Security forces in Togo fired teargas on Saturday to disperse thousands of protesters calling for an end to the Gnassingbe family dynasty, which has ruled the West African nation for five decades.
President Faure Gnassingbe has been in power since the death in 2005 of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who had been at the helm for 38 years.
Wearing the red colours of the opposition PNP party, chanting and singing “50 years is too long!”, the demonstrators in Lome called for the reinstatement of the constitution limiting terms that Eyadema introduced in response to protests in 1992.
“We do not understand our little Togo,” said demonstrator Ali Boukari. “The father Eyadema was in power for 38 years, his son will soon have done 15 years. All we are demanding is a term limit and they shoot (tear gas) at us.”
The 1992 constitution brought in notional multi-party democracy after decades of dictatorship, and limited presidential terms to two, but ten years later lawmakers amended it to enable Eyadema to run for another term – a common pattern in Africa.
Then, when he died, the military effectively tore up the constitution by installing his son as interim president, instead of the head of the national assembly, as was legally required.
The protests that followed Faure Gnassingbe’s first election victory in 2005 triggered a violent security crackdown in which around 500 people were killed.
“We are protesting against the arbitrary nature of governance and denial of freedom to assemble,” PNP leader Tikpi Atchadam said.