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Togo: What Olympio’s intervention means for the opposition


Togo prepares for its future


For four months and counting, they have sustained unrelenting protests to end 50 years of a one-family rule in the French-speaking West African nation. They are the leaders of the #Fauremustgo opposition-led protests that since August has very sharply divided the tiny West African nation of 7.6million people.

Led by Jean Pierre Fabre, the head of the National Alliance for Change, who had contested against Faure Gnassingbe in the elections, the coalition is insisting that Faure must go.

In this it has found strange resonance with a more recent Faure ally, Gilchrist Olympio. The son of the legendary, Sylvanio Olympio, Gilchrist had also contested and lost elections to the incumbent, Faure Gnassingbe, and was indeed a previous player in the opposition.

However after several unsuccessful attempts to clinch the top-job himelf, he gave up and steered his UFC party into an alliance with Faure. Now Olympio is asking Faure Gnassingbe and his government to accept a return to the 1992 constitution, which sets a 10-year limit for presidents.

“Faure Gnassingbe must then accept the principle of not running in the presidential elections of 2020, to leave the field clear for democratic consultation,” he told reporters recently.

“The chance is being offered… to go down in history by creating the conditions for the peaceful change of power,” he elaborated.

Referring to his erstwhile colleagues who are presently in the thick of the protests, Olympio urged them to be united and plot a way forward for the country, even as he formally announced his retirement from politics.

Going down memory lane, it will be recalled that Gilchrist’s father, the legendary Sylvanus Olympio had indeed served as Togo’s first president after independence from French colonial rule in 1960.

Incidentally also, he was to be killed in a military coup in 1963, which featured among its prime participants, the older Gnassingbe.

Following the consolidation of Gnassingbe Eyadema’s place in Togo’s power equation after he had staged another coup and seized power in 1967, Gilchrist was the rallying point of sorts for the opposition. However in May 2010, he signed an agreement with Faure who had inherited his father’s political estate and brought his UFC party into government.

For the coalition of 14 opposition parties who want the re-introduction of a two-term limit for presidents plus a two-round voting system at elections in the country going forward, Gilchrist’s intervention would indeed be generally welcome.

And for the current leader of the opposition troops, Jean Pierre Fabre, who has had to virtually rebuild the rump of the shattered forces that Gilchrist left behind when he ‘jumped ship’ in 2010, his announcement of a formal resignation from politics, will be even more reassuring.

Afterall, it’s a question of power you know.



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