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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Civil War in Togo?

The last few days have brought reports of scattered violence and unrest in Togo, and today the situation worsened.

Togo’s opposition presidential candidate has declared himself president with 70% of the vote, despite official results giving him only 38%.

“We must fight with our lives if necessary,” Bob Akitani said, claiming the poll was rigged in favour of Faure Gnassingbe, the former leader’s son.

Today is a good day to reflect on how fortunate we are to live in a country where this kind of post-election violence is a thing of the past. That doesn’t help the people of Togo, though, who are faced with the very real possibility of a violent coup or a civil war. Unfortunately, neither side seems bent on compromise and the regional watchers gave the vote their approval.

That there were significant irregularities is not in dispute, but whether those were enough to render the vote invalid is questionable. Togo, a tiny sliver of a country in Western Africa, had been under the rule of the same head of state--complete with sham multi-party elections--since 1967. Gnassingbe Eyadema maintained his power in the same way that Robert Mugabe has remained the head of his state: a ruthless and loyal military, massive corruption, and compromised elections.

Togo may well be a peek at Zimbabwe’s future. Mugabe has managed to hold power to this point, and done everything in his power to ensure that the country will remain a one-party state beyond his death (with almost joking allowances for an opposition party that is defanged by the changes that Mugabe’s government continues to make to the constitution). But his death will leave a void in the power structure that won’t easily be filled by one of his followers.

Togo, with help from the international community, may well find a peaceful way for a democratic government to take shape. If so, the lessons learned here could prove useful in other nations throughout Africa. If a peaceful resolution isn’t found, then it will prove a warning about those nations with aging dictators and a history of political unrest.

Read the story.
Togo’s CIA Factbook entry (in need of an update).

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