Will electoral, social tensions threaten stability in Togo?

Will electoral, social tensions threaten stability in Togo?

After a delay, Togo’s presidential election will occur on April 25th, 2015. President Faure Gnassingbé is widely expected to win, whereas the opposition is struggling to propose an alternative to the Gnassingbé dynasty, in power since 1967. Rising electoral and social tensions could threaten Togo’s stability.

Togo’s presidential election campaign officially started on April 10th, in a relatively calm atmosphere. During the night, militants put up posters of the two main candidates, President Faure Gnassingbé and his challenger Jean-Pierre Fabre (National Alliance for Change or ANC), in the streets of the capital, Lomé.

The launch of the campaign was much more timid in the country. This lack of electoral fervour shows how disenchanted the population is towards the election’s outcome. Gnassingbé’s re-election seems guaranteed given his party’s grip on power and the divisions in the opposition.

Indeed, the outgoing president, who took office after his father’s death in 2005, is now seeking a third term despite heavy criticism. It is true that Gnassingbé has tried to distance himself from the former system. He replaced the former ruling party, the Rally of the Togolese People by the Union for the Republic (UNIR), in 2012.

Unlike his father, he expanded the ruling party’s electoral base beyond its traditional stronghold (the North) instead of exploiting ethnic differences. However, like his father, he seems determined to hold onto power, probably even more since the downfall of his former Burkinabe ally, Blaise Compaoré.

The state’s apparatus has remained locked in favour of the ruling party since the enactment of a Constitutional amendment in 2002, which allows the president to serve for more than two consecutive terms. The presidential party has blocked all the opposition’s attempts at reform.

In June 2014, the UNIR-dominated National Assembly rejected a bill on institutional and constitutional reforms, thus ending talks for the implementation of reforms before 2015. Gnassingbé’s re-election is even more likely because the politicization of the main electoral institutions, including the electoral commission (INEC), and the one-round voting system benefit the ruling party.

In this context, the opposition has organised numerous demonstrations with civil society groups in past months to urge Gnassingbé not to run. The authorities even violently dispersed some protests. The opposition has also denounced “serious anomalies” in the electoral roll (duplicates and fake voters in favour of Gnassingbé), which resulted in a 10-day postponement of the election, initially scheduled on 15 April 2015.

After updating the roll with INEC and candidates’ representatives, the International Organisation of la Francophonie (IOF) concluded in a report that the list is indeed “imperfect,” but “satisfactory.” The IOF position shows the international experts’ tendency to tolerate some electoral imperfections in order not to arouse political tensions.

A deeper revision of the list would have taken months, which would have upset the UNIR’s camp and potentially triggered protests from their militants. Similarly, opposition leaders approved the changes, probably aware that perfect transparency would be impossible within the timeframe. Still, some in the opposition and civil society think that the delay was too short to correct the anomalies: according to the civil society group Synergie Togo, there are still 300,000 fake voters on the roll.

The partial revision of the list is a small victory for the opposition, which has been unable to obtain reforms promised by the government since 2006. The opposition is deeply divided, which partly explains its failures. Instead of presenting a united front against the government, four candidates are running against Faure Gnassingbé: Jean-Pierre Fabre (ANC, coalition Combat for Political Change), Aimé Gogué (ADDI), Mohamed Tchassona Traoré (MCD), and Gerry Komandega Taama (NET).

Furthermore, the political deadlock in Togo overshadows socio-economic tensions linked to impunity, youth unemployment, and land disputes. These tensions threaten Togo’s stability despite good growth (about 5%) and an improving business environment. According to “Doing Business 2015,” Togo is among the economies that improved the most in 2013-2014.

Social tensions have increased over the past months, with public sector workers’ (mainly teachers) repeated strikes for salary increases. The STT union held its last strike just a month before the election, leading the government to extend holidays until 4 May 2015 to prevent turmoil. The strikes disturbed classes, as students took the streets, causing clashes last March in cities like Dapaong and Gléi.

Political and economic prospects

Although the successful Nigerian elections have given hope for political change in West Africa, it is unlikely Togo will follow the same path. Gnassingbé seems assured of re-election.

In this case, rather than implementing structural economic reforms, it is highly likely that Gnassingbé will push ahead his popular infrastructure projects (mainly highway and sanitation) as promised in his programme. This should encourage growth (expected 5.5% in 2015) and investments, leading to a greater boom in the construction and transport industries.

Similarly, Togo’s positive macroeconomic indicators should also continue to stimulate foreign investments, despite corruption and impunity. For example, in early March, Germany’s HeidelbergCement opened a new clinker plant in Sika Kondji ($300 million investment) and the company plans to build a second one in Northern Togo. In December 2014, the French bank Société Générale announced that it would start activities in Togo this year.

Jean-Pierre Fabre’s win would similarly reassure economic partners, given his commitment to tackle corruption. In both scenarios, Togo’s economic progress is likely to go on.

The risk of electoral violence is low but not to be excluded, given rising socio-political tensions and the population’s desire for change, strengthened by power shifts in the region. Such events would damage Togo’s business climate and hamper its economic development.

Tags: elections, Togo

About Author

Djenabou Cisse

Djenabou Cisse is a political analyst. She holds a Master's in International Security and a Bachelor in Political Science from Sciences Po Paris. She currently works for the think tank G-NOVA where her research focuses on digital diplomacy, defence, MENA/Subsaharan Africa and transatlalantic issues.