Tens of thousands of working-class people and youth took over the streets in Togo, over the last few months, demanding the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbé. He has been head of state since the death of his father, Étienne Gnassingbé Eyadéma, in 2005. Eyadéma had been in power for 38 years, after a series of coup d’états he led in the 1960s, as a Sergeant in the army.
The protesters battle-cry was “50 years is too long”, expressing long repressed anger. Father and son had been skilful in maintaining stability through repressive measures and building a personality cult presenting themselves as invincible icons of national unity. Just a year ago, despite simmering discontent, very few people would ever have believed that the working masses in Togo would take such a bold revolutionary step of entering the political arena to demand change, in such large numbers across several towns.
The current moment in that country cannot be separated from the generalization of capitalism’s systemic crisis, globally. In the face of an international economic crisis, the bosses have intensified attacks on working-class people, while they (the bosses) continue to live ostentatious lifestyles. In Togo, over the last few years, unemployment rates and inflation have risen sharply, as living conditions have worsened. Yet corporate taxes have been reduced, thus increasing the profits of multinational corporations that export agricultural produce and phosphates from the country, while its capital, Lomé has become one of the 20 cities with the worst quality of life, worldwide.
This context was like a keg of gunpowder. The newly-formed Pan-African National Party’s call for mass action to demand Gnassingbé’s resignation on August 19 was the spark for a blaze. The series of demonstrations that since then has also gone beyond the shores of Togo, as Togolese in several countries have joined in the protest movement, in a similar manner to the international demonstrations which supported the January 2012 uprising in Nigeria.
The government’s immediate response was a crackdown. The army was called out to quell the demonstrations. Two protesters were killed in August and not less than thirteen seriously wounded. Twenty-seven leaders of opposition parties mainly of the PNP were also put on trial for “rebellion”. Fifteen of them, including the PNP Secretary General, were sentenced to 15 months imprisonment on August 30. But all these did not dampen the rising pressures of resistance.
CAP 2015, a coalition of six opposition parties was formed. In collaboration with the PNP, they “agreed to join forces to bring about the liberation struggle of Togo”, and called for further mass protest. In September, the government shutdown the internet in feverish attempts to stop the movement from growing, by cutting the mobilizational use of social media.
Pressure is being put on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which Gnassingbé presently chairs, and the African Union, (AU) to step in and mediate between the regime and the liberal oppositional forces. There is a strong likelihood that some reconciliation could be reached between these different sections of the bosses, drawing from the earlier experience of Faure Gnassingbé’s emergence as head of state.
For example, the military unilaterally declared Faure as his father’s (interim) successor when Eyadéma died of heart attack in Tunisia, in February 2005, as the longest serving African head of state at the time. ECOWAS and AU declared this a coup and called for elections. These were held in April of the same year and Fuare Gnassingbe’s emergence was legitimized.
If the revolutionary spirit of the working masses continues to manifest in protests, it might be impossible for Faure Gnassingbé to continue as president. Regime change is a likely step for the bosses to embrace, to save the system from more explosive actions. An interim power-sharing arrangement could also be reached. The opposition parties sense of a “liberation struggle” is basically for the reinstatement of the 1992 constitution which limited tenure for the president to two terms of five years, each.
Ten years later, Eyadéma amended this constitution which had introduced multi-party democracy to enable him to continue as president. and his son was planning to have a third term, which the liberal opposition parties were unhappy with. These parties do not have any essentially different social or economic programme to that of the Gnassingbé’s Union for the Republic (UNIR) regime. But the current upheaval will always serve as a milestone of reference, which could inspire more thoroughgoing struggle for a better society in the near future.
When Gnassingbé Eyadéma established the Rally of the Togolese People (RTP was the forerunner of UNIR) in 1970, he instituted a one-party tyrannical regime. All parties, including radical left parties were repressed. Independent trade unionism was also suppressed. Socialists were hounded into exile, where they formed organisations such as the Organisation of Togolese Workers for Democracy (OTTD) in the 1980s.
The limited opening up of the democratic space in the early 1990s which allowed a semblance of a new lease of life for the trade unions and attempts at renewing socialist organization in the country (including the formation of a socialist Workers’ Party) was as a response of the Eyadema regime to the wave of Africa’s second liberation at that point in time. This was the period of the Great Anti-SAP revolts, including in Nigeria and the spread of National Conferences across West and Central Africa, starting from the Republic of Benin.
The struggle then was buoyed by mass action from below, but its main beneficiaries were new parties of different sections of the same old bosses’ class. Quite importantly, the struggle was an international one, manifested in different countries in ways conditioned by the political contexts that the different countries.
The current struggle in Togo is equally a manifestation within its national context, of the international spirit of revolts against a capitalist system which is in crisis, where the consciousness and organization of the working masses as a class is essential for it to result in system change.
Working-class people and youth in the country have no doubt been inspired and emboldened by the wave of struggles across the world, and particularly within the region. And they have continued to fight, as demonstrated in October shortly before Socialist Worker went to press, inspiring mass resistance in neighbouring Benin were the trade unions clarion call mobilised a protest of 10,000 people against the anti-poor neoliberal policies of President Patrice Talon.
They could say, if Blaise Campaore could be overthrown in Burkina Faso and Abdoulaye Wade forced to accept his defeat in Senegal, why can’t they kick out the Gnassingbé “dynasty”? Their victory will further inspire revolutionary pressures against Biya in Cameroon, Kabila in Congo, and should also inspire us in Nigeria to rise up against the anti-poor people policies of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
SWL stand in solidarity with the workers and youth of the republic of Togo. We call on them not to back down from this generational task, and not to be deceived by limited reforms which will soon show themselves to be false solutions. This moment of revolutionary rehearsals is the time for building the independent organization of working-class people and for change-seeking activists in the country, limited as they might be for now, to take up the dissemination of workers-democratic with renewed vigour.
by Nnamdi Ikeagu & Lai Browne