Togo is a sliver of land in West Africa that is drawing attention for its current political upheaval, which has been long in the making.

At a demonstration in Lome against the Togo president Faure Gnassingbe earlier this month, a protesters sign reads Faure, how many deaths are yours.
At a demonstration in Lome against the Togo president Faure Gnassingbe earlier this month, a protesters sign reads Faure, how many deaths are yours. (Reuters)

Togo is not a country that often makes the news, but lately it has as the masses have turned out in the thousands to demand political change.

It is a small sliver of land wedged between Benin and Ghana and it has the unique distinction of being the first country in post-colonial West Africa to suffer a military coup.

And it is this coup in 1963 that continues to have a profound effect on the politics of this tropical West African country today.

Etienne Gnassingbe Eyadema, father of the current president was instrumental in that coup and reportedly claimed at one stage to have been the man who fired the fatal shots that killed the country’s first democratically elected president – Sylvanus Olympio, whose body was found outside the US embassy.

Sylvanus Olympio, Togos first post-colonial president was shot dead in a coup in 1963. The current presidents father was involved in that coup which led to his death.
Sylvanus Olympio, Togos first post-colonial president was shot dead in a coup in 1963. The current presidents father was involved in that coup which led to his death. (AP)

But it was in a second coup in 1967 at the age of 31 that Eyadema took control of Togo, dissolved all political parties and ruled with an iron fist until the early 1990s.

Under pressure and desperate for aid, he legalised multiparty democracy, but retained his hold on power with elections that many claimed were rigged. In 1993, the EU suspended aid to the impoverished nation over voting irregularities.

Etienne Eyadema Gnassingbe leaving a polling booth after casting his vote during Togos 2003 presidential election. The father of the countrys current president held power for 38 years.
Etienne Eyadema Gnassingbe leaving a polling booth after casting his vote during Togos 2003 presidential election. The father of the countrys current president held power for 38 years. (AP)

When he died in 2005 his son Faure Gnassingbe, who was the minister of Equipment, Mines, Posts, and Telecommunications, was appointed president.

Faure Gnassingbe has won three presidential elections since taking office and the Union for the Republic (UNIR) – the successor party of the Rally for the Togolese People that was created by his father – has kept its control of the National Assembly.

Each of the three presidential elections in 2005, 2010 and 2015 have been highly controversial amid claims of fraud with Faure Gnassingbe taking roughly 60 percent of the vote in each election. 

The cabinet of Togos President Faure Gnassingbe, seen here as he campaigned for a third term in 2015, as approved presidential term limits.
The cabinet of Togos President Faure Gnassingbe, seen here as he campaigned for a third term in 2015, as approved presidential term limits. (AP)

The 2005 election saw some 40,000 people flee to neighbouring countries. While figures are hard to come by, there were claims that as many as 500 people died in election-related violence.

It is this 50-year hold on the country by the Eyadema family that has sparked the latest round of protests. Two of the major reforms that the opposition are calling for are presidential term limits and a two-round presidential voting system.

The opposition are demanding a return to the 1992 constitution when term limits were imposed. The ruling party in 2002 enacted constitutional reform that then did away with the amendments.

They have also taken issue with the country's constitutional court, saying that it is a stooge of a ruling party. To back their claim, the opposition point to the fact that the court's president Aboudou Assouma took part in a pro-government rally on August 29.

Under pressure following mass protests earlier this month during which at least two people were killed and scores injured, the government last week introduced a bill with the reforms, including the much demanded two-term limit.

The opposition, which points out that none of their recommendations were included, said the clause stating that "no one can serve more than two terms" has been taken out.

They also want the two-term limit applied retroactively. Without it, Faure Gnassingbe could maintain his hold on government institutions and remain president until 2030.

A four-fifths majority was needed for the bill to be approved but the opposition's boycott of parliament on Tuesday meant it only secured 62 out of 91 votes, with one abstention.

As he ended proceedings, assembly President Dama Dramani said, "For want of this majority, the bill, passed with a two-thirds majority ... is subject to a referendum. The people will therefore have their say."

Government minister Payadowa Boukpessi called the parliamentary vote "democratic" and said the referendum would be held "in the coming months", without specifying a date. 

Only 57 deputies were present for the extraordinary hearing, 56 of them from Gnassingbe's UNIR party. Six others voted by proxy.

The opposition has called for mass protests starting on Wednesday while the ruling party also called for counter protests. While the call was initially for constitutional reform, it has increasingly become a call for the Eyadema dynasty of the past 50 years to be brought to an end.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies