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.

Smoke haze settles over Australian capital as bushfires burn

Updated 3 min 52 sec ago

Smoke haze settles over Australian capital as bushfires burn

  • Residents of Canberra in the country’s southeast woke up to see the capital shrouded in haze Sunday
  • The state’s Bureau of Meteorology warned that the massive fires are 'in some cases just too big to put out at the moment.'
SYDNEY: Smoke haze from bushfires raging in Australia spread to the capital Sunday, as firefighters raced to contain more than 140 blazes ahead of a heatwave forecast early this week.

Australia is experiencing a horrific start to its fire season, which scientists say began earlier and is more extreme this year due to a prolonged drought and the effects of climate change.

Residents of Canberra in the country’s southeast woke up to see the capital shrouded in haze Sunday, joining those in Sydney who have endured weeks of toxic air pollution caused by bushfire smoke.

Officials said favorable weather conditions had given them a chance to bring several blazes under control before the forecast return of strong winds and high temperatures Tuesday.

Among those is a “mega fire” burning across 250,000 hectares within an hour’s drive of Sydney, Australia’s largest city, where ash from the fires has occasionally fallen.

Firefighters are now bracing for Tuesday, when temperatures are expected to reach above 40 Celsius in parts of New South Wales state — worst-hit by the bushfires — and gusting westerly winds are likely to fan the flames.

“Today (fire) crews will be doing what they can to consolidate and strengthen containment lines, which in some areas will include backburning,” NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Greg Allan told AFP.

But the state’s Bureau of Meteorology warned that the massive fires are “in some cases just too big to put out at the moment.”

“They’re pumping out vast amounts of smoke which is filling the air, turning the sky orange & even appearing like significant rain on our radars,” the department tweeted.

Nearly 50 reinforcements from the United States and Canada have been flown in to support fatigued firefighters in recent days, with the international contingent tasked with providing logistical assistance.

In neighboring Queensland, the focus was also on managing fatigue among frontline firefighters — who in both states are almost all volunteers — as weather there provided a brief reprieve from weeks of battling blazes.

“We’re just looking to wind down and recover and prepare for the next round, whenever that may be,” a Queensland Fire and Emergency Service spokesman told AFP.

Since the crisis began in September, six people have been killed, more than 700 homes destroyed and an estimated two million hectares (almost five million acres) scorched.

Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 — when almost 200 people died — the scale of this year’s devastation has been widely described as unprecedented, as Australians grapple with the impacts of a changing climate.

Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.