Protests started in August, when people took to the streets calling for constitutional reforms [Reuters]
After months of ongoing protests, people in Togo and the international community have set their hopes on the upcoming talks between President Faure Gnassingbe’s government and opposition parties.
“The hope of everyone involved is that the dialogue will have the parties resolve the ongoing crisis,” Jeannine Ella Abatan, a West Africa researcher based in Dakar, Senegal, said about the talks which are scheduled to begin on Thursday.
This crisis started in August, when protesters took to the street demanding constitutional reform, including term limits for the president.
But as the protests continued, the demands of the opposition changed.
“They have shifted from the return of the 1992 constitution to ‘Faure Must Go’, meaning people are no longer just protesting for constitutional reforms or term limits,” Togolese human rights activist Farida Nabourema told Al Jazeera.
“They want the end of the Gnassingbe dynasty and they clearly stated that.”
That dynasty has been in power since 1967, when Eyadema Gnassingbe, father of the current president, came to power.
Eyadema ruled until his death in 2005, after which Faure became the leader of the west African country.
It was Eyadema who removed the three term limit for president from the constitution, leading to the Gnassingbes becoming the longest reigning dynasty in Africa.
Although Faure Gnassingbe’s resignation has now become the opposition’s main focus, Abatan says there is no chance this will actually happen.
As a result, the protesters have lost hope in the talks even before they have gotten under way.
“No one believes in these talks. We have had over 20 of these in Togo since 1991. No one believes in this, especially not the opposition,” Nabourema told Al Jazeera.
“The opposition is not naive enough to expect a dictatorship to negotiate its own dismissal,” she added.
In September, the government did try to give in to some demands by releasing prisoners and proposing a referendum on the reinstatement of the three term limit.
However, that bill did not get enough support since the term limit would not be imposed retroactively, meaning President Gnassingbe could potentially rule until 2030.
Despite these divisions between the ruling party and the opposition, both sides will sit down with each other, mostly because of pressure from the international community.
“The international community, mainly the African Union and neighbouring countries, has played a very big role in creating this opportunity. I think they should continue to play that role, especially during and after the talks,” Abatan said.
“I think they should be the guarantor of the implementation of whatever is decided, and then they should be able to follow the implementation process so we don’t end up with what happened in 2006,” she said.
In that year, the Global Peace Agreement (GPA) was signed, which sought to end similar indifferences between the government and opposition.
The arrangements made in the GPA still have not been implemented, mostly because of lack of pressure to enforce them.
“This time around the international community, but also the parties involved need to make sure that any agreement is actually implemented so we can see an end to this political crisis.”
However, Nabourema thinks Thursday’s talks are very likely to fail.
“It is an opportunity to show international institutions that the opposition is interested in finding a peaceful solution to the problem,” she said.
And if the talks do indeed fail, Nabourema says the protests will continue once again.
“They have tried so many things, including deploying armed militias, arresting hundreds of people, putting cities under siege , shutting down the internet.
“People will be back on the streets and make the country ungovernable.”