More than 3,000 local election observers, 6,000 soldiers, and representatives of international election transparency watchdog groups are scattered across Togo on the eve of a presidential election crackling with tension, yet billed as a "national reconciliation" by its leaders.
Observers, international agencies and Togolese voters are hoping for the best, but are also preparing for the worst. Godwin Agodzé, who lives in neighbouring Ghana, told IRIN: "Many have come from Togo asking me if I will rent them rooms where they can live if the elections do not go well in Togo. We see, daily, worried Togolese coming to Ghana."
The incumbent Fauré Gnassingbé was installed by the military after his father died in 2005 after 38 years of nearly uninterrupted rule. Months later the son Gnassingbé was voted into power in a contested bloody election.
In 2005 tens of thousands of Togolese fled east to neighbouring Benin or west to Ghana after a security crackdown in which hundreds died. Despite a 2007 legislative election ruled to be largely free, fair and peaceful, Togolese rattled by a violent electoral past have been opting for safer havens.
"People have already started leaving Togo for Benin, perhaps as a precaution. They cannot be classified as refugees, as this is a pre-emptive movement," Patrick Nicholson, an emergency services director at the Catholic NGO, Caritas, told IRIN.
The UN Refugee Agency-led group of agencies and NGOs in Benin working on the protection of civilians have prepared an emergency plan, should tens of thousands again seek refuge in Benin as in 2005.
The plan outlines four scenarios, ranging from a peaceful election to armed civil conflict, with a violently contested election most likely. "Despite the calm appearance of preparations thus far, the UN and partner agencies are still sticking with scenario 3 as the most probable, because there is still the risk," Nicholson told IRIN.
"We will not say there is no more risk until results are announced and there is no violent reaction. People can be unpredictable, and we do not know how they will react."
Various NGOs, including CARITAS; the International
Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement; and UN agencies have prepared an early warning system that will be activated if Togolese start fleeing en masse to Benin.
In Togo, the UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has monitoring stations throughout the country, and has set up two phone numbers where people can report electoral violence: 800 40 40 and 252.
Change or death?
The seven presidential candidates, including the incumbent, President Gnassingbé, have repeatedly called for peaceful elections, for people to accept the election results, and to abstain from violence. "Nothing can justify the deaths of Togolese, not even a change of power," Gnassingbé said.
A group of youths calling themselves the Citizen Movement for Change (MCA) have rallied under the motto, "change or death", usually holding meetings at unannounced sites; hundreds turned up at a rally on 27 February.
"We will no longer tolerate disorder in Togo. Members of this group have started to recruit people to seed hatred on voting day and during announcements of results," said the head of Togo's security forces, who has put the group under surveillance.
Fulbert Attisso, an MCA leader, told IRIN that a loss by the opposition would be accepted peacefully – if there is no cheating. "If there is fraud, we are ready to die to extract from the ruling party's hand a victory for the opposition," he insisted.
|If there is fraud, we are ready to die to extract from the ruling party's hand a victory for the opposition|
An opposition youth leader not affiliated with MCA, Sylvio Amedégbé, told IRIN he was ready to contest a fraudulent election. "If the ruling power ever tries to steal this vote, we are ready to take to the streets to reclaim victory."
Hubert Atuyo, a supporter of the ruling party, Rally of Togolese People, told IRIN the president's supporters would accept defeat. "We are prepared to accept election results, whichever is the winning party, but we are sure it will be landslide for the president."
On the day
Land borders will be closed as of midnight on Wednesday 3 March. Restaurants and popular meeting spots have been ordered to close on voting day, 4 March, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Only authorized vehicles will be allowed on the roads.
The lead-up to this election has been less tense than previous ones, the head of the National Civil Society Commission and an election observer, Colombo Kpakpabia, told IRIN.
"We have put out the message across the entire country that people should accept the results, and we are confident that nothing [violent] will happen," he said. "It would be a shame if the opposite were to happen."
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