Togo: Protests, a dead cow and a political message

Children plays in front of royal court following alleged incessant harassment by the military on September 23, 2017 at Kparatao village, near Tchamba in the northern region of Togo, the home of opposition leader Tikpi Atchadam. (AFP)
Updated 29 September 2017

Togo: Protests, a dead cow and a political message

KPARATAO, Togo: The cow belonging to the butcher in Kparatao, northern Togo, was tied to a tree and minding its own business when the soldiers pumped it full of bullets.
Within days, the stricken animal became a symbol of the popular protests against President Faure Gnassingbe, which have seen mounting calls for him to step down.
A photo of the white, long-horned beast sprawled in a pool of blood was shared widely on social media and sparked fevered reactions online for more than a week.
Its fate was even featured on national television’s main evening news program.
But despite sparking a slew of online jokes, the killing is more than just a story and no laughing matter for the 6,000 or so inhabitants of Kparatao.
The village, some 340 km north of the capital, Lome, is where opposition leader Tikpi Atchadam grew up.
On Sept. 19, the day before the last big nationwide demonstrations, Togo’s military and police turned up in force in Kparatao.
They surrounded the village with pick-up trucks as an elite unit — the red berets — spread out conducting raids, asking questions and looking for “weapons of war.”
No stone was left unturned. They even checked under the bed of the traditional leader.
“Some of them wore balaclavas. They were very nervous,” said one local elder, Agoro Wakilou. “We thought they’d come to kill us.”
Two people have been killed since the first protest took place in the neighboring city of Sokode in late August and the situation remains tense.
Police chief Abalo Yao claimed troops found “three Korean assault rifles,” bows and arrows, charms and 18 million CFA francs ($32,365) in counterfeit notes. Villagers dispute the claim.
The soldiers were about to leave when shots rang out, creating panic. The butcher’s cow had been shot at point blank range.
“It was threatening the defense and security forces,” said the police.
Inevitably, news of the incident caused amusement online.
“Even animals want Togo’s 1992 constitution,” wrote one user on Twitter, referring to the issue at the heart of the opposition protests.
Others paid tribute to what they said was “the latest victim of repression of Gnassingbe’s dictatorial regime.”
The news site called the death a “political assassination.”
The wall of the butcher’s house near where the animal was killed is riddled with bullet holes.
The butcher’s wife, who was inside the house at the time of the shooting, was grazed by a bullet and spent three days in hospital.
“After the raids, the intimidation, it was the final straw. The village chief went to see the prefect to get compensation for the butcher,” said Wakilou.
Elders in Kparatao, where Atchadam thought was the best place to hide his family, now say they live in fear.
“They (the government) are threatening us because the opposition leader is from here,” said one old man, dressed in a long white tunic, his eyes clouded by cataracts.
Comi Toulabor, head of research at the Institute of Political Studies in Bordeaux, has another theory about why the cow had to die.
For the military, Atchadam’s spirit may have been in it, he said, adding: “Animizt beliefs are still very common in Togo.”
He drew parallels between the shooting and a well-known story that has circulated in Lome since the time of Gnassingbe’s father, Gen. Gnassingbe Eyadema.
He was president from 1967 until his death in 2005.
“Every Jan. 13 on the stroke of midnight since 1963, Eyadema used to assemble his officers at RIT camp in Lome and shot a cow to mark the assassination of Sylvanus Olympio, the first president of independent Togo,” said Toulabor.
The general claimed to have personally fired the shot that killed Olympio.
Toulabor said the story may sound outlandish but several senior army officers had confirmed it to him.
With neighboring Benin, Togo is one of the birthplaces of voodoo and the former president “was always surrounded by all sorts of charm-makers and holy men,” he added.
“Faure is carrying on this ritual even today.”
For Toulabor, the message was clear with pressure mounting for an end to Africa’s longest-ruling political dynasty.
“The military wanted to symbolically kill Tikpi Atchadam,” he said.

Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

Updated 06 August 2020

Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

  • Security crackdown as more than 7,400 candidates contest twice-delayed election

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka went to the polls on Wednesday to elect 225 members to its 9th Parliament amid tight security and health precautions to limit the coronavirus pandemic.

The polls were twice-delayed after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the assembly in March and postponed polls scheduled for April due to the outbreak, before finally deciding on Aug. 5 as the date for general elections.

Mahinda Deshapriya, chairman of the Sri Lanka Elections Commission (EC), said police had been given “shooting orders” in case of security breaches and strict health protocols had been introduced at polling booths.

Deshapriya said that all 12,985 polling booths had been sanitized as a preventive measure.

The elections were completed at an estimated cost of $48.6 million, up from the $37.8 million spent during last year’s presidential polls.

Speaking to Arab News on Wednesday, Samuel Ratnajeevan Hoole, an EC member, said that a 60 percent turnout by noon was a “good sign of voters’ response.”

“Our voters are matured and informed now, and they will choose whom they want irrespective of any racial or religious differences,” he said, adding that there were fewer poll-related complaints this year compared with previous elections.

There were 46 registered political parties and 313 independent groups vying for the 225-seat parliament, with a total of 7,452 candidates in the fray – 3,652 fielded by 46 parties and 3,800 representing 313 independent groups.

According to the EC, nearly 16,263,885 registered voters could make their choice at the elections.

At this election, 196 members are to be elected at the district level under the proportional representation system to the 225-member parliament, while 29 members will be chosen from the National List. Under the 1978 constitution, the members are elected to the 9th Parliament.

Dr. Ruwan Wijemuni, general director of health services in Colombo, credited the voters for “lending their cooperation in full to make it a grand success.” At the same time, police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne said there were no reports of violence from any part of the island.

“There were minor scuffles on the eve of the polls in some parts of the island which were settled then and there,” he added.

Ismathul Rahman, 57, from the coastal town of Negombo, told Arab News that this year people were “keen to elect the right people” for their respective electorate as it was “crucial for the country’s economy.”

“It was a peaceful poll without any remarkable incidents of violence. The EC has managed the show well,” said Khalid Farook, 70, former president of the All-Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association, Wednesday.