Togo bucks trend of political reform in W. Africa

Leader of opposition Jean-Pierre Fabre addresses supporters during an anti-government protest led by a coalition of opposition parties in Lome on September 7, 2017. Huge crowds turned out in Togo's capital for the second day running to demand political reform in the largest opposition protests against President Faure Gnassingbe's regime. (AFP)
Updated 14 September 2017
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Togo bucks trend of political reform in W. Africa

LAGOS: His family has ruled Togo for more than 50 years but President Faure Gnassingbe has in the last week faced unprecedented public pressure to step down.
He and his country stand alone in West Africa in resisting calls for constitutional reform, even as Parliament begins to look again at the issue.
“Togo is the only ECOWAS country never to have seen any real democratic change,” said political analyst Gilles Yabi, referring to the West African regional bloc.
“The current regime is carrying on the one before it, which was one of the most brutal Africa had ever known,” he told AFP.
“Beyond (constitutional) reform, the Togolese people want real change.”
Faure Gnassingbe took over as Togo’s president in 2005 after the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled the French-speaking nation for 38 years with army support.
Bloody riots followed elections that year, which the opposition disputed. Faure was re-elected in 2010 and 2015.
With The Gambia, Togo was the only ECOWAS member to reject a proposal to limit the number of presidential terms across the region, during a summit in Accra in May 2015.
After peaceful changes in power in Benin and Ghana, popular uprisings in Burkina Faso, Togo and The Gambia won them a “bad boy” reputation in a region often cited as an example in a continent where many leaders cling to power.
The fate of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh was sealed in December 2016 after his refusal to recognize defeat at the polls.
ECOWAS sent troops to ensure he left office after 22 years.
In Togo, human rights organizations have criticized cases of torture, arbitrary detention, as well as the muzzling of both the press and the opposition.
But unlike Gambia’s Jammeh, Gnassingbe, who currently holds the rotating presidency of ECOWAS, is not an isolated figure, experts say, noting that he enjoys the support of his counterparts.
Last Wednesday, Marcel de Souza, president of the ECOWAS commission, made an unannounced visit to Lome to meet the opposition as protesters demanded Gnassingbe’s resignation.
Apart from a handful of former heads of state, such as Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo and Ghana’s Jerry Rawlings, who backed Togo’s people, West Africa has been largely silent over the protests.
“We shouldn’t expect any strong reaction,” said Yabi.
“Like France and the European Union, they are partners that value stability above everything.”
Comi Toulabor, head of research at the Institute of Political Studies in Bordeaux, described the lack of reaction as “radio silence.”
Togo’s neighbors “close their eyes because, for many of them, security problems and the terrorist risk have become more important than everything else,” he added.
Toulabor said Togo’s regime had this time bowed to pressure by allowing last week’s protests to take place.
In 2005, the authorities cracked down on dissent, leaving at least 500 dead following a wave of post-election violence, UN figures show.
Gnassingbe has also made apparent overtures to his detractors by proposing a bill to limit the number of presidential mandates to two five-year terms and introduce two-round voting.
As such, he was “trying to make people forget the barely democratic nature of his regime and show himself to be very active on the international diplomatic front,” said Yabi.
The country has hosted a number of international summits, such as the African Union meeting on maritime security in October 2016.
Last month it held the annual African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) forum and had been due to host the Africa-Israel summit in October before it was postponed this week.
Lome, with its deep-water port and new international airport, wants to become a regional hub and is wooing foreign investors.
Economic growth is at 5.0 percent a year and the country has long been calm, despite high unemployment among young people and widespread poverty.
Former colonial power France has made no comment since the start of the protests.
Asked about the events, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said only that France had “followed the events of recent weeks closely.”
“France calls for responsibility and consensus to begin constitutional change.”


Philippine president wants to end anti-drug war in three years

Updated 43 min 16 sec ago
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Philippine president wants to end anti-drug war in three years

  • Philippines being investigated for extrajudicial killings
  • Anti-drug campaign signature policy of president

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday he wanted to finish his war on drugs in three years, defying an international probe into his controversial and deadly campaign to rid the country of narcotics.
Duterte, who came to power in 2016, has made a ‘war on drugs’ the hallmark of his administration. 
But it has been reported that 20,000 people have been killed in what rights groups call a wave of “state-sanctioned violence.”
The firebrand president remains unfazed by the condemnation, and the cases filed against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over his crackdown.
He insisted he would assume full responsibility for any consequences due to his decision to enforce the law, telling a military audience his goals.
“I’d like to finish this war, both (with the) Abu Sayyaf (a militant group) and also the communists, and the drug problem in about three years … we'd be able (to) ... reduce the activities of the illegal trade and fighting to the barest minimum.
“I’m not saying I am the only one capable (of achieving these goals) ... I assume full responsibility for all that would happen as a consequence of enforcing the law — whether against the criminals, the drug traffickers or the rebels who’d want to destroy government.”
Earlier this month, the Philippines withdrew from the ICC, citing the global body's interference in how the country was run as the reason.
On Tuesday, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said that investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines would continue despite its exit.
But the government has said it will not cooperate with the ICC, and has even warned its personnel about entering the country for the investigation.
There are Filipinos who support Duterte’s campaign, however, and believe it works. Among them is former policeman Eric Advincula.
He said there had been an improvement in the situation since Duterte came to power. 
“For one, the peace and order situation has improved, like for example in villages near our place where there used to be rampant drug peddling,” he told Arab News. 
“The price of illegal drugs is now higher, an indication that the supply also went down. Also, it was easy to catch drug peddlers before because they were doing their trade openly. But now they are more careful, you can't easily locate them.”
Official data from the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in February indicated that 5,176 ‘drug personalities’ were killed in the anti-drugs war between July 1, 2016 to Jan. 31, 2019.
More than 170,000 drug suspects have been arrested during a total of 119,841 anti-narcotics operations in the last two and a half years.