INT’L DIALOGUE: Faure Gnassingbe, a president for life?

Faure Gnassingbe, President of Togo

Faure Must Go movement, in a mail correspondence with International Dialogue sounded much worried. “Under Faure Gnassingbe’s regime, laws have been enacted to ban protests, limit freedom of the press and speech. Multiple media houses have been shut down, journalists have been persecuted, arrested and tortured and numerous citizens including children as young as nine [9] have been summarily executed during protests. This situation has caused thousands of Togolese to flee their country and live in exile like myself,” she said. Getting a proper definition or description for Faure Gnassingbe’s rule/regime is one difficult question political commentators and students of international politics could ever face. Is Mr. Gnassingbe practicing democracy or monarchy? If we are to go by the former as we are made to believe then why his obvious attempt to cling on to power as tightly as a baby would its mother’s breast? Since the ascension of Mr. Gnassingbe to the throne of presidency, a series of protests by the opposition political parties have rocked his seat. But with the military’s unwavering support on his side – as alluded to by Bemba Nabourema,  he has survived all attempts to end the over fifty years rule by the Gnassingbe family. Yes! Welcome to Africa where often politics becomes a do-or-die affair. Faure Gnassingbe has perfected his craft so well that he could not have skipped or missed adopting the bully-boy tactics of his late father. Somewhere in May 2019, Togo’s parliament accepted into being a constitutional amendment that gives the president two five-year terms. The amendment means that Faure Gnassingbe is very much eligible to stand for reelection in the country’s polls slated for February 22, 2020. But, wait! That’s not all. Faure Gnassingbe could as well stand for the 2025 elections and rule till 2030 when he wins the people’s mandate. For Farida Bemba Nabourema, however, she believes that this constitutional change “is a mockery to the people of Togo who were one of the first to vote for terms limit on the African continent in 1992.” The young woman in exile says, Faure Gnassingbe does not plan on ruling Togo till 2030. That, rather, he wants to be president for a lifetime like his father. And if he manages to stay till 2030, he will find a way to modify the constitution just like his father did in 2002 and rule till he dies. Writing under the headline “Togo changes law to let president stand for two more terms” on May 9, 2019, Aljazeera’s news report appeared to have cemented the fears of many who dread Faure Gnassingbe. “Another change passed by the National Assembly guaranteed immunity for life to all former presidents, who the new constitutional terms said cannot be prosecuted, arrested, detained, or tried for acts committed during their presidential term,” the report said. With a parliament that is fully controlled by members of Gnassingbe’s Union for the Republic party as they hold two-thirds of the seats in the house, do we really expect anything different than what we are seeing? “Legislators also changed the rules for their own mandate, meaning they can now hold their seats for two terms of six years each. Before, they had a mandate of five years but with an unlimited number of terms,” wrote Aljazeera. Faure Gnassingbe has the military and the country’s parliament among others on his side making his rule unquestionable. In the said February 22 presidential election, nevertheless, 53-year-old Gnassingbe will face it off in that contest of thumbs mainly with Jean-Pierre Fabre. Mr. Fabre who leads the Alliance for Change [ANC] which is the main opposition party in the country has a huge task at hand. A task as enormous as uprooting the taproot of an iroko tree and Pierre Fabre perfectly knows he must not do so with a shovel. Will Jean Pierre Fabre be able to unseat the iroko tree of a man called Faure Gnassingbe? Or, are we faced with a difficult yet an easy question as George Bernard Shaw once said, “No question is so difficult to answer as that which the answer is obvious”? Well, undoubtedly, Togo’s presidential polls has a lot of interesting tales at stake. For professional bettors and those whose conscience does not restrict them from betting, you may place a bet on the elections and boldly tell Aliko Dangote to watch out as you would whisk from him – the way the hawk does mother hen’s offspring – his position of Africa’s richest. At this point, we can only wish the good people of Togo a peaceful election and urge the international community to be that interested in Gnassingbe’s country. Here, Ghana’s president Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo must be lauded for his recent mediation role when Togo’s opposition parties locked horns with the Faure Gnassingbe’s regime. The African Union proper must be up to the task. It must not comment on the affairs of a member state only to return to comment on same in a decade’s time. By Solomon Annan & Solomon Mensah The writers are Ghanaian journalists who have interest in the world’s politics with an unflinching eye mainly on what pertains in Africa. Views expressed here are solely theirs and do not, in anyway, reflect the editorial policy of this media organisation. Email: [email protected]

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