The Togo government has been intermittently blocking the access to internet in a bid to prevent large scale protests.
Tens of thousands have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of Faure Gnassingbé, the current President.
Togo is a small country in West Africa that is dependent on foreign aid. The region used to be a French colony but received independence in 1960. The poverty levels are high and illegal ivory poaching is rampant in the area. Additionally, reports have emerged of human rights abuses that exists within the country. Amnesty has noted that security forces use far too much force against demonstrators. The organization states, “Arbitrary arrests & detentions, torture & other ill-treatment, and impunity for human rights violations persisted.”
For the past 50 years, the region has been under the rule of the powerful Gnassingbé family dynasty. There have been increased number of protests in 2017. People have voiced their discontent against the Gnassingbé family having been in power for decades. Protestors have demanded term limits to ensure no one remains the President for a protracted period of time.
In August 2017, two people were killed due to an outbreak of violence during one of the protests. People once again took to the streets to rally against the current government on September 2017. On the second day of the protests, authorities blocked the internet access across the region.
There have been multiple protests since and the authorities have intermittently cut off internet from the region. According to organizers, at least 800,000 people have participated in one of the largest rallies the region has seen this year. A nine-year-old boy was killed in the northern town of Mango.
The government has tried to work with the opposition. MPs have voted for a change in the nation’s constitution that would introduce a two-term limit. However, the protests have continued. Critics say that introducing this change before 2020 is a ruse for the current government to stay in power till 2030. People are demanding the resignation of Faure Gnassingbé (who has been in power since his father’s death in 2005).
The nation’s bishops have also supported the opposition. Cities like Sokodé in the centre-north and Dapaong and Mango in the north have played a central role in the protests.
According to the latest reports, social media access has been considerably cut down in the country. Primarily mobile messaging services such as WhatsApp have been blocked. In Togo, people primarily use the internet to access WhatsApp. The government also filtered international calls during this period. These measures have been adopted to prevent thousands from mobilizing in protest against the government.
Opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre has called for more demonstrations. Tikpi Atchadam has also emerged as a powerful voice for the opposition.
Our assessment is that the demonstrations this time calling for the change of guard has taken place in the north, the traditional support base for the Gnassingbé family. The nation has a population of 6.6 million and if estimates are to be accepted, then close to a million have protested against the current regime. It is unlikely that the government will be able to curtail the spread of discontent by cutting access to the internet. Governments all over are fully aware of the power of social media to mobilize people who could then hold large demonstrations. We have examples throughout Egypt, Tunisia and even in Chennai, India during the Jallikattu protests.