Opinion: Never a dull moment in West Africa
Just like with the coup in Burkina Faso in Sept 2015, which was broken on twitter by the African Union’s Department for Political Affairs (@AUC_DPA), social media, with a special focus on twitter, is also where much of the developments surrounding Togo have taken place.
There are three hashtags that have been trending — #Togoenmarche (TogoontheMove); #TogoDebout (StandupTogo); & #TogoDabord (TogoFirst) — on the twittersphere, and the news on developments there have come at almost breakneck-speed.
*THE LATEST SO FAR*
We all now know that the demonstrators had a press conference yesterday, and decided to synergize their actions. One concrete result is in the call for a sit-down strike on Friday 25 August, which Togolese are calling “Togo Mort” on social media, or, literally, “Dead Togo”.
Monitoring the twittersphere, we find ourselves with a new development: a call for protesters to demand the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbé. Most vocal in this is the twitter handle @togoenmarche, which has just 18 followers, but has been actively tweeting about the protests in French. The profile includes a description that calls for “départ immediat de Faure” — to wit: “immediate departure of Faure”[Gnassingbé]”.
Closely following the call for the departure of the president is a new hashtag #RevC92, which refers to the 1992 constitution that stipulates two terms for a President. We have not seen the constitution-proper, but we do know social media is agog with screen captures with highlights of the part calling for two terms (see image below — red highlight (art 59) refers to the President of the Republic being elected for a 5-year term, renewable only once, and not exceeding two terms).
*WHERE ARE THE UN, ECOWAS, & AFRICAN UNION STATEMENTS ON TOGO?*
Uncharacteristically, there has been, at the time of writing, a conspicuously loud silence on developments in Togo by the Pan-African institutions, and the UN in West Africa.
Reading the transcript of the noon briefings of the United Nations Secretariat between 21 and 22 August, one gets a sinking feeling that gives vent to speculation that the UN is fiddling while Togo burns. The source of this anxiety stems from the responses to questions asked about Togo to the UN Spokesperson Stephan Dujurric.
On 21st August, the question is asked:
“Togo and then Kenya. Togo, as you may have seen, there’ve been major protests against the now 50‑year rule of the same family, and several protesters were killed. The Government says two, the opposition says seven. I’m wondering, you know, you have an office on West Africa. What is the UN… are they following this? Do they intend to…
The response is short but a little encouraging:
“We are following it. I don’t have any language on Togo right now, but we’ll see what we can get.”
On 22nd August, Inner City Press asks:
“And I wanted to ask you on… yesterday, I’d asked you about this crackdown in Togo, and I wanted to know whether… you said, you know, you were looking for something or the UN was monitoring.
Spokesman: No, I…
Question: How many people do you think were killed in it?
And are there any… there’ve been… some people have called for people to flee to Ghana and other nearby questions.”
This time, the response is deeply ambiguous when the spokesperson states “…I wish I had something for you, but I don’t have anything on Togo for you today.”
This is curious, given that yesterday, significant developments took place — including the joint press conference of two main opposition parties. That people were killed amid huge protests in the capital and beyond cannot have gone unnoticed by the radar of either the UN Secretariat in New York, or even the Dakar-based UN Office on West Africa and the Sahel, which is headed by Ghanaian Dr.Ibn Chambas.
Monitoring the social media account of UNOWAS (@UN_UNOWAS) gives one little to go on. The last tweet by the account was 5 days ago, and unrelated to Togo. The website has little to go on either.
As far as the AU is concerned, we know Togo is a member of the Peace and Security Council, and even chaired the PSC in the month of April on matters of maritime security.
If anyone doubted the veracity of Togo’s membership in the AU’s most powerful organ on permanent session, one need look no further than a tweet by the AU’s Peace & Security Department (@AU_PSD) on 22 August, which had a collage of three pictures of representatives of the PSC. One was of a representative of Burundi; the other was Nigeria; and the last picture was of a representative from Togo who was clearly and visibly participating in a discussion session about acts of terrorism in Africa. The irony! (See screenshot below)
As of 13h50 Ghana time today, the AU Peace and Security Council, as tweeted by @AU_PSD, had commenced a session on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Still no mention of Togo. The Togolese representative in the PSC was visibly seen smiling — as if nothing was going on in his country.
Leaving the best for the last, one wonders why Ecowas has yet to issue a statement. There has been no mention of Togo either on its website or social media channels. While it is true that the Ecowas Chair is from Togo, it would be remiss for Ecowas to give the impression that it has double standards on its democracy-promotion mandate.
Only seven months ago, the whole world rallied round joint statements from Ecowas; the African Union; and the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) as they sought to mount pressure on Gambia’s Jammeh to step down. It was all done in the spirit of democracy-promotion. Could that spirit have died down many months later, already?
To compound the absence of an Ecowas response is the fact that even as protesters were in the streets on 22 August, the Prime Minister of Togo, Komi Selom Klassou, was opening an extraordinary session of the Ecowas Parliament.
It is the first time the regional legislature is having a session in the Togolese capital. Most remarkable is the fact that, apart from discussions of the budget for the Parliament, the agenda includes resolution of conflicts.
It is unclear whether the President of the Ecowas Commission was at the meeting.
*THE WAY FORWARD*
The protesters have made their case clear. We cannot as at the time of writing say whether the UN, the African Union, and Ecowas have made their cases as clear.
The dissonance between action on the streets of Togo and increasingly-deafening silence from Ecowas and the other international institutions that were key in The Gambia does not just make for unprecedented times, but for dangerous times especially for Ecowas’ credibility when it needs to continue the commendable work it is known for in consolidating its democracy-promotion mandate.
Author: E.K.Bensah jr / @ekbensah