African Arguments – By Alexander Noyes

Togolese President: Faure Gnassingbé

Long-delayed legislative elections in Togo, most recently set for July 21, 2013, were again pushed back last week and are now scheduled to be held four days later on July 25. The most recent delay was part of a negotiated political agreement between Faure Gnassingbe’s government and several opposition groups, namely the Let’s Save Togo Collective (CST, Collectif Sauvons le Togo) and the Rainbow Coalition (CAEC, Coalition Arc-en-Ciel).

While certainly not a panacea for the long-standing political tensions in Togo—which has seen near constant protests since contested 2010 presidential elections and a rise in levels of political violence—the most recent deal improves the electoral environment and will hopefully decrease the risk of electoral violence surrounding the July 25 polls.

Togo has an extended history of violent elections. Gnassingbe, who was installed by the military in 2005 after his father died in office, has won two flawed elections since coming to power, with up to 800 fatalities recorded during violence around the 2005 polls. Despite repeated attempts at dialogue, including a promising period of inclusive government from 2006-2010 ushered in by the Comprehensive Political Accord (CPA) power-sharing agreement, Gnassingbe and the opposition have had increasingly tense relations since 2010. In the run-up to the 2010 presidential elections many factions of the opposition pulled out of the CPA and subsequently launched regular demonstrations to protest the results of the election and demand reforms.

Prior to the present agreement, the electoral environment in Togo was again looking volatile, as Gnassingbe banned a number of protests and opposition groups threatened to boycott the vote. Held in June and early July, the most recent round of negotiations were brokered by Bishop Nicodeme Anani Barrigah-Benissan, who headed Togo’s Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, with the United States Ambassador to Togo, Robert Whitehead, also participating in the talks.

The agreement, announced on July 10, addresses a number of contentious issues between the government and the opposition, including opposition representation in the electoral commission and at polling stations, the release of several opposition figures that had been detained, the extension of nomination deadlines for candidates, the release of funds to opposition parties to finance campaigns, and the pushing back of the legislative elections themselves.

Although far from a comprehensive deal, the agreement does include several concessions from the government, which hopefully represents a renewed willingness to negotiate with the opposition in good faith. That the often fractured opposition was able to negotiate in a relatively unified manner is also a good sign.

Last week, on a research trip to Lome, the capital of Togo, I interviewed a handful of stakeholders and officials who all noted that this agreement, while not a cure-all, does unequivocally signal an improvement to the electoral situation. This sentiment was echoed by a number of international actors, including the United States, France, Germany, the United Nations, and the European Union, which issued a joint statement noting that there is now “a good base” for peaceful elections in Togo.

While the agreement does suggest an improved electoral environment, the last-minute deal leaves the opposition with very limited time to organize a cohesive campaign, and these steps in the right direction will matter little if election results are viewed as fraudulent by the opposition. In this scenario, opposition parties would almost certainly again organize large-scale protests, which would increase the likelihood of electoral violence.

As such, regional and international actors would be wise to carefully monitor and keep up the pressure on the government to deliver credible results in the upcoming polls. Moreover, real and lasting institutional reforms will not be possible without continued pressure on the government to participate in inclusive dialogue, which must continue after the electoral spotlight has passed.

Alexander Noyes is a Research Associate in the Africa Program at the Institute for Defense Analyses.