Repression in Lome after Demonstrators demanded that President Gnassingbe step down
BY LISA FRENCH
A viral video seen so far by thousands of viewers shows Togolese security forces savagely beating citizens on the streets of Lome this Friday evening, specifically in the Be neighborhood, an area of town known for political agitation. This follows the second consecutive day in a row, yesterday, when more than one hundred thousand demonstrators took to the streets of Lome at the request of the collective of the opposition parties to demand political reforms and the outright resignation of their president of twelve years, Faure Gnassingbe. The beating, amid violent confrontations between security forces and the protesters, actually started Thursday night, in reprisal for the citizens’ demands.
Komlan, a citizen who prefers not to use his last name for fear of reprisal, told The African over the phone an hour ago.
“Faure Gnassingbe’s repression machine is in motion. In Lome-Deckon, protesters are running in all directions under the effect of massive tear gas. At Bafilo, we saw rubber bullets flying and confrontations between the protesters and the security forces. Heavy beating by the soldiers at Be Chateau have resulted in several wounded. They enter homes and beat up the people.”
“Violence begets violence. The fight goes on. Faure Gnassingbe will bear the full responsibility of his action.”
According to the opposition parties, 164 protesters so far have been arrested following this week’s demonstrations, and dozens are wounded.
The calls for President Faure Gnanssingbe’s resignation are unabated: “Let him go, even tonight. That would be so much better,” said Tikpi Atchadam, the leader of the Parti National Panafricain, in a segment of the short interview broadcast at 18:30 GMT tonight by Radio France International. Asked during the 20:30 GMT French-language TV5 newscast whether the opposition was still willing to negotiate with the Gnassingbe regime, a spokesperson for the Parti des Togolais stated: “The youth want the president to go,” adding: “and we salute their courage.” “Enough is enough,” said Kafui, another citizen who fears reprisal, during a phone interview with The African. She added:
“We will not stop until the same clan that has ruled this country for the past 50 years gets out. We need a new leadership.”
President Gnassingbe’s government was heavily criticized for the crackdown on the protesters during an earlier march two weeks ago which resulted in two deaths and scores of wounded (including among the police) when the march organizers reportedly chose a route other than the one allowed by the authorities. This week’s marches were allowed to proceed, but in the presence of a heavy police detachment. The confrontations flared up last evening and lasted most of the day on Friday. Tonight, the streets of Lome and the other towns that witnessed the demonstrations are calm. Internet services have been largely interrupted to impede communication among the youth and march organizers. The residence of the main architect of the massive demonstrations, Tikpi Atchadam, was surrounded by a heavy police detachment for most of the day, which was denounced by the other political leaders in a collective statement to the press broadcast Friday evening.
Political power in Togo has been wielded by the same family for the past fifty years. Following the death of President Gnassingbé Eyadéma who ruled the country for 35 years, power went to one of his sons, Faure Gnassingbe, in 2005, after a flawed election that triggered large-scale violence, causing five hundred deaths. But Faure Gnassingbé, 51, who holds an MBA from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., won re-election in March 2010, after yet another contested election, and a second re-election five years later that the opposition claims was also stolen.
In recognition for the demonstrated intention of this sophisticated young president to work towards national reconciliation and to pull his country out of isolation, then-U.S.-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made a quick stop in Lome during her marathon visit in the area in 2013. The stakes were then very high in anticipation for upcoming legislative elections in Togo. To top it all, Togo was a member of the U.N. Security Council and could, therefore, vote in favor of the United States on key issues coming up at the United Nations.