Election Violence in Africa

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All over the world, elections are the most common ways used by people to choose their government or representatives. Although electoral practices vary from one place to another, the general idea behind this is that elections seek the fairest way to include the largest number of people in the choosing process of those who will represent them. People have resorted to elections in the ancient times. In Ancient Greece and ancient Rome for example, elections were a very common practice. However the origin of elections in the contemporary world can bring us back to the 17th Century with the gradual emergence of representative democracy in Europe and America. The word election can be defined as “the formal process of selecting a person for public office or of accepting or rejecting a political proposition by voting”.

However in Africa elections were introduced recently i.e. in the second half of the 20th Century. During the decolonization process (the 1950s and 1960s), there was a need to form new governments for young African States. Elections in this perspective were the means through which these new governments were formed, thereby, introducing the notion of democracy. Therefore, the organization of elections has become the recurrent mechanism through which officials of both executive and legislative bodies of government are chosen by the people. Unfortunately, elections which normally are meant to give voice to the people in the choice of their rulers have become an outlet to political manipulation and violence. According to the International Peace Institute (IPI),” Violence still plagues approximately 20 – 25 percent of elections in Africa.”

In Togo, the case study of this paper, the first parliamentary elections were held in 1958, followed by the first general elections in 1961. Globally, elections in this period were rather peaceful although their credibility could be questioned. In the following 3 decades, the political scene in Togo was dominated by one-party system with less electoral stake. In the 1990s, there was a widespread democratization in French speaking African States who undertook democratic reforms. In this context in Togo, multiparty system was introduced. The concept of democracy was new and not well understood by the majority of the population who mistook it for freedom to do whatever they want. Added to this were the underlying ethnic conflicts on which politicians will take advantage to meet their objectives. Subsequently, elections held between 1993 and 2015 in Togo witnessed cases of violence. After 2005 presidential election for example, there were about 4000 to 5000 people who died and thousands wounded in political violence according to a UN report.

In view of the above, the purpose of this paper is to analyze the causes of election violence in Togo from 2005 – 2015 and proffer ways forward. The paper will cover the historical background of elections in Togo, causes of election violence in Togo, and proffer ways forward. The paper will be limited to the period 2005 -2015. It is assumed that, the reader is aware of the political system of Togo.


The aim of this paper is to analyze election violence in Togo for the period of 2005 to 2015 with a view to making recommendations.

Historical Background of Elections in Togo

Elections Before Independence. After World War II, Togo was placed under the trusteeship of the United Nations and untrusted to France before becoming an autonomous Republic in 1956. The political scene was dominated by few political parties whose main concern was the independence of the country. The weakness that could be pointed is that these parties were organized along regional and ethnic lines. For example the Togolese Party of Progress (PTP), a southern based party, the Union of Chiefs and Peoples of the North (UCPN), a northern based party and the Committee of Togolese Unity (CUT), a southern based party. Parliamentary elections were held respectively in, 1952, 1955 and 1958. Although their credibility could be questioned, the main trait in these elections was the fact that they were held in a competitive but peaceful atmosphere and in a multiparty system. A situation qualified by some observers as ”colonial democracy”. Considering how violent the political atmosphere has become few decades later, one could wonder if something did go wrong with the people. From multiparty and political tolerance, the political scene in Togo has progressively moved to one party system characterized by violence.

Elections After Independence. Togo became independent on 27 Apr 60.The following year, general elections were organized for the first time. Sylvanus Olympio who was the Prime Minister was elected President of the Republic. Under this regime characterized by economic austerity and brutal repression, the political atmosphere gradually degraded with the rise of violence and grievances. Military coups took place respectively in 1963 and 1967. The military regime which was put in place categorically changed the existing political system. Multiparty system was replaced by one party system paving the road for future grievances. With the one party system prevailing from 1967 to 1992, the former political parties who could not exercise openly remained under cover digesting painfully their frustration.

Therefore, in the early 1990s when the democratization process began and multiparty system reintroduced, new political parties considered it a chance to overthrow the old system. The political parties thrived on the ethnic pluralism of the country. The ruling party, the Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) had the majority of its supporters in the north of the country while the opposition parties such as the Action Committee of Renewal (CAR), the Togolese Union for Democracy (UTD), the Union of Forces of Change (UFC) had their electoral base in the south. The longtime underlying grievances were revived. To achieve their objectives, politicians always play on people’s diversity, stressing on ethnicity as a major argument to bring their militants together in order to fight against their opponents.

