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.”


UK Cabinet to meet after Britain, EU reach draft Brexit deal

Updated 22 min 19 sec ago
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UK Cabinet to meet after Britain, EU reach draft Brexit deal

LONDON: Negotiators from Britain and the European Union have struck a proposed divorce deal that will be presented to politicians on both sides for approval, officials in London and Brussels said Tuesday.
After a year and a half of stalled talks, false starts and setbacks, negotiators agreed on proposals to resolve the main outstanding issue: the Irish border.
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said the Cabinet would hold a special meeting Wednesday to consider the proposal. Its support isn’t guaranteed: May is under pressure from pro-Brexit ministers not to make further concessions to the EU.
Ambassadors from the 27 other EU countries are also due to hold a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.
May told the Cabinet earlier Tuesday that “a small number” of issues remain to be resolved in divorce negotiations with the European Union, while her deputy, David Lidington, said the two sides are “almost within touching distance” of a Brexit deal.
Britain wants to seal a deal this fall, so that Parliament has time to vote on it before the UK leaves the bloc on March 29. The European Parliament also has to approve any agreement.
Negotiators have been meeting late into the night in Brussels in a bid to close the remaining gaps.
The main obstacle has long been how to ensure there are no customs posts or other checks along the border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit.
Irish national broadcaster RTE said the draft agreement involves a common customs arrangement for the UK and the EU, to eliminate the need for border checks.
But May faces pressure from pro-Brexit Cabinet members not to agree to an arrangement that binds Britain to EU trade rules indefinitely.
May also faces growing opposition from pro-EU lawmakers, who say her proposed Brexit deal is worse than the status quo and the British public should get a new vote on whether to leave or to stay.
If there is no agreement soon, UK businesses will have to start implementing contingency plans for a “no-deal” Brexit — steps that could include cutting jobs, stockpiling goods and relocating production and services outside Britain.
Even with such measures in place, the British government says leaving the EU without a deal could cause major economic disruption, with gridlock at ports and disruption to supplies of foods, goods and medicines.
On Tuesday, the European Commission published a sheaf of notices outlining changes in a host of areas in the event of a no-deal Brexit. They point to major disruption for people and businesses: UK truckers’ licenses won’t be valid in the EU, British airlines will no longer enjoy traffic rights, and even British mineral water will cease to be recognized as such by the EU.
The EU said Tuesday it was proposing visa-free travel for UK citizens on short trips, even if there is no deal — but only if Britain reciprocates.
“We need to prepare for all options,” EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said. On a deal, he said: “We are not there yet.”
Meanwhile, official figures suggest Brexit is already having an impact on the British workforce.
The Office for National Statistics said the number of EU citizens working in the country — 2.25 million— was down 132,000 in the three months to September from the year before. That’s the largest annual fall since comparable records began in 1997.
Most of the fall is due to fewer workers from eight eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004.
Jonathan Portes, professor of economics at King’s College London, said the prospect of Brexit “has clearly made the UK a much less attractive place for Europeans to live and work.”