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Togo’s tension: democracy vs. stability

March 9, 2010

Maybe it was too early in the morning. Or perhaps their hearts just weren’t in it.

Whatever the case, a rally called by Togo ‘s opposition leaders for early Tuesday — meant to voice full-throated outrage over the March 4 election they say was rigged to favour the incumbent — was a near no-show.

Not even the opposition leaders turned up.

“It was a thousand or so youths, they burned a couple of tires and the police dispersed them,” said a Reuters witness. “The opposition leaders did not even come.”

Unclear if this was a good thing.

Togo’s March 4 election was seen as a test for democracy in Africa, a continent notorious for coups and flawed polls that have undermined efforts toward civilian rule. International observers have said the poll appeared fair.

But it was also seen as a test for Togo’s own ability to come through a presidential vote without bloodshed.

It was only five years ago, after all, that Togolese security forces killed hundreds in the violence that brought President Faure Gnassingbe to power for his first term, triggering a refugee crisis in Ghana and Benin .

This morning’s rally had the potential to be another flashpoint, but turned out to be a damp squib. This comes, perhaps, much to the relief of the international community which has tended to favour stability over flawless democratic process in a region that is drawing increased investment in mining and energy.

Case in point: Uranium-producer Niger, home of the “democratic coup” where a military junta last month toppled a power-hungry president to the cheers of the local population.

France has skipped the usual condemnation of a putsch in its former colonies, while the United States has declined to use the word “coup” at all.

To be sure, more tests for African democracy lie on the horizon. Central African Republic holds a vote in April, Guinea in June, Niger and Ivory Coast … to be determined.

If the majority gets its way in any of these countries, chalk one up for democracy. But the real show may be the degree to which democracy is compromised for the sake of a peaceful outcome.


Stability or reliable business partners? To be fair the two tend to go together and tend also to go with development, but these are tendencies and usually diverge the longer stability is pursued. I admit that favoring democracy over stability can seem rather callous to those hurt by the instability, but before anyone would favor stability over democracy, let them ask themselves what if it were I marginalized by the lack of democracy. Then again, one might ask his or herself, what it were I hurt by the lack of stability.

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