Togo in a state of insecurity and violence

“They harassed us, seriously beating us, but they did not kill us.”
– Ricardo Agouzou

Following an interview with SMA Father Silvano Galli, the News Agency of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples – FIDES – is reporting a growing feeling of unease in Togo due to the ongoing political crisis there. Fr Galli stated that, “The country has been going through a serious political crisis for five months, since a coalition of 14 opposition parties, have been organizing rallies and protests almost every week against the president, heir to a family in power for 50 years.

On 27 December 2017, thousands of people took to the streets of the Togolese capital, Lomé, to demand a limit to the number of presidential mandates and for the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbé“. His father, Étienne Gnassingbé, seized power following a coup d’état in 1967 and held power for 37 years. The present President succeeded him in 2005 without any election.

Unrest on the streets of Lomé

A draft revision of the Constitution is under way, but the limit of two presidential terms laid down is not retroactive, and therefore the president is still authorized to run as candidate in 2020 and 2025. The opposition does not accept this. The Presidency promised, in early December, to open dialogue with the opposition, the conditions for this to take place (the release of imprisoned demonstrators, the withdrawal of security forces in the north) are being implemented“, explains Father Silvano.

“The Togolese crisis is not just about the country itself, but several West African countries are worried about the instability that it could cause. The population and the coalition of opposition parties today demand the return to the 1992 Constitution and the departure of Faure Gnassingbé. The repression of the demonstration on 19 August caused numerous injuries, deaths, arrests and refugees. It was the beginning of a manhunt launched by the regime against the opposition and hundreds of thousands of Togolese who took to the streets throughout the country and in the diaspora almost every week. The repressions were violent especially in Sokodé, besieged by the army, in Bafilo, in Mango where the population fled to Ghana after their goods were destroyed and lost everything.”

Ricardo Agouzou showing signs of brutality

On Sunday, 7 January in Kara, a town 70 km from Sokodé, “they harassed us, seriously beating us, but they did not kill us”, said Ricardo Agouzou, regional leader of the Parti National Panafricain (PNP) Kara.

According to the victims’ testimonies the local PNP meeting was held at Agouzou’s house when men armed with sticks, ropes and machetes suddenly broke into the house.

“Armed groups act freely, with no masks, accompanied by soldiers under the silent gaze of the administrative authorities. The good Lord saved our lives, we managed to escape. Today we are alive”, Agouzou said, inviting opposition activists to non-violence. “We know who the militiamen are but let us leave them to God’s judgment”, concluded the leader.

Furthermore, on 26 December, 3 other militants from the TikpiAtchadam party were kidnapped by the government and taken to prison in Lomé. According to OuroTikpaTchatikpi, the PNP to date has not been informed of the allegations against its members even if Article 17 of the Constitution states that ‘whoever is arrested has the right to be immediately informed of the charges against him’.

“People do not feel safe”, adds Father Silvano. “A friend told me a few days ago: ‘Once the problems are solved you have to pursue army members, or others, who went into houses at night, stole, destroyed, beat, even killed. They are crimes against humanity, which must not be left unpunished’. But we must also see a positive element: fewer soldiers circulate in Sokodé. I greeted two in front of the telecom building. They spoke the Kotokoli language. I thanked them because they were there to protect us all. They smiled. We were at the beginning of the year and I blessed them. I then went into the looted building where the new director of Telecom accompanied me to an office with two ladies and a couple of computers”.

A still image taken from a video shot on October 18, 2017, shows policemen patrolling a street during a protest in Lome, Togo October 18, 2017. REUTERS/via Reuters TV

From 8 – 12 January, all Togolese priests gathered in Sokodé, in the parish of Christ Lumière of Kpangalam for their annual meeting, in which they examined the delicate social, political and economic situation of the country.

The SMA reported a Statement of the Togolese Bishops Conference in May 2017, headed, ‘A Bomb that may Explode’. Read their Statement here.

At least 30% of the Togolese population are Christian, 20% are Muslim and 50% hold traditional beliefs. The SMA have been on mission in Togo for more than one hundred years. At present our team in Togo come from France, Ghana, Italy, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria and Poland.