Thursday, November 10, 2005

Togo: the (largely) untold story

People around the world were quick to decry Faure Gnassingbe being put in power by the Togolese army after the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema. This led to elections marred by violence, and after that little has been heard about the situation in Togo. In September, the UN released a report stating that almost 500 people were killed in violence surrounding the elections, but the report has received little attention, and the plight of the Togolese people goes largely unnoticed.

Togo comes to mind after a talk I went to on Tuesday, where a Togolese human rights journalist spoke about the situation, and showed pictures of the post-election brutality. The pictures were horrifying, to say the least, and gave a perspective of the story we don't hear much. The journalist was in the US talking to groups of people and trying to rally people to put pressure on governments to put pressure on Faure and Togo to aloow for a more pluralistic democracy in Togo. He argues that while there may have been elections, they were far from fair, and opposiiton supporters are still being persecuted in Togo. The journalist himself is currently in exile in Ghana, after narrowly escaping in his words, an attempt on his life by the Togolese government.

The talk raised a lot of issues for me, the first just the most basic one of people being denied their fundamental human rights. The journalist showed multiple pictures of people who had been killed and beaten just for wearing opposition colours - horrific pictures. Can there be progress/development when people do not have the right to hold and assert particular points of view, when a perception of your opinion is enough to mark you for death?

Another issue was why he was in the states to begin with - something we talked about at length. I asked the journalist why he didn't talk to leaders in Africa, Kufuor, Obasanjo and those of other neighbouring countries, afterall, their pressure helped to force elections. He recounted how they have tried that to no avail; he was adamant about collusion between the regional governments, but I will not pursue that for now. What struck me most about this was the similarity between the current situation in Togo and what has previsouly happened in Ghana and many other places. The extra-judicial kidnappings and murders are reminiscent of stories from Ghana under a certain leader who shall remain nameless, and few African countries are strangers to elections where the incumbent military junta wins under what many people believe to be dubious circumstances. Why then would African leaders not go to the aid of people fighting many of the same battles they fought? Is there something to his claims of collusion, or are each countries problems just too large and numerous to warrant attention to any others?

This is an issue I've been thinking about for a while, particularly in relation to the idea of an African identity( a topic i will leave for a future posting). Are we largely blind to the problems of neighbouring African countries because we see them as having no bearing on us? This issue came to the forefront again when I was listening to a Ghanaian radio programme online. The host was commenting on a news story about violent protests by a rgoup of refugees in Ghana. He and his co-host made uncomplimentary comments about the refugees, and how they should be sent back to their countries,since Ghana has its own problems. Admittedly Ghana has many problems, and unrest caused by refugees is certainly not something to turn a blind eye to, but surely such comments go against any semblance of commiseration and attempts to provide support to fellow Africans.

I digress, but my point was to look at why to a large extent, Africans are unwilling to help each other. I could understand the (Togolese) journalist when he calimed to have lost faith in international institutions, but when he made the same statements about other African countries, particularly the governments, that hit me hard. He was largely convinced that none of them cared about the plight of the Togolese people.

Later in the day I saw emails which had been sent to him from other Togolese in exile in Ghana. My heart tore as I read stories of their misery, strangers in a foreign land, dying to go home, but having to make a choice between a familiar environment and comfort, and their lives. It was as simple as that.

I'm the first to admit that Africa has many problems, perhaps some arguably more threatening than human rights abuses in Togo, but this shouldn't fall between the cracks. When people do not have the right to express themselves freely without fear for their lives, there is a problem. A similar situation is brewing in Ethiopia, with the government of Meles Zenawi victimizing protestors.
Is this a cycle we will never break?


1 comment:

thursdayborn said...

interesting...strange thing about your point that we just don't seem to be affected by the radical injustices taking place in the world: having been to post-election turmoil Togo not so long ago, I was struck by the seemingly calm and content feeling I got from the people I hung out with there. It was like, "Yeah this crazy stuff is going on, but we are just surviving." The shake-up in New Orleans showed us how the system can simply stop in crisis situation, while Africans seem to maintain life as they know it despite events that would be unimaginable for us here.

brian