Togo’s New Constitution: Strengthening Sovereignty Or Consolidation Of Power? – OpEd


Togo’s political landscape undergoes another significant shift with the adoption of a new constitution. This revision, enacted on March 25, 2024, ushers in a fundamental change from a presidential to a parliamentary system. The adoption of the new constitution has ignited controversy. While potential advantages exist, serious anxieties have also been voiced.  Given Togo’s history of simmering political and social tensions, alongside the growing terrorist threat in the north, this change, for better or worse, opens a period of uncertainty for a nation striving to be peaceful and democratic.

A New Constitution to Remain in Power

Lawmakers from the ruling Union for the Republic (UNIR) party overwhelmingly approved the proposed constitutional change in the national assembly. With only two dissenting votes, the measure passed with near-complete support. This is because the opposition, which boycotted the 2018 elections due to alleged irregularities, has minimal representation in the current assembly. The new constitution embodies key changes. First, it removes the direct election of the president by the people. Instead, the National Assembly, the country’s legislative body, would be responsible for electing the president. Additionally, the president’s term would increase from five years to six years, with a single six-year term.

Moreover, the new constitution establishes a new powerful executive position: the President of the Council of Ministers. Elected by the National Assembly, this individual will be responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the government and will be held accountable for its performance.

The President of the Council of Ministers will come from the party with the most seats in parliament or lead a coalition of parties if there’s no single-party majority. The term of office will be six years.

Tchitchao Tchalim, chairman of the national assembly’s committee on constitutional laws, legislation, and general administration stated, “The head of state is practically divested of his powers in favor of the president of the council of ministers, who becomes the person who represents the Togolese Republic abroad, and who effectively leads the country in its day-to-day management.”

This is radically different from the recent amendment of the constitution that occurred in 2019, which stipulated, that the president of the republic is elected by universal suffrage for a term of five years, renewable once, and made the presidential election a two-round race.

“This is the umpteenth preparation of a constitutional coup by a monarchical regime that has held the country’s destiny hostage for almost 60 years,” one of Togo’s opposition parties, the Democratic Forces of the Republic, said while the new constitution was still being debated.

Beyond legal concerns, many opponents view the proposal as a self-serving maneuver by the ruling party, RPT/UNIR. The timing, just weeks before legislative elections, raises red flags. Critics, particularly opposition parties like the National Alliance for Change (ANC), suspect the RPT/UNIR is attempting to exploit the outgoing parliament’s single-party majority to solidify its grip on power.

Togo’s ruling party, in power since 1967 under the Gnassingbé family, could hold onto power until at least 2031 thanks to the new constitution. Critics call this a “constitutional coup d’état,” alleging it unfairly extends the Gnassingbé family’s long rule.

ECOWAS and the West Look the Other Way

Many crises that occurred in West Africa were the result of unilateral constitutional changes or succession crises like in Guinea and Togo. The recent unrest in Senegal is an example. The deafening silence of regional organizations like ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) regarding the constitutional change in Togo remains appalling for a considerable number of Togoleses and Africans. ECOWAS’ Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance stipulates in its Article 2 .1, “No substantial modification shall be made to the electoral laws in the last six (6) months before the elections, except with the consent of a majority of Political actors.”

No matter the pros and cons arguments related to the article about Togo’s situation, ECOWAS’s silence appears to be a tacit acceptance of the change. Additionally, the absolute silence from those who usually champion civilian rule, condemn military takeovers, and call for sanctions against non-democratic change in Africa – including several Western organizations and vocal nations like France– is puzzling and frustrating.

President Faure Gnassingbé’s future participation in the US-Africa Business Summit fuels a growing sentiment among the majority of Togolese and Africans that many Western organizations and countries are not genuinely committed to upholding democracy in Africa but working for their interests.

This perceived hypocrisy, particularly from ECOWAS, which, recently, was prepared to deploy troops to defend democracy in Niger undoubtedly might lead to two consequences. Firstly, it fuels doubts about ECOWAS’s effectiveness in promoting regional democracy and fulfilling its citizens’ aspirations. This inaction suggests that the organization may prioritize protecting incumbent leaders over genuine regional stability and development. Many West Africans might view the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) as a more promising path toward genuine development and self-determination. Secondly, ECOWAS’s silence risks emboldening military takeovers as a solution to perceived authoritarian regimes. This, combined with a rejection of Western involvement, might create space for Russia to exert greater influence, potentially destabilizing the region.

Uncertain Future and the Risk of Destabilization?

Togo, known for its pro-business stance and regional peacemaking efforts, faces a crossroads. Despite calls for a delay in the promulgation of the recently enacted constitutional law by the Togolese Episcopal Conference on March 26th, the recent constitutional change raises legitimate concerns about democratic backsliding and the underlying character of the current regime. Even if the proposed parliamentary system features a collaborative executive and legislature, with a symbolic head of state and a prime minister leading national policy, the timing and Togo’s political history raise concerns. A genuine democratic transition to a parliamentary system requires open dialogue, public support, and the involvement of all political players, not elite maneuvering.

By removing the public’s right to elect the president and giving that power to lawmakers the regime reveals its fear of universal suffrage and potential defeat in the upcoming elections, especially the presidential election due in 2025. Furthermore, the swift timing of adopting the new constitution before upcoming legislative elections in a few weeks, where the opposition plans to participate, suggests a potential strategy by the ruling party to maintain its grasp on the small West African nation. This umpteenth undemocratic move of the ruling party risks escalating domestic tensions, further jeopardizing Togo’s fragile social unity.

History warns against such maneuvers. This shift, combined with the rise of terrorist entities in the northern part of the country and existing societal divisions, casts a dark cloud over Togo’s future stability.

Komlan Avoulete

Komlan Avoulete is a Sahel researcher and geopolitical analyst who specializes in African affairs, US-Africa relations, France-Africa relations, and Conflict Analysis. His work can also be found in publications such as Foreign Policy Research Institute, International Policy Digest, Eurasia Review, The Week (UK), and Le Rubicon. Komlan holds a Master's degree in Diplomacy and International Relations with a focus on African security, and his fluency in English, French, and Ewe allows him to navigate the complexities of the region.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *