Winds of change will not sweep Togo says government, as hopes of new "Black Spring" fade
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Voters in Togo took to the polls on Saturday to elect their new president. Outgoing leader Faure Gnassingbé is expected to win a third term, yet his main rival Jean Pierre Fabre has called for an end to his family’s rule of almost 50 years. Authorities have ruled out a repeat scenario similar to Nigeria and Burkina Faso, which saw long-serving governments swept away by the will of the people.
"Togo is not Nigeria or Burkina Faso," government spokesperson Essodeina Petchezi told RFI on Saturday. "Our realities and our history are different."
Yet the reality for many Togolese people in this west-African nation has been much of the same.
Most of them have only ever known the family of incumbent president Faure Gnassingbé, who took over from his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, in 2005.
"When I left Togo in 1988, the president's father was in power," Ogma Mba, a Togolese national living in France told RFI. "Twenty-seven years later, his family is still there," he said in frustration.
Gnassingbé's handover was contested by the opposition amidst allegations of fraud and violent protests which led to the deaths of 500 people.
This time, the electoral process has gone a lot smoother, but critics still warn of post-electoral violence, notably due to a new controversial system of tallying results.
"If any of the five candidates contest the results it could trigger violence," Alberto Olympio of the Togolese People's Party told RFI. “We know that the government has closed its borders – no one can travel. We know that France is calling for caution. So these are tell-tale signs that the risk of violence is still out there."
What comes after the election is the topic of much discussion. The recent opposition victory of Muhammadu Buhari in Nigeria and the departure of neighbouring Burkina Faso's Blaise Compaore last year after a popular uprising has led to hopes of a similar regime change in Lomé.
Despite Gnassingbe's massive infrastructural projects and impressive 5.6 per cent GDP growth, unemployment is rife at 29 per cent, with the youth the first to suffer.
Government spokesperson Essodeina Petchezi says the president needs more time to finish what he’s started, promising to speed up social reforms in the next five-year term.
The opposition, however, like some of the 3.5 million voters, will be asking how much more time a government who has ruled for nearly 50 years will need.