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Why The Republic of Togo Should not Be Admitted To the Threshold Program Under Current Circumstances?

Since August 2017, the Republic of Togo entered a tumultuous political crisis following the insistence of a majority of its population on political reforms. To this date, local Human Rights organizations have documented more than a hundred deaths as a result of the political repression and dozens of arbitrary arrests. In spite of the violent repression, massive weekly protests have continued to challenge the government unwillingness to conduct agreed upon political reforms needed to limit presidential terms and ensure a fair election system.

The political crisis has heightened throughout the past 6 months and turned Togo into the most politically unstable country in West Africa. Togo is the only country in that West Africa that has not embraced the democratic tradition of a peaceful transfer of power. The current conflict has most observers worried about escalation and violence given the repressive nature of the Gnassingbé family and the army which have ruled the country for 51 years.

Due to the ongoing crisis, in December 2017, the Millenium Challenge Corporation postponed the admission of Togo to the Threshold Program it was selected for in 2015, and stated in a press release that: “ with regard to Togo, the board (...) will monitor development on the ground before making a decision about the proposed threshold program."

As the first quarterly meeting of the year is approaching, there are alarming signs that the MCC board of directors would consider selecting Togo for an agreement. A favorable vote from the MCC will be a slap in the face of the millions of Togolese people that are calling for democratic reforms, good governance, the rule of law and a fair political succession. Here are a few things to consider in the case of Togo:

1. It is important to note that in 2005, Faure Gnassingbé effectively came to power through a coup that was later outfitted with a sham election. The ensuing electoral violence left at least 800 people dead and was met with worldwide condemnation. Since then, Faure Gnassingbé was able to maintain power through political maneuvering including voters suppression, intimidations, a firm grip on all state institutions and a refusal to honor any agreement. Therefore, the government of Faure Gnassingbe has a legitimacy issue.

2. The Togolese people have made a clear statement that they want Faure Gnassingbé out of office. Under the banner of Faure Must Go and Togo Debout (Rise Togo!) campaigns, the vast majority of Togolese have protested around the world and in Togo to demand Faure Gnassingbé departure. 

3. There are still too many deficiencies in the political system. The cities of Sokode, Bafilo and Mango are under military siege and are still being denied any freedom to demonstrate. The region of Kara has no formal access to any news except for state media. There are government-sponsored thugs that are threatening the daily activities of activists in Togo. Many were effectively silenced as a result of the intimidations. Several political leaders and the most renowned activists are operating from outside the country out of fear for their safety. The national electoral commission and the court system remain biased and packed with loyal members of the ruling party.

4. The recent dialogue in February 2018 did not actually happened. As the voice of the Togolese people, the coalition of opposition political parties has insisted on specific preconditions for any talks. This includes the liberation of all political prisoners and the safety of all participants. The preliminary discussions stalled due to the refusal of the government to free all political prisoners. Out of 102 people identified, the government is still holding 45 hostages. As a result the actual dialogue never started and it would be misleading for anyone to state the contrary. Nothing in Togo is moving to the right direction.

5. The Togolese government never honored any past agreement. Since 1991 the Togolese ruling party has entered into 27 talks and signed agreement with the opposition. None of these agreements were ever fully implemented due to the lack of commitment of the ruling party. Any talk process should be approached with caution and not deemed a sufficient condition to grant a threshold program to the  current ruling party.

6. The MCC should reassess its relationship with the government of Togo. The story of Togo is one of political and moral failure from its leadership. A single family has ruled Togo since 1967. If Togo today is among the poorest nations on earth, the primary responsibility should fall on its leaders. Granting MCC funding to that same leadership does not serve the of helping the people of Togo. It is also important to recognize the deep political contention that cannot be summed up in one “peaceful  election”. There is a serious human tragedy, evil behaviors and Machiavellian practices that are fertilizing seeds of political violence. This severity of the impending danger may not be reduced to a scorecard. The litmus test of the willingness of Faure Gnassingbé (the current longest serving president in west Africa) to give up power is to engage in serious reforms. Nothing indicates that he intends to do so at this time.

7. A threshold Agreement is a de facto bailout for the repressive government of Togo. If allowed into the MCC threshold program, the government of Togo will likely parade this  an evidence of some legitimacy at least at the international level. The government will be able to leverage this as a success to get funding from other sources. This will provide the regime with a lifeline to stay in power for much longer. The MCC board of director should not allow the Togolese government to use this institution as a propaganda material.

Moreover, all countries that have benefited from MCC programs have seen a democratic political power succession. Such a thing never occurred in the history of Togo.

8. Togolese Americans are demanding answers from the MCC. The Togolese American community has been very adamant about the importance of a peaceful transfer of power and denying Faure Gnassingbé a continued opportunity to repress his people. Its members have come together in this memorandum to:

a. Advise that they are closely monitoring the MCC discussions and handling of the
Togo case.
b. Advise that they are actively consulting and exploring all lawful and legal actions to ensure that the MCC is accountable to the American people and do no harm to the people of Togo.
c. Call on the MCC to suspend Togo from its program until all the fundamentals of a
real democracy and credible institutions are in place including a reformed electoral
system, the end of the 51 years of a single family rule, free and fair elections and a
long overdue political transition to Democracy.
d. Insist that the mission of the MCC and the interest of the American people are
better served by holding high standards for foreign government without allowing a
hollow democracy to take advantage of US taxpayers’ money.
e. Call on the US congress to conduct an enquiry into this situation.

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