- The government of Togo is intensifying its campaign to sell the country as a "real democracy" to assure the reestablishment of European Union (EU) development aid programmes. The opposition and the EU however remain sceptical regarding Togo's "democratisation" and demand a new electoral code and new elections before approving the "progress".
Togolese Foreign Minister Kokou Biossey Tozoun had a clear message when addressing the almost empty General Assembly of the UN: "Democracy has become a reality in Togo," the Minister said, knowing that his audience was mainly domestic. Nevertheless, Minister Tozoun emphasised in New York, Togo was now dedicated to "multi-party democracy and the rule of law."
- At this occasion, continued Mr Tozoun, "we want launch an immediate and urgent appeal to all our development partners to join the Togolese government in the process of strengthening the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law." This message, although indirectly addressed to the EU, also was directed at the Togolese audience, expecting improvements in the country's troubled diplomatic ties.
A recent visit to Brussels certainly did impress the European bureaucrats more than Mr Tozoun's speech in New York. Togolese Prime Minister Koffi Sama last week spoke to EU leaders in a more direct attempt to convince Europeans that it was time to reconsider bilateral aid programmes with Togo.
According to most of the Togolese press, however, Prime Minister Sama was wasting his time. The weekly 'Le Regard' held that the government rather should "spend Togolese taxpayers' money" on complying with remaining democratisation demands, while the 'Crocodile' found the whole journey a ""proof of ignorance" of the government. The pro-government 'Le Combat du Peuple', on the other hand, found it outrageous that the EU was lifting sanctions on Libya but not on Togo.
Almost the entire Togolese media debate - pro and contra the government's moves - has been displayed at the Lomé government's internet site as a sign of the improving democratic debate in the country. This new openness comes after legislative reforms of the press code - decriminalising all press offences - and the liberation of political prisoners.
In spite of all these positive reforms, one could ask, why is the EU still stubborn and rejects the Lomé government as a cooperation partner in the same way as almost any African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) country. The roots are mainly found in Togo's failed June 2003 presidential poll, which produced a controversial victory for the incumbent President Gnassingbé Eyadema.
President Eyadema has been in power since a military coup in 1967, but during the last two decades, his authoritarian regime has been accused of extreme human rights violations. This in 1993 led the EU to cancel its bilateral cooperation with Togo, a cooperation it has with all ACP nations.
EU-Togo negotiations prior to 2003 focused on free and fair elections but unilateral changes to the electoral code made by the government caused the opposition to withdraw. Togo's main opposition politician, exiled Gilchrist Olympio, was barred from standing candidate in the 2003 polls and President Eyadema - who had promised not to stand candidate - won the polls. Many more irregularities were noted.
The EU thus condemned the polls, saying they were not "held in a free and transparent manner so as to promote the democratic process in Togo." Still, the Europeans demand new elections to resume their cooperation. This was repeated in a 31 August decision by the European Commission, where it called for "a new round of democratic parliamentary elections" in Togo.
The EU Commission expressed satisfaction at the numerous measures taken so far by the Togo government to improve the condition of human rights, freedom of expression and the promotion of the rule of law. Nevertheless, it held it was necessary for the Togolese government to create new electoral laws under which new free and equitable legislative elections could be held with the free participation of all political stakeholders.
So far, the Togolese opposition has agreed with the EU. In most of the "democratisation process" announced by the Eyadema regime, the opposition has not been able to participate. As reforms proposed by the opposition were deemed unfit by the government, authorities went on with their own schemes, leaving the opposition to boycott the "democratisation process".
The frozen EU development programmes for Togo are worth over euro 40 million in investments from the European Development Fund (EDF). European countries such as Germany and France are currently heading development programmes in Togo, but these are minimal compared to the EDF programme.
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