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Dictators: From coup to stuffed ballot box

*Dictators' weapons of choice switch from military coup to stuffed ballot box

- Peter Fabricius

(Friday, May 6, 2005)

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"The democratic process simply lacks credibility in Togo - as it does elsewhere in Africa - and that is a reality which those with influence on the country will have to address."

The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) have incurred a responsibility to resolve the crisis in the sliver of a West African nation, Togo. Togo is descending into chaos after the electoral authorities declared that acting president Faure Gnassingbe, son of the late president, had won the recent elections - and then opposition leader Emmanuel Akitani Bob cried foul and declared himself the real winner. His supporters took to the streets and chaos ensued. Ecowas, which sent observers to the poll, said that there had been some rigging, but not enough to change the outcome. It and the AU condemned Bob for unilaterally declaring himself the winner. This was quite evidently irresponsible of Bob, who also turned down an invitation from Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Faure to join a government of national unity.

But if Bob is behaving badly (no, not that Bob), you can't heap all the blame on him. Who could really believe that Faure Gnassingbe had conducted a free and fair election? This is, after all, the son and heir of Eyadema, the long-time military dictator who metamorphosed into a civilian democrat by manipulating elections for years. And the champion of the shadowy military men who pull the strings. The democratic process simply lacks credibility in Togo - as it does elsewhere in Africa - and that is a reality which those with influence on the country will have to address. The question is how; the AU, Ecowas and the international community as a whole are all over-stretched in West Africa. They are battling to keep the lid on the cauldron in Ivory Coast, just two countries to the west. Liberia and Sierra Leone are just emerging shakily from years of chaos.

But the AU and Ecowas have incurred a responsibility in Togo which goes beyond their normal duties. When Faure tried to bypass the constitution after his father died earlier this year, and simply take over the country without elections, the AU and Ecowas stepped in and insisted he remain on the constitutional path. They exerted considerable diplomatic and other pressure and eventually Faure complied, agreeing to hold elections. For this the AU and Ecowas received critical acclaim and many flattering comparisons with the failure of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to exert comparable pressure on Zimbabwe. Now Ecowas finds itself in a rather similar situation to SADC, both having given their approval to regional elections which the opposition and outside observers in each case condemned as fatally flawed. So perhaps Ecowas was no better after all than SADC? Perhaps.

Perhaps in both cases we have reached the end of the African tether when it comes to enforcing democracy on the continent. The charter of the African Union holds its members to respect for democracy and human rights as a whole. It may, therefore, act to enforce any breach of them. But in practice the AU and its sub-regional bodies seem to define their interference rights the same way as the old Organisation for African Unity did. And that is that they may interfere only in the case of an unconstitutional change of power. That is what Faure attempted the first time. But not the second time. This time he merely crooked the books, or so it seems. In other words, he got smart and learned to play the game by the rules - not the universal rules but the AU rules. So it seems. Both Zimbabwe and Togo seem to illustrate that in the evolution of democracy in Africa, the tyrant's weapons of choice have evolved from the military coup to the stuffed ballot box. If the AU and Ecowas wish to change that perception, they need to be absolutely sure that the election was fair. And, having insisted on the electoral route in the first place, they have incurred a responsibility to ensure that it does not lead to chaos.

Related Links:- 
African Dictators: Pillage & Plunder
Blair targets African dictators
Togo Succession an Affront on Democracy
Togo's New Leader Calls for Elections
W. African leaders threaten sanctions against Togo
EU warns Togo after 'coup'
African Union weighs sanctions over Togo coup

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