USAfrica: Showdown in Togo as ex-president Eyadema’s son seeks re-election to extend 50-year dynasty

Togo President Faure

Lome (Reuters) – Many people in Togo have only known just two presidents in their lifetime – Faure Gnassingbe, who is running for a fourth term in an election on Saturday, and his father Eyadema Gnassingbe – and some Togolese are sick of the long-running dynasty.

One such person is Farida Nabourema, 29, a pro-democracy activist who has organized protests calling for the president to step down. She is determined that her children should grow up under somebody other than a Gnassingbe, though she is realistic about the challenges.

“We don’t have high hopes that the opposition will be able to win,” said Nabourema, director of the democracy campaign group Togo Civil League. “We just hope there won’t be any more unnecessary bloodbath.”

The opposition is weakened by division and Gnassingbe is seen by political analysts as a shoo-in to win, despite widespread demonstrations against his rule in 2005 and 2017 in which hundreds died during clashes with police.

In response to political pressure, Gnassingbe enacted a law last year limiting presidents to two five-year terms. However, it is not backdated to account for the three terms he has already served, so he could stay in power until 2030.

His father seized power in a 1967 coup in the coastal West African country, a former French colony with a population of 8 million people.

Togo is the 10th poorest country in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund, and the country received 330 million euros in European Union aid between 2014 and 2020. The EU froze aid from 1993 to 2007, citing the country’s poor democratic record.

Gnassingbe has long promised to boost economic development and the country has seen annual economy growth of around 5% in recent years, driven by investment in energy and transport.

The capital Lome is home to pan-African Ecobank and major regional airline Asky, and the country has so far been spared the kind of jihadist violence that has hit neighboring Burkina Faso not far from Togo’s border.

But grinding poverty and labor strikes are reminders of the challenges ahead.

Many voters who spoke to Reuters see little way out if Gnassingbe stays in power.

“All of this is just comedy. How many times have we voted in this country and the results said something different?” said Espoir Gamado, a 45-year-old IT engineer. “I won’t be voting.”