Anti-Government Protests Gaining Momentum

BMI View: As we expected, attempts by Togo's embattled leadership to placate anti-government protestors appear to be failing. The government has refused to offer any substantial concessions, and the opposition is now hardening its stance. We believe that the protests will continue, and that tensions are likely to rise as we approach controversial parliamentary elections in October.

Togo's opposition movement took an eye-catching turn on August 25, when the women's wing of the Collectif Sauvons Togo (CST) announced a week-long sex strike in aid of political compromise in the West African country. The woman behind the plan - which was vigorously opposed by the group's male leadership - has also threatened to lead women through the streets naked if her demands are not met.

Unorthodox tactics should not distract from the fact that CST (the name means "Let's Save Togo") is a dedicated and well-organised group that has shown its ability to bring thousands of people to the streets and which is posing an increasingly real threat to the government of President Faure Gnassingbé. BMI predicts that protests will continue, and we expect political tensions to rise in the run-up to planned elections in October. While we doubt the ability of the protestors to topple President Gnassingbé's regime, we believe that a coalition or power-sharing government is becoming an increasingly plausible end-game.

Hardly The Worst Of The Lot
West Africa - Freedom House Rankings

Like Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, Togo has been ruled by a single family for most of its post-colonial history, with Faure Gnassingbé ushered into power following his father's death in 2005. While hardly one of the region's most repressive governments, Togo has had persistent problems with electoral transparency, corruption, and political openness. The opposition alleges that torture and police brutality are common.

The current wave of protests started in June when the CST was formed by a group of opposition political parties and civil society groups opposed to planned electoral reforms they allege would benefit the ruling party. The opposition has called for the delay of elections planned for October and for institutional reform. As BMI predicted at the time, a cabinet reshuffle failed to placate the opposition, and protests have increased in size and strength (see July 23 'Government Reshuffle Will Not Ease Tensions' on our online service).

Rising Temperatures

Protests on August 21 and 22 brought thousands of people to the streets and led to clashes that injured over 100 protestors. Almost 120 people were arrested, though most were released in the following days. More worrying than increased violence, however, is a hardening of rhetoric on behalf of the opposition. Where they once called for electoral reforms, CST spokesmen have recently said that they will refuse any dialogue until they are sure their goals will be met, will boycott any election held under the current rules, and - most worryingly -that they "will not respect" the laws of an "illegitimate authority" which does not itself follow the law.

BMI believes that this escalating rhetoric is ratcheting up political tensions and making it difficult for the opposition to accept anything less than a large-scale reform of the state. We predict that protests will continue, with police repression likely increasing the opposition's dedication.

Since up-coming elections look sure to be disputed, we believe that the formation of some sort of coalition or power-sharing agreement (along the lines of those in Kenya or Zimbabwe) is becoming a possibility. Any such agreement would be highly unstable. The CST is a broad group that includes members of many different parties; it does not represent a viable government-in-waiting. Even so, a mushy compromise would be preferable to progressively escalating violence.

Risks To Outlook

We believe that the dedication and sacrifice shown so far makes a slow dissolution of the protest movement highly unlikely. The repression of the movement by overwhelming military force is only slightly more probable; there is no evidence that the Togolese authorities have the means or the will to clamp down that hard. While the threat to the regime is rising, we do not foresee the government's fall from power in the short term.

This article is tagged to:
Sector: Country Risk
Geography: Togo

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