Utafiti: Journal of African Perspectives


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The roadmap for democratisation and economic liberalisation, negotiated with the EU as a precondition for resuming aid, dominated foreign and domestic politics. Opposition parties entered the new national dialogue on reconciliation only reluctantly in view of the authoritarian attitudes of the government. Rumours about the deteriorating health of the head of state, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, fuelled speculation about his succession. At the end of the year, he announced the dissolution of parliament and early elections in the first half of the next year. Socioeconomic development continued to suffer from the ongoing political crisis.


Peaceful but undemocratic legislative elections consolidated the power of the Gnassingbé regime. In view of the absolute majority gained by the ruling party, its inclination to implement meaningful reforms, as demanded by the opposition and the donor community, was reduced further. The growing Islamist threats in neighbouring countries meant that the donor community condoned the delays in democratic reforms including the conduct of local elections, which were pushed back several times. Promising growth prospects were overshadowed by increasing poverty and inequality.


The upcoming presidential election set for 2015 dominated political discussion. The ruling elite clearly lacked the will for constitutional and electoral reforms, which the opposition, civil society and international donors regarded as precondition for free and fair polls. The donor community nevertheless increased their aid because of concerns about growing instability and terrorism in the sub-region and Togo’s role as a willing supplier of troops for un-missions. Promising growth prospects were overshadowed by increasing poverty, inequality and youth unemployment.


The presidential elections of 25 April resulted in a victory for the incumbent, Faure Gnassingbé. Thus, he secured his third five-year term, strengthening the autocratic grip of the Gnassingbé-clan, which had been in power since 1967. The institutional and constitutional reforms that would have been required for free and fair elections and which the opposition parties, civil society and international donors demanded, were postponed indefinitely. Nevertheless, the international community declared the elections free and fair, given their security interests in the region. Economic growth remained stable at about 5% p.a., although economic growth rates were not inclusive and benefitted the few. The business climate improved considerably.


President Faure Gnassingbé acted throughout the year from a position of strength, given the divided and weakened opposition. Overdue political and institutional reforms and local elections were postponed indefinitely. The human rights situation improved slightly, but the regime continued to be describable as ‘authoritarian’. In view of the growing jihadi risk in the sub-region, the international donor community rewarded Togo’s apparent political stability as an anchor of security in West Africa with a substantial increase in development aid. With promising growth prospects, low inflation and an absence of major external shocks, the government was able to improve the macroeconomic situation.


The demand for political change, initiated by institutional and electoral reforms, constituted the major contentious issue between the government and the challengers to the Gnassingbé regime throughout the year. Civil society organisations and representatives of the Christian church supported the demands of the opposition. The notoriously divided opposition gathered new momentum from August, when the lead was taken by a hitherto hardly known opposition party and its charismatic leader, Tikpi Atchadam. He organised huge demonstrations by all 14 opposition parties in the second half of the year, which put the government increasingly under pressure. Foreign affairs were dominated by the impact of increased aid from the international donor community. Socio-economic affairs were marked by diminishing human development and economic freedom.


Throughout the year controversial legislative elections dominated the political landscape. Huge anti-government demonstrations called in vain for political change. The legislative elections of 20 December, boycotted by the major opposition parties, resulted in an easy victory for the ruling party, however without the expected constitutional amendment majority. Therefore, the prime minister and his cabinet were replaced. The local elections, crucial for democratisation at the grass roots but postponed repeatedly since 1987, were again postponed in December sine die. Economic growth remained stable at about 5% per annum. Public investment in infrastructure (e.g., roads, harbour) and increases in agricultural productivity, notably of export crops, were the key drivers of economic growth. Moreover, money laundering, illegal money transfers, and trafficking grew alarmingly. Unemployment and a lack of political change caused increasing migration.


Controversial constitutional and institutional reforms voted for in May in parliament opened the way for President Gnassingbé to stand for fourth and fifth terms because the law does not apply retroactively. The first local elections in more than 30 years resulted in the victory of the ruling party. The grand expectations of the opposition, which had hoped for a fundamental change at least at the grass-roots, were again dashed. The human rights situation sharply deteriorated due to growing political and social tensions related to the prospect of the head of state running for a fourth term. Islamist terrorist violence spread from Mali to the northern frontier region of Togo. The autonomous deep-water port of Lomé developed as a growth pole and hub for the sub-region. China became the major partner beside Togo’s established partners the eu, France, and Germany. The informal sector still dominated the economy. Overall Togo remained economically ‘mostly unfree’.


In February, the president again won the disputed presidential elections and thus consolidated his power, assisted by the loyal army and security services. The outbreak of the Covid-19 epidemic in Togo in March and the subsequent economic recession may have contributed to limiting popular protest against the Gnassingbé regime. The human rights record of the government improved, but remains poor. Yet the international community, in the interests of regional stability, pursued a ‘laissez faire’ approach. The economy dropped into recession due to the worldwide negative economic effects of the coronavirus crisis. The Democracy Index of the Economic Intelligence Unit, London, still rated Togo as an ‘authoritarian regime’.

The president and the government further consolidated their power. Critics were muzzled or imprisoned. The divided opposition and weak civil society were not able to come up with a political or social counter-project. A political dialogue between part of the opposition and the government did not lead to a pacification of society. Human and civil rights were not high on the agenda. Intensive diplomatic initiatives raised Togo’s profile at international and regional levels. Reforms and stability contributed to the continued growth of financial support for economic development. The country coped better than its neighbours with the crisis caused by Covid-19. This was due to the strong regional export orientation and the increasing revenues from the deep-sea port of Lomé, which now ranks first in West Africa.