LOME, SEPTEMBER 7, 2017 – Togolese authorities blocked Internet access on Thursday as opponents of President Faure Gnassingbe marched for a second day against his family’s 50-year rule.
Hundreds of protesters began marching from the opposition stronghold of Be towards a meeting in central Lome with police officers walking calmly besides them, a witness said.
The scale of this week’s protests, which the opposition says were attended by hundreds of thousands of people, represent the biggest challenge to Gnassingbe’s rule since the aftermath of his acsension to power in 2005.
In the past, security forces have violently suppressed protests, killing at least two people during an opposition march in August and hundreds after a contested election in 2005.
U.S.-based company Dyn, which monitors the Internet, said traffic dropped off at 0900 GMT in what critics say was a move by the government to suppress protests as other African incumbents have done. Residents said that text messages had also been blocked.
The communications minister could not immediately be reached for comment on the cuts.
Analysts say he may find himself isolated amid growing criticism of autocratic rule in West Africa.
“The president’s position is very fragile and we do not think his peers in ECOWAS or his friends in Europe will help him if things get ugly,” said the head of research at NKC African Economics, Francois Conradie.
Gnassingbe, who took power after his long-ruling father’s death, has sought to appease opponents by introducing a draft bill to reform the constitution this week. Such changes would reintroduce a two-term limit that was scrapped by the late Gnassingbe Eyadema in 2002.
But opposition leaders are sceptical that this would apply retroactively, meaning the current president might stay until 2030. They have called for his immediate departure.
Togo, a regional financial hub that aspires to be an African Singapore, is at odds with West African neighbours which mostly have laws restricting presidential mandates.
The government along with Gambia’s voted in 2015 against introducing them across the 15 members of the ECOWAS regional body which Gnassingbe currently chairs.
African rulers, notably in Rwanda, Burundi and Burkina Faso, have moved to drop term limits in recent years in order to remain in power. In some cases this has sparked strong opposition that has led to violent unrest.