Gnassingbe dynasty’s been in power for almost six decades

President of Togo Faure Gnassingbe (left) with Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara. Gnassingbe wants to his extend his stay in office for another six years. Reuters

President of Togo Faure Gnassingbe (left) with Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara. Gnassingbe wants to his extend his stay in office for another six years. Reuters

Published Apr 28, 2024


Dr Sizo Nkala

The perennial political and constitutional crisis in Togo has been given a new momentum. This after the country’s parliament passed controversial constitutional reforms on April 19, which effectively switched the country’s political system from the presidential system to a parliamentary system.

The reforms have created a ceremonial presidency whose occupant will be chosen by parliament for a non-renewable term of six years. This could mean that President Faure Gnassingbe, whose party, the Union for the Republic, dominates parliament, could remain president for six more years until 2031 after his current term as executive president comes to an end in 2025.

Gnassingbe has been in power in the west African country since 2005 when he succeeded his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who had ruled the country since 1967 after seizing power through a military coup. Thus, the country has been ruled by the Gnassingbe family for 57 years since gaining independence from France in 1960.

The senior Gnassingbe led an oppressive regime whose source of power was the military rather than public support. His regime gave in to a multiparty system in the 1990s under pressure from civil society and the international community. However, as the ruling party had access to state resources and enjoyed the support of the military, the opposition parties never had a chance of winning state power in a hostile electoral environment.

Faure’s rule has also been anchored on the support of the military and a pliant state administration that has helped keep the opposition at bay through violence and electoral malpractices.

The new amendments also established a new executive position – the president of the council of ministers – which is equivalent to a prime minister. Endowed with executive powers, the president of the council of the ministers will be elected by parliament for two four-year terms and will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the country.

As his party is firmly in control of parliament after the opposition parties boycotted the parliamentary elections in 2018, Gnassingbe could be the country’s first president of the council of ministers.

This means that the Gnassingbe dynasty will continue to control executive powers in Togo until at least 2033. Opposition parties and civil society organisations in the country have dismissed the new constitutional amendments as a way of extending Gnassingbe’s stay in power. The country amended its constitution in 2019 to limit the occupation of the presidency to two five-year terms after a long struggle waged by the country’s opposition parties and dissenting civil society organisations.

Gnassingbe contested and won the presidential elections in 2020 under the new amendments. With his first term coming to an end in 2025, he would have been eligible to retain the presidency for one more term until 2030. As such, the recent constitutional adjustments give him a new lease of life as they do not apply retrospectively.

The developments in Togo represent a continuing phenomenon of assault on constitutionalism that we have become accustomed to in Africa. The continent’s ruling elites routinely tweak their countries’ constitutions to maintain their political power. In 2015, Rwanda passed constitutional amendments to allow its long-time president, Paul Kagame, to run for a third 7-year term in 2017.

After completing his third term this year, Kagame is eligible to run for two more 5-year terms under the new constitutional amendments which could keep him in power until 2034. He is the Rwanda Patriotic Front’s presidential candidate in this year’s elections.

In Uganda, parliament voted to remove the 75-year age limit for those participating in the presidential elections. This cleared the way for Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled the country since 1986, to run in the 2021 elections as a 76-year-old.

Chad also changed its constitution in 2005 when it removed two-term limits to allow the Idriss Deby to extend his stay in power.

In Zimbabwe, there have been loud calls from the ruling Zanu-PF to change the constitution to allow President Emmerson Mnangagwa to contest the 2028 elections. The country’s constitution has two-term limits which makes Mnangagwa ineligible to run in 2028 when he completes his second term.

However, as Zanu-PF controls more than a two-thirds majority in parliament, constitutional amendments may be imminent. Moreover, Togo’s situation illuminates another unfortunate phenomenon in Africa where political power is concentrated in a family dynasty.

In addition to Togo, countries such as Chad, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea have also seen single families enjoy an unassailable grip on the levers of power for long periods. Uganda may join the club of dynasties soon after Museveni appointed his son as the military chief which many see as positioning him to take over when his father’s rule comes to an end.

What happened in Togo is an affront to democracy which will only delay Africa’s democratic renewal.

*Dr Nkala is a Research Fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Africa-China Studies

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL