Scores of men, women and children watched by squads of paratroopers worked to clear the streets of Togo’s capital of barricades and leftover debris on Thursday as calm returned after two days of rioting triggered by a disputed election victory.
The government said on its website that 22 people had died in the violence that erupted on Tuesday immediately after the son of the late long-serving ruler of Togo was declared winner of weekend presidential elections, tainted by allegations of fraud.
After an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday night, the government announced it was reinforcing law enforcement and security.
And from Thursday morning on, bulldozers and later residents were busy at work across the seaside capital sweeping away burnt tyres, hewn trees, smashed glass and bricks left scattered by the riots.
Fixed and mobile telephone networks were restored although private radio stations remained off air.
Schools, banks and the main market remained close however and there were continuing fears of trouble.
More than 4,000 people had fled to safety in neighbouring Benin and Ghana, said the UN refugee agency UNHCR, and residents said more still were reported to be packing to leave for safety.
“My neighbours are all preparing to leave,” said a frightened resident in the pro-opposition neighbourhood of Be who was reached by phone. “They say the soldiers have been coming into houses and beating people up. They’re scared.”
From a crossroads outside the Be neighbourhood an IRIN correspondent could see around 100 people, mostly girls and women, busy pulling down barricades brick by brick and sweeping and cleaning streets of junk. A group of around 15 soldiers supervised the clear-up, guns at the ready.
“They storm into houses and order people to clean up or else. Some have even been beaten up,” said one youngster who asked not to be named. “When they leave we’ll come back.”
Trouble outside the capital
There were no independent casualty tolls available and there was little information on the situation in central and northern Togo.
One aid worker reported trouble and more than eight deaths in Atakpame, 130 km north of Lome, and “many many hurt”. Aneho, a coastal city 45 east of Lome, was described by aid workers and residents who had fled as “almost a ghost city”.
There were reports of deaths and shooting from people who fled Aneho for the safety of Benin. One woman who was waiting in a hospital to have a bullet removed from her back said she and others were shot as they were trying to make their way out of town across the lagoon.
On the border with Ghana a young man riding a motorbike with a friend said he had been shot in the leg and was hoping to find medical help across the border.
The international community issued a series of pleas for a political solution to end the violence but there was no immediate response from the opposition.
Angry youths took to the streets on Tuesday within minutes of the announcement of the electoral victory of Faure Gnassingbe, candidate for the ruling Rally for the Togolese People (RPT), and son of the country’s ruler for 38 years, Gnassingbe Eyadema.
The 24 April election was called after the 5 February death in office of Eyadema, Africa’s longest serving ruler.
Tension heightened further on Wednesday when the loser of the poll, opposition candidate Emmanuel Bob-Akitani, refused to concede defeat and instead declared himself president.
“Togolese, your president is speaking to you,” he said. “Yes, your president. We have not lost this presidential election.”
"We must fight with our lives if necessary … to force the one who believes he has a divine right over our people to listen to reason,” he added.
Abbas Bonfoh, interim president
Interim president orders arrests
In a live address to the nation, interim president Abbas Bonfoh dubbed the self-proclamation “as pure fantasy, null and void.”
“Those who violate the laws of the republic will be prosecuted,” he said in his speech. “I therefore order the law enforcement and security agencies to arrest all those who go against the rule of law and order, the law of the republic, in brief, democracy.”
The election commission said Gnassingbe had won 60 percent of the vote in Sunday’s poll while the main opposition candidate Bob-Akitani captured 38 percent. The results must be confirmed by the constitutional council and did not include polling stations where ballot boxes had been destroyed, the commission said.
Furious opposition supporters, who had been eagerly waiting to turn the page on almost four decades of Eyadema rule, said the result was a cheat. In weeks of protests ahead of the poll, they clamoured the ruling party was planning to rig the vote.
But both former colonial power France and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), who sent in 150 observers, described Sunday’s vote as basically fair, while conceding there had been a few irregularities.
Canada on the other hand said “numerous irregularities” marred both the poll and the preparations for the election.
The US State Department agreed. It said on Wednesday that “the legitimacy of Togo’s presidential elections fell short of the aspirations of the Togolese people and the expectations of Togo’s friends in the international community.”
But Washington, along with the European Union, urged Togo’s rivals to comply with an ECOWAS plea for Togo’s political rivals to come together in a national reconciliation government.
“Such a government could heal political divisions and should prioritise reforms of the constitution and the electoral code to allow for fully credible, transparent and free elections as soon as possible.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
Hundreds of thousands of readers trust The New Humanitarian each month for quality journalism that contributes to more effective, accountable, and inclusive ways to improve the lives of people affected by crises.
Our award-winning stories inform policymakers and humanitarians, demand accountability and transparency from those meant to help people in need, and provide a platform for conversation and discussion with and among affected and marginalised people.
We’re able to continue doing this thanks to the support of our donors and readers like you who believe in the power of independent journalism. These contributions help keep our journalism free and accessible to all.
Show your support as we build the future of news media by becoming a member of The New Humanitarian.
Get the latest humanitarian news, direct to your inbox
Sign up to receive our original, on-the-ground coverage that informs policymakers, practitioners, donors, and others who want to make the world more humane.
Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.