afrol News, 23 December - Following four decades of dictatorship and economic sanctions, Togo's President Gnassingbé Eyadéma has opted for democracy and human rights reforms. Togo is to hold early elections in the first half of 2005, complying with demands from the EU to give the opposition a fair chance of winning. Human rights reforms have already been implemented.
New, anticipated elections were today announced by President Eyadéma in the National Assembly in Lomé. The Togolese leader said he would follow international demands, "organising new legislative elections under transparent conditions." Togo would further be "accepting international observers at all the stages of the process." In Togo, this could come close to a revolution.
Only a few years ago, Togo was listed among the worst dictatorships in Africa. Amnesty International in 1999 published the report "Togo: Rule of Terror", describing executions of hundreds of opposition sympathisers during the rigged 1998 elections. President Eyadéma, who came to power in a 1967 coup, and his party have "won" every election held in the country.
An investigation into the executions caused strong critics by the African Union and UN. The European Union (AU) has suspended all aid to Togo since 1993 for human rights violations, and the US will not admit the dictatorship in its AGOA trade benefit programme, which includes almost all sub-Saharan Africa. Togo has been mostly isolated from the world for a decade.
As pressure has grown, Togolese authorities have embarked on the road of reform. In particular the EU sanctions have hurt the country's economy. The frozen EU programmes for Togo are worth over euro 40 million in investments from the European Development Fund (EDF). This year, therefore, Prime Minister Koffi Sama has had several meetings with EU officials in Brussels, where he promised to speedily introduce improved human rights standards.
Togo's government has since implemented a number of measures, such as launching political talks with opposition parties, reforming a draconic media law and releasing close to 500 common law prisoners, including some who have been named political prisoners by human rights groups and the opposition.
While the EU was impressed by these human rights reforms, Togo's main potential sponsor said it would opt for nothing less than fresh elections. The promised "national dialogue" had merely been government dictations to the opposition, as it had been in the preparation of the 2003 general elections.
The Europeans had hoped the 2003 poll would bring a democratic shift in Togo. However, a new electoral code was introduced against the protests of the opposition and to its disfavour. Consequently, the EU protested the elections even before they were held. Economic cooperation was not restored and pressure on President Eyadéma increased.
Brussels on 15 November decided to give President Eyadéma a helping hand, following the first, deep ploughing set of human rights reforms. Development aid to Togo was partly resumed and close to US$ 50 million was released for projects in the country. Full resumption of the substantial EU aid to Togo was made dependent on free and transparent legislative elections.
With today's promise by President Eyadéma, Togo officially has given into EU demands. The Togolese government also explains the early election in the first half of 2005 as a move to please Brussels. If the demands of transparency and fairness are met, Togo may experience its first democratic elections in four decades.
The announcement of President Eyadéma today also was welcomed by the opposition parties in Togo. Opposition spokesmen said new elections by these guidelines would correspond with their demands and generally were happy about the decision. There however remained many practical details to discuss, the opposition emphasised.
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