Tensions surrounding the recent arrest of the Togolese president’s brother on coup-plotting charges and the detention of other civilians will test reconciliation efforts in the country, still recovering from 2005 election violence, civil society leaders say.
President Faure Gnassingbé came to power in a 2005 election that ended with violent military crackdowns on civilian protesters, with tens of thousands of people fleeing to neighbouring countries.
Koukou Amegblé told IRIN he was in his 30s when he fled to Benin during election violence. “It is not easy to leave your country and take refuge in another. I never wish to relive the experience in 2005 that forced me to [flee to] Benin. Whatever happens, I implore political actors to spare [us] the violence that would lead us outside our borders again.”
A parliament member and former defence minister, the brother Kpatcha Gnassingbé is seen as increasingly influential in the ruling party and a potential challenge to Faure in the presidential election set for April 2010, according to Jean-Pierre Fabre, Secretary General of the opposition Union of Forces for Change party.
A 2006 peace agreement created a unity government committed to holding a peaceful legislative election in 2007 and setting up an independent truth and reconciliation commission to examine allegations of human rights abuses.
Recommendations for such a commission were gathered in a national survey of 25,000 people and submitted to the government in September 2008.
Human rights groups and opposition party members have accused the military of continued gross human rights abuses, dating back as far as independence in 1956.
Togo’s Minister of Human Rights, Hamadou Yacoubou, told IRIN the alleged coup attempt has not derailed the state’s work on creating a truth and reconciliation commission. “On the contrary, it has reinforced our determination to reconcile [all sides]. We will show the Togolese and the world that reconciliation is not an illusion.” He said the government has solicited nominations for commission members from various civil society groups.
Another bloodbath must be avoided at all costs, said Edoh Komi, a pastor and president of the Federation of Churches and Missions in Togo. “The Togolese people have suffered too much. We should rather consolidate the gains and partial resumption of donor cooperation.”
Komi told IRIN the recent presumed coup attempt is a test for the country to maintain its newfound peace, and “for the head of state to cultivate a spirit of forgiveness and unity for a lasting reconciliation.”
Following the 2007 legislative election, which was widely judged as free and fair, aid agencies and governments pledged more than US$1 billion to help rebuild the country after more than 10 years of scaled-back donor support.
Funding had dropped by more than 60 percent from 1990 to 2005, according to the UN, as donors protested recurrent human rights abuses met with impunity.
The UN Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, said after a meeting with President Gnassigbé in Togo on 20 April that in Africa, where democracy-building can be seen as a threat, election preparations could create “challenges to stability and social cohesion and must be carried out carefully.”
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
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