! We cannot wait. In fact, we have waited far too long! Whoever thinks we need to wait for 2020 should switch places with us, move to Togo and we settle in their country while they enjoy the flavor of dictatorship till the next elections.
When you are oppressed, every second you wait to take action against your oppression is too long. Never wait to fight for your right as there is no better time than the moment you acknowledge your abuse to take a stance against it. So, no! We cannot wait for 2020, 2019, 2018 or tomorrow. I actually wish we didn’t wait this long to get to the fed-up line.
4. What will happen if he refuses to go?
His refusal to go is exactly what is happening now. We are not protesting in Togo; we are having a revolution. Opposition leaders try to find politically correct demands to legitimize their calls for protests in order to align with the international community. Something some of us young activists who have forced their hands to unite in the first place believe is a waste of time and energy.
As for us the youths, it is as simple as #FAUREMUSTGO. Faure will go no matter what, and we are ready to pay whatever price. We already are putting our lives on the line and no other sacrifice can top that. We do not see an alternative other than the end of this despotic regime. Our actions have so far been peaceful and will continue to be as we do not have the resources to win a violent conflict since our resources are concentrated in the hands of the regime and they spend billions yearly on militarizing themselves against us. We will fight with whatever nonmilitary means possible and will use every technique we deem fit to win this struggle.
So, Faure Gnassingbe does not have a say in his departure. He is going and that is final. He cannot undo the abuse his father and him have inflicted on us for the past 5 decades.
5. Who will replace Faure Gnassingbe if he eventually leaves?
There are countless Togolese people who we know are qualified to outperform Eyadema Gnassingbe, a third grader who ruled Togo for 38 years, but still managed to do slightly better than his son who is supposed to be a George Washington MBA graduate.
Asking who will replace Faure Gnassingbe implies that we cannot find better than these two leaders that only brought nepotism, corruption, authoritarianism, and poverty upon us. Please! We are not that ill-fated in Togo. And let me ask why no one ever asks these questions in the West? Why don’t we tell Americans that Donald Trump should rule forever because Americans do not know who will replace him yet and whoever might replace him could be worse and “the thief you know is better than the angel you do not know” as the biased saying goes?
Faure Gnassingbe will be replaced by a president chosen by the people of Togo who will RESPECT us, and rule our country as we direct him to. Whoever will replace Faure Gnassingbe will not abuse us as Faure Gnassingbe or his father Eyadema Gnassingbe did for 50 years. That’s all!
6. What if the country falls into chaos? Look at Libya for example.
We will not look at Libya. No, we will look at Gambia, Tunisia, Chile, Yugoslavia, Belarus, Georgia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Argentina, and Ukraine just to name these few among the numerous countries whose people have led peaceful revolutions and have succeeded. Stop pointing at failed states that have their own particularities to demoralize, demobilize, and discourage us. Yes, just like with diseases, every patient is different. The same surgery performed by the same surgeon on different patients under the same conditions can produce different results.
It is not because Libya is now a war-torn country, or Egypt has fallen back under military rule, or Burkina Faso seems to have recycled the trash from its dictators’ bin that we the people of Togo ought to be afraid of CHANGE. No, there are numerous success stories that inspire us day by day. And even if all the revolutions of all times, have led to failed states, chaos, and worse governance, we the people of Togo will be that ONE nation that will succeed. Besides, we have nothing to lose. As the unhappiest people of earth, we couldn’t fall any lower. We are not fighting for chaos, or in fear of chaos: we are fighting CHAOS!
7. What if the movement dies and people stop protesting?
A revolution is not a party that starts at a certain point and raps up at another. A revolution is a process. For me, this revolution started way before people like I were born. This struggle has been unfolding for decades and thousands and thousands have already lost their lives. My dream is to see it end and to spare my children the terror we have lived in the past 5 decades under the Gnassingbes, in a country where saying the name of a president could get you killed. I believe Togo is a ripe fruit that can fall at any point. And we need the proper kind of wind to make that beautiful fruit of freedom fall. That wind can come today or may take weeks, years, or even forever. But for as long as the hope and the will are there, we will keep blowing and blowing and blowing…. TILL WE WIN!
I sincerely appreciate the support we have been receiving in so many forms from so many people all over the world and I acknowledge the fears of those who are still struggling to understand that change is possible when the people are determined to obtain it. But be assured of one thing: our determination can only grow stronger and from our mistakes, we will learn but not capitulate.
Farida Bemba Nabourema
Anti-government protesters in Togo AFP