Many Togolese have known just two presidents in their lifetime – Faure Gnassingbe, who is running for a fourth term in an election, and his father Eyadema Gnassingbe – and some are sick of the long-running dynasty.
One is Farida Nabourema (29) a pro-democracy activist who organised protests calling for the president to step down. She is determined her children should grow up under somebody other than a Gnassingbe, but is realistic about the challenges.
“We don’t have high hopes the opposition will win,” said Nabourema, director of the democracy campaign group Togo Civil League. “We just hope there won’t be an unnecessary bloodbath.”
The opposition is weakened by division and Gnassingbe is seen by political analysts as a shoo-in to win, despite widespread demonstrations against his rule in 2005 and 2017 in which hundreds died.
In response to political pressure, Gnassingbe enacted a law limiting presidents to two five-year terms. It is not backdated to account for the three terms he previously served, so he could stay in power until 2030.
His father seized power in a 1967 coup in the coastal West African country, a former French colony with a population of eight million.
Togo is the 10th poorest country in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund. It received 330 million euros in European Union aid between 2014 and 2020. The EU froze aid from 1993 to 2007, citing the country’s poor democratic record.
Gnassingbe long promised to boost economic development and the country has seen annual economy growth of around five percent in recent years, driven by investments in energy and transport.
The capital Lome is home to pan-African Ecobank and major regional airline Asky and the country has so far been spared jihadist violence that hit neighbouring Burkina Faso.
Grinding poverty and labour strikes are reminders of challenges ahead.
Voters who spoke to Reuters see little way out if Gnassingbe stays in power.
“All of this is comedy. How many times have we voted and the results said something different?” said Espoir Gamado, a 45-year-old IT engineer. “I won’t be voting.”
VICTORY IS ASSURED
When Gnassingbe came to power in 2005 after his father’s death, mass protests were met with a violent police crackdown and at least 500 were killed.
Despite several attempts the opposition has not formed a united front and some experts believe Gnassingbe could win in the first round, without having to go to a run-off vote.
“Thanks to God, I think the victory is assured,” he told supporters in northern opposition stronghold Sokode as a crowd cheered and soldiers looked on.
Some 10 000 security forces will be deployed on voting day, government said.
Longtime opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre, a former journalist and human rights campaigner, is running for a third time, after coming second in 2010 and 2015. He promises to restore democracy and fuel development.
Five other candidates are competing, including former Prime Minister Gabriel Messan Agbeyome Kodjo, representing a coalition of opposition and civil society groups.
Fabre said authorities blocked his campaign rallies and raised concerns about the transparency of the vote.
The electoral commission will maintain a centralised counting system, with results sent from voting precincts to its headquarters rather than being announced in each constituency. Critics say this makes vote-rigging easier but authorities said the election will be free and fair.
The UN and regional body ECOWAS deployed election observers.
Polling stations for the more than 3.5 million registered voters will be open for nine hours, with provisional results expected in six days .