8.23.2012

Togolese Take to the Streets to Reclaim Democracy

Protests in Lomé. Image via Emile Kouton / AFP - Getty Images

Ahead of Togo’s elections set to take place in October, Togolese are taking to the streets to protests reforms made earlier this summer that removed head of state term limits and redistricted the country’s constituency lines.

For nearly the past 2 years, people across Africa have been taking to the streets to voice their concerns and opinions, and in many cases, doing so quite effectively. A year ago it was Senegal. Earlier this year it was Nigeria. Now it is Togo’s turn.

A Brief Political History
Togo, a small country on the coast of West Africa, gained its independence, like most other African states, in 1960. Togo’s first President, Sylvanus Olympio, was assassinated 3 years after independence.

In 1967, Eyadema Gnassingbé staged a coup and managed to hold on to power until he died in 2005 after ruling Togo for 38 years. After his death, his son, Faure Gnassingbé, gained power after being implemented by the military. A year later, Gnassingbé held elections, which he claimed to have won 'democratically' by 60%; however, opposition groups claim otherwise. 

June 2012 Protests
Protests broke out in Togo’s capital, Lomé, in June when the government passed new legislation which redrew constituency boundaries based on population, thereby increasing parliament seats from 81 to 91 and favoring southern provinces over the less populated north. This move also benefited the ruling party. 

The protests were also in response to a change in the constitution which would eliminate term limits for the president.

Angered at the unconstitutionality of these reforms and the failure on the government’s behalf to consult with civil society, the opposition created a campaign that calls themselves Collectif Sauvons le Togo (Let’s Save Togo).

Protests on August 22. Image via CST.
Tens of thousands of people protested in Lomé in June in response to the changes made by Gnassingbé. In response, the government claimed that the changes made were done so only after extensive consultations with civil society; however, judging by the large number of protestors present in Lomé, I would argue that the government was lying.

August 2012
Since June, protests have continued and have recently gained momentum. The threat of civil society’s bottom-up power has scared the government into recently banning street protests in commercial centers for ‘security’ reasons.

In spite of the ban, Collectif Sauvon le Togo (CST) planned protests that were meant to gather in the commercial center of Deckon where they intended to stage a ‘sit-in’ at Place de l'Indépendance for three days from August 21st-23rd.

August 21: Day one of Protests
The following are the minutes from CST for day one of protests:

10h30 : Forte mobilisation a Bè château pour DECKON2. Présence massive des forces de l’ordre fortement armees, également… (Strong mobilization at Bè for Deckon protests. Large presence of heavily armed military…)
12h15 : Jets de gaz lacrymogènes au Marché de Bè, malgré que la marche se dirige finalement vers la place de l’Indépendance. (Tear gas being thrown at Bè market, despite the marching finally heading towards Place de l’Indépendance)
13h30 : Les leaders du CST appellent à un sit-in de 3 jours dès maintenant à la place de l’Indépendance. (The leaders of CST call for a 3 day sit-in at place de l’Indépendance.)
16h40 : Les leaders du CST sont à la place de l’Indépendance dont l’accès est interdit par une forte présence policière. (The leaders of CST are at the place de l’Indépendance but access is blocked by a large police presence.)

August 22: Day Two of Protests
At least 2,000 or more Togolese showed up for the second day of protests in Lomé, but 10 minutes after the start of protests, police fired tear gas and plastic bullets at protestors in the Bé neighborhood.

12h15 : Toujours autant de monde qu’hier. Conformément aux discussions d’hier avec les autorités, les leaders du CST ont décidé de rejoindre la place de l’Indépendance par le Boulevard du Mono. Dès le début de la marche, une violente répression à coups de gaz. La jeunesse Togolaise y oppose actuellement une farouche rispote. (Many people gathered again today. As agreed upon by the CST and the authorities, CST decided to enter Place de l’Indépendence by Mono boulevard [instead of their usual route]. But as soon as the march started, protesters were violently met with tear gas.)
14h40 : Courses poursuites et tirs de gaz lacrymogènes et de grenades à fragmentation en cours. (Police are chasing protesters, using tear gas, and fragmentation grenades.)
14h50 : Il y aurait un mort par balle parmi les manifestants. (There might be a death among these protests.)

August 23: Day Three of Protests
Today should mark the third day of protests, but yesterday a CST’s organizer said that today’s planned protests have been canceled because the authorities have proven they are ready and willing to use brutality, even despite the fact that CST changed their plans in accordance to what the authorities wanted. Ajavon, CST’s organizer, said that “the government has demonstrated that it will not allow peaceful rallies and so the population must pursue other ways to bring about change.

Social Media and Youth Involvement
The recent Togolese protests have had a large involvement by the nation’s youth. Perhaps that is because they realize that policy decisions made today affect them for the rest of their lives. Or perhaps it is because the upcoming generations of Africa are more politically conscious and outspoken than the previous ones. Maybe they realize that they are in control of their nation’s future. Or it might possibly be because today’s ‘youth’ are more nationalistic and feel more tied to the identity of their country than previous generations.

Regardless of the reason why youth have played such a key role in protests and social movements across the continent in the past few years, one thing is for sure: social media has made things a whole lot easier.

The protests in Senegal and Nigeria (especially) utilized Facebook and Twitter to mobilize (youth) and disseminate information. The recent Togo protests are no different.

Collectif Sauvons le Togo has its own Twitter and Facebook accounts which it updates with the latest information on policy, press releases, and of course, protest details by using hashtags like #OccupyLome, #Deckon2 and #TGInfo.

I’ve compiled some examples of how social media is being used in these protests, which I have posted below.

Many of these social movements have a way of starting and then slowly dying out, but given Togo’s history of practically being a monarchy, I hope that Togolese are fed up enough to not give up until they get what they want. 

Although the protests were called off for today and the main organizer for CST said that they need to find other ways to bring about their desired change, I hope that they do not just give up. I hope that they continue taking to the streets ahead of October so that when the election comes, the Togolese can choose the government that they want, with no corruption, no fraud, and no voter intimidation. 

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