At least four people have been killed in Lomé, Togo's capital, and in Sokodé, the country’s second largest city, between December 8 and 10, on the fringes of demonstrations held by the political opposition to protest the next legislative elections. Opposition demonstrators, who are very active on social media, have shared several videos that show a violent crackdown. The country has been in the grip of a political crisis for over a year.
The main opposition coalition (made up of 14 political parties, called the "C14") called for protests to try to push back the legislative elections due to take place on December 20. The coalition planned demonstrations from December 8.
C14 says that there are “irregularities” in the preparations for the vote and has decided to boycott it. The independent electoral commission in charge of organising the vote ought to have as many members from C14 as fom the ruling party, according to guidelines set out by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). But its configuration has never been altered to reflect this.
Last week, evangelical, Presbyterian and Methodist churches in Togo spoke out against the conditions in which the election had been organised, and called for it to be postponed by a few months. Muslim religious authorities also called for the vote to be delayed.
The Togolese opposition gathered in Lomé on December 8, despite a ban on demonstrations by the authorities. Police tried to repress protesters using tear gas – a response that was deemed “brutal” by opponents of the government. The authorities said that two people were killed, one by a bullet. The Ministry of Security said one of them was an eight-year-old child.
One person died in Lomé, on the sidelines of an opposition-led protest on December 8. Image credit: screen capture from Facebook.
C14 said that there was a third death. “The police, gendarmes and Togolese army forces […] unleashed their rage on people from a number of towns in Togo, in particular Agoè, Kpalimé, Sokodé, Mango, Bafilo, Bassar, Tchamba", declared the leader of the opposition Jean-Pierre Fabre in a statement.
Elsewhere in the country, most notably in the north, in Bafilo and Sokodé, young people tried to demonstrate on the same day, but were repressed by army forces.
Two days later, the situation deteriorated further in Sokodé, an opposition stronghold. Security forces took up position in strategic locations in the town very early in the morning as protesters organised themselves. There were numerous clashes throughout the day between police and protesters, and two men died.
A series of videos published on Facebook show one of the men’s last moments. Iin the video he is first seen on the back of another man, who is running, presumably to carry him to safety. Then he is seen in two other videos, lying on the ground, surrounded by people who try to resuscitate him, in vain.
One of our Observers in the town told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that the 32-year-old man died after being hit by a bullet: “It happened in the Kpalo-Kpalo area. This young electrician had only left his house to run an errand, not to join the protest.”
A political crisis lasting over a year
Togo is currently experiencing a serious political crisis that began in August 2017. There have been many demonstrations calling for the president Faure Gnassingbé to step down. He has been in power since 2005 after succeeding his father, who was president for 38 years. The opposition coalition is demanding constitutional reform to reduce the number of consecutive mandates a president can have to two. If this rule were applied retroactively, it would force the president out of office immediately.
The coalition is also demanding the right to vote for the Togolese diaspora and for those who have been arrested since the start of the protests.
Negotiations between the authorities and the opposition, mediated by ECOWAS, have now stalled.