- At least 16,500 refugees have already poured into Benin and Ghana from Togo following the post-election violence and chaos in the country, citing "harassment by security forces," which allegedly are blocking the exit from the capital. While the ruling party's candidate tomorrow officially will be declared the winner of the 24 April polls, the candidate of the united opposition already has declared himself President.
According to the UN's refugee agency UNHCR, the number of people fleeing insecurity in post-election Togo has by now risen to more than 16,500, some of them citing harassment by security forces. The numbers have continued to climb during the last few days, as about 9,000 people have fled over Togo's borders into Ghana and 7,500 into Benin.
Sources within Togo have told afrol News that the spiral of violence is rapidly turning in the country. "At least 50 persons have been killed in Lomé [the capital] alone," the source said. Security forces were also said to block the exit possibilities from the capital. "One of the two bridges going out of Lomé has been destroyed," the source said.
The political situation in Togo has been steadily deteriorating since the National Electoral Commission (CENI) on 26 April announced the provisional poll results. Faure Gnassingbé, the candidate of the ruling party and son of late Dictator Gnassingbé Eyadéma, according to CENI had polled 60.22 percent of all votes in the election.
This, however, was taken as proof of widespread poll rigging by the Togolese opposition. The candidate of the united opposition, Emmanuel Bob-Akitani, last week claimed he had won the elections with about 70 percent of the votes and thus declared himself President of Togo. Mr Bob-Akitani bases his claims on the opposition's election observers, who were strongly harassed on election day.
Already as the provisional poll results were announced by CENI, opposition supporters poured on to the streets of the capital, Lomé, to protest the "stolen election". Protesters all over the country have been met by armed state security forces, which are loyal to the political aristocracy.
In the many clashes between opposition supporters and the security forces, at least 29 people have been killed during the last week, according to official sources. Opposition spokesman Yawovi Agboyibo however has claimed that some 100 opposition supporters have been killed and over 300 wounded by militants of the ruling party and state security forces.
The wave of violence is starting to spread throughout the country. According to Togolese government sources, opposition loyalists have attacked and killed foreign workers from Niger, something the opposition however denies. Meanwhile, government loyalists are accused of attacking and setting on fire the German cultural centre - the Goethe Institute - in Lomé on Friday.
According to the centre’s Director, Herwig Kempf, rumours of an attack against German interests in Togo had circulated ever since the former colonial power's embassy offered political asylum to Togo's recently sacked Interior Minister, François Boko. Mr Boko was sacked as he tried to postpone the 24 April polls because he feared a blood bath. Since the attack of the Goethe Institute, Germany has evacuated more than 100 nationals from Togo.
Togo on several occasions has suffered election violence as the recently dead dictator repeatedly rigged the polls in his favour. According to Amnesty International, several hundred opposition supporters were massacred by state security forces during the 1998 election. Togolese opposition supporters now cite similar attacks by the security forces, something that is causing a steadily growing refugee stream into Benin and Ghana.
Observers in the country fear that the worst is still to come. One source told afrol News that conditions are "similar to Rwanda" ahead of the 1994 genocide, urging Europe not to let France stop it from taking action to prevent a disaster. Also Catholic church leaders in Togo are appealing for help from Europe to prevent "a volcano, like Rwanda in 1994."
World leaders meanwhile call for the establishment of a national unity government in Togo while the country prepares constitutional and electoral reforms. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo last week met with Togolese leaders to propose a transitional government, and the proposal this weekend won the support of European governments and the United States.
So far the Nigerian peace proposal has got a mixed welcome in Togo. A representative of the ruling party has promised to reach out a hand to the opposition to form a national unity government when Mr Gnassingbé is installed and accepted as President. "Nothing in the world will make us enter a government of national unity while the problem of the disputed polls remains unresolved," Jean-Pierre Fabré of the main opposition party however told the press today.
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