- An inter-faith peace mission to Togo has called on national religious communities to join forces to promote a "healing process" to overcome the political crisis, which also is caused by a north-south split. Both Prime Minister Edem Kodjo and opposition leaders acknowledged, for the first time, there were problems that needed to be addressed.
Between 17 and 21 July, a fact finding mission by the Inter-Faith Action for Peace in Africa (IFAPA) met with political leaders in Togo and with the large number of Togolese refugees still living in Benin and Ghana. "Our assessment is that working together will strengthen the hope and willingness we sensed on our visit that people are ready to move forward," the delegation leader, Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Secretary-General Ishmael Noko, told a news conference in Lomé yesterday.
Mr Noko said that he sensed the various parties to the conflict in Togo were now willing to move forward. "For the first time I was able to hear from a representative of the Togolese government that there are problems in the country," he said, referring to his meeting with Prime Minister Kodjo. "In the past we were told there were no problems. This is a step toward opening up dialogue at the national level," Mr Noko said.
He further stressed that "the culture of political denial of existing problems needs to be broken in Africa," and commended Mr Kodjo and others who "are beginning to take that step." The delegation said Togo needed "transparency, good governance, respect for human rights, the rule of law, social justice, and gender equality" and to have leaders "who are accountable, not to outsiders, but truly accountable to their own people."
In its findings, the inter-faith delegation encouraged religious groups to promote a healing process for peace and reconciliation, noting that healing had a spiritual dimension. "You can never reconcile people unless you tell the truth," Mr Noko said. "You need the truth to be told. But you need reconciliation, and for that you need forgiveness. That is where religious communities have a role," he concluded.
Mr Kodjo, who was appointed Prime Minister in June, had pledged he would ensure that no Togolese was threatened by the military, Mr Noko said of their meeting. "On the basis of what we heard, the Prime Minister said that the government is ready to provide security, resettlement and amnesty for those refugees who come back," Mr Noko observed.
The government was also preparing legislation that would grant an amnesty to facilitate the return of refugees, Mr Noko was told. The delegation however said it had seen at first hand the plight of Togolese refugees outside the country's borders, and heard reports from some religious leaders that human rights abuses were still continuing.
The IFAPA delegation included Christians, Muslims and members of African traditional religions. During the visit, it met representatives of Togo's religious communities, government officials and leaders of the multi-party opposition coalition whose candidate lost the rigged presidential election. The group also visited a camp for Togolese refugees in Benin.
Southern Togo is most influenced by different Christian congregations and sects, while the north holds a relatively important Muslim minority. The north is also the power base for the Eyadéma dictatorship and the military forces. African traditional religions however are dominant in both parts of the country. A religiously motivated north-south split has not plaid an important role in Togo, compared to Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. Ethnic divisions have been more important.
In other events, Togo's military-imposed leader Faure Gnassingbé this week met with exiled opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio in Rome, where they agreed to condemn and stop violence back home. The wave of violence started when Mr Gnassingbé grabbed power after his father - Togo's dictator during the last 38 years - died in February. Violence intensified when the presidential elections were rigged in Mr Gnassingbé's favour.
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