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 Togomedias.com 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.


UK relatives of Daesh ‘Beatles’ victims relieved as trial nears

Updated 23 September 2020

UK relatives of Daesh ‘Beatles’ victims relieved as trial nears

  • The evidence regarding El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey was transferred to Washington immediately after Tuesday’s court ruling
  • The pair, who have been stripped of UK citizenship, are in the custody of US forces in Iraq

LONDON: Relatives of two Britons killed by a Daesh cell on Wednesday welcomed a breakthrough that advances the US trial of two Londoners accused of their brutal deaths.
The families of Alan Henning and David Haines said a ruling by the London High Court permitting the UK government to share evidence with US authorities about the suspects was a “huge result for us.”
“We have only ever wanted to see these two men being held accountable and brought to justice through a fair trial for their alleged actions,” they said in a statement released by the charity Hostage International.
The evidence regarding El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey was transferred to Washington immediately after Tuesday’s court ruling.
The pair, who have been stripped of UK citizenship, are in the custody of US forces in Iraq.
Kotey and Elsheikh’s four-member cell was dubbed “the Beatles” by their captives due to their English accents. They are accused of torturing and killing victims, including by beheading, and Daesh released videos of the deaths for propaganda purposes.
A two-year legal impasse concerning the suspects was broken last month when Attorney General Bill Barr said they would be spared execution if convicted after trial in the United States.
The United States wants to try them for the murder of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and aid worker Peter Kassig, during 2014-2015.
Taxi driver Henning and former aircraft engineer Haines, who had both gone to Syria to do aid work, were beheaded in 2014.
Another of the cell’s alleged victims was British photojournalist John Cantlie, who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012 and remains missing.
Cantlie’s sister Jessica Pocock told of the relatives’ intense frustration at the long legal wait.
“At times we felt absolutely desperate as to whether the legal system was ever going to be able to bring these two to justice — wherever they may be,” she told BBC radio.
“That was always terribly important to us to have a proper, fair trial. The families need nothing less than a fair trial,” she said.
The US Department of Justice welcomed the court ruling and expressed gratitude to Britain for transferring the evidence, although a trial date has yet to be set.