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.


Peaceful, prosperous, strong Bangladesh in Pakistan's interest, says envoy

Updated 27 January 2020

Peaceful, prosperous, strong Bangladesh in Pakistan's interest, says envoy

  • Pakistan's high commissioner to Bangladesh says more people-to-people contact necessary

DHAKA: Islamabad wants to enhance “people-to-people” contacts with Dhaka and boost bilateral relations in the areas of trade, business, education, culture and sports, Pakistan’s high commissioner to Bangladesh told Arab News on Thursday.
Imran Ahmed Siddiqui arrived in Dhaka this month after being appointed to the role in November, filling a post that had been vacant for nearly 20 months.
“In addition to government-to-government ties, my endeavor will be to promote and strengthen people-to-people contact as well as bilateral, economic, trade and cultural ties between our two countries,” Siddiqui said. He added that he had sensed a “similar desire among the people and the government of Bangladesh.”
At the end of British colonial rule of India in 1947, the territory of what is now Bangladesh became East Pakistan, politically united with West Pakistan but separated from it by hundreds of kilometers of Indian land.
East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh after a war between India and Pakistan in 1971 that killed nearly 3 million people. Relations between Islamabad and Dhaka have remained frosty since.
In 2019, Bangladesh imported goods worth around $736 million from Pakistan, while the country’s export volume was around $44 million, according to the State Bank of Pakistan.
Siddiqui said: “There’s huge potential that still remains to be explored and tapped. We have to work in partnership to facilitate frequent productive engagements between our commercial sectors, including robust participation in each other’s trade exhibitions and shows, and closer collaboration between the chambers of commerce and industry.”
The two countries also need to work together to address issues relating to their business visa regimes, he added.
“While Pakistan has already upgraded Bangladesh to Visa Category A, a similar measure by the Bangladesh government could help promote frequent interaction between our business communities, which is a prerequisite for strong trade relations,” Siddiqui said.
The Bangladeshi cricket team is currently playing a three-match T20 series against Pakistan at Gaddafi Stadium in the Pakistani city of Lahore. The third match of the series will be played next Monday.
Siddiqui said the Bangladeshi cricket team’s Pakistan tour is the beginning of a new era of friendship between the two nations. It will enable them “to further promote constructive bilateral engagements at all levels,” he added.
“I believe this cricket series will look more like a sporting event between two brothers and friends, rather than a fight between two rivals,” he said.
“This visit will generate mutual goodwill and friendliness, and will bring our two nations even closer.”
Siddiqui expressed appreciation for the “hospitality” of the Bangladeshi government toward more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state after a military-led crackdown in August 2017 that the UN has said was perpetrated with “genocidal intent.” Myanmar denies this.
Siddiqui said Pakistan is “constructively engaged” with different international organizations on the issue of Rohingya refugees, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
“We’ve noted with appreciation the hospitality offered by the Bangladesh government to a large number of refugees, as we ourselves have been sheltering, in the recent past, the highest number of refugees in the world,” he added, referring to Pakistan’s large population of Afghan refugees.
“We support all efforts for the return of refugees in safety and dignity. Pakistan is closely monitoring international developments in this regard, and will remain engaged in the future too.”
He said Pakistan views Bangladesh with “respect, affection and admiration,” adding that “a peaceful, prosperous and strong Bangladesh is in our interest.”