AD282: How trustworthy and professional is Togo’s military? Depends on whom you ask

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David Jacobs and Thomas Isbell

In Togo, the military is a very influential political actor. In 1967, a military coup installed Eyadema Gnassingbé as president, and he held power until his death in 2005. Immediately after his death, Eyadema’s son, Faure Gnassingbé, was declared president with the support of the Army. He resigned under regional pressure but ascended once more to the office after winning the April 2005 election, which was judged “free and fair” by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) but led to violent clashes that were quelled by the Togolese Armed Forces (Venkatachalam, 2017; Wong, 2017). The military’s proximity to executive power has long been decried by opposition parties, who charge that the armed forces have a stranglehold not just on government authority but even on prominent financial institutions in Togo (IRIN, 2005).

Key to the military’s close relationship with power is its ethnic makeup, consisting mainly of members of the president’s ethnic group, the Kabyè tribe from the North (Venkatachalam, 2017). At the time of the military coup in 1967, the dominant ethnic group in Togolese politics was the Ewé, who held about 70% of cabinet positions. Since the coup – which was led by a Kabyè military colonel – the Kabyè have dominated the political landscape, despite making up only 13% of the population (Crux, 2018). 

Amnesty International has criticized the Togolese security forces for excessive use of force against protesters, journalists, and political opposition members. Under Faure Gnassingbé, the army has been accused of aggressively seeking out media outlets that show any sign of political dissent (Amnesty International, 2017a). In many forums over many years, the Togolese government has publicly expressed a commitment to curbing human-rights abuses by the security apparatus, but it has produced little evidence of any real effort beyond rhetoric (Amnesty International, 2017b). 

Given the military’s controversial domestic role, how do Togolese citizens see their military? Findings from the most recent Afrobarometer survey show that fewer than half of Togolese trust the army, think it effectively protects the country, and say it acts with professionalism and respect for citizens’ rights – all assessments marked by strong ethnic, regional, and socioeconomic cleavages.