Causes of Election Violence in Togo

Ethnic Rivalries

Togo is multicultural and multiethnic country. There are 37 ethnic groups that share the territory with as much dialects having certain similarities. The largest ones being the Ewe in the South representing 20% of the total population and the Kabye in the North representing 12% of the total population. The remaining ethic groups are minorities but when put together, they represent a large portion of the population. It is in this heterogeneity that political parties gather their partisans. Globally, the political competition is dominated by the 2 major ethnic groups who build alliances with other minor ethnic groups generally basing on their geographical location and language similarities. Therefore, people easily identify themselves with the political party whose leader is from the same ethnic group or region. Instead of people adhering to a political ideology or political projects, in Togo the majority of people refer to their political leaders on ethnic and regional criteria.

During election period the manipulation of ethnicity can shift the political debate from its main purpose to ethnic matters. On one hand for example, the opposition parties view the party in power as a party of Kabye people and their allies from the North while on the other hand the Northern people view the opposition as a gathering of people from the South. Some violence reported during 2005 Elections was related to ethnic issues. According to the Togolese League of Human Rights, from 28 Mar – 5 May 05, 790 people had been killed and 4,345 had been hurt. Election violence in Togo can not only be related to ethnic rivalries. The degree of understanding democratic principles by some citizens who abuse the principle of freedom can explain violence during elections.

Poor Democratic Culture

Freedom is a fundamental concept closely related to democracy. “Liberal democracy recognizes that all persons have certain fundamental rights, freedom of religion / conscience, political freedom, freedom of press, freedom of expression and right to freedom of association in public and private”. In Togo, these fundamental freedom concepts were greatly misunderstood at the grass root level or deliberately abused by some media professionals or politicians. At the grass root level, civic illiteracy can be pointed out as a cause of the lack of democratic culture. “A society’s level of civic literacy, the knowledge and capacity of citizens to make sense of their political world, offers a better basis for understanding the civil societies of disparate cultures”. There are evidences of abusive exercise of freedom of association and expression on media which subsequently lead to acts of violence when security forces have to implement their duty for example in securing political meetings.

The law provides a framework in which the freedom of association and the freedom of press should be exercised. The Higher Authority of Audio visual and Communication (HAAC) is in charge of regulating and monitoring activities of state owned and private media. The HAAC is often criticized by politicians for hindering the freedom of press and expression. During elections, if this aspect of freedom is not well handled by politicians, media and regulatory institutions can lead to excesses that result in verbal as well as physical violence. Poor democratic culture of people can serve as a proper tool to manipulate the masses.

Political Manipulations of Masses

The level of democracy in a country can be related to the literacy level of its citizens. In other words, literacy helps people understand the mechanisms of the democratic process. The literacy rate in Togo was estimated at 63.7% in 2015. Although this rate can be said to be high, compared to some African countries, it is however not enough or is not reflected in people’s behavior. “It is argued that democracy and literacy interact in dynamic reciprocity. Their mutual influences may be either positive or negative”.

In Togo, during 2005 and 2010 presidential elections, there was outbreak of violence especially at the proclamation of results. Protesters who were responding to the call of their leaders were targeting public infrastructures and militants of other political parties through acts of vandalism and intimidation. The mobilization of protesters to create violence was the main technique used by politicians to reach their goal, i.e. seizing power through the street since they have failed to do so through the ballot. Although public manifestation is guaranteed by the law, it was exercised in disregard of the existing regulations. Uneducated and unemployed youths are the most easy to manipulate in such circumstances especially in urban centers.

Way Forward

Public Enlightenment

Election violence is a fact on the Togolese political scene. Although it has been decreased when compared between 2015 Presidential Election and 2018 Legislative Election to the 2005 election. However there is a need to enlighten the population on different aspects of public life. Political parties and their leaders have the responsibility to educate their followers. This can be done through sensitizing the people on citizenship behavior like respect for public authorities, obeying the laws and protection of public goods. They should seek to foster national cohesion by deleting ethnic discrepancies in their words and actions.

Another way to promote a peaceful political atmosphere in Togo is to copy other models that proved to be good options in other parts of the world. Politicians should promote nonviolent action like Ghandi and Martin Luther King did in their fight for social equality for their people. Nonviolent resistance is the best option to achieve political goals because violent actions lead most of the time to violent reactions creating an endless cycle of violence.

The media have an important role to play to promote peaceful elections. They should not only serve as outlet for politicians to communicate their ideologies. Media should also include educational purposes in their agendas. The Media should avoid relaying fake or alarming news that can provoke more tensions.

Promoting Independent Electoral System

To ensure that the elections results will be accepted by all stakeholders, it is crucial that the organization overseeing the electoral process has a good reputation and be accepted by all. Therefore, it must be fair in the treatment of electoral matters. Within the Independent Electoral Commission, political parties are proportionally represented with regard to the number of seats they have at the National Assembly as well as the civil society members. However, the Independent Electoral Commission is often accused of partiality. To reinforce the Independent Electoral Commission, the government should integrate independent electoral experts in the commission who will play a mediating role and serve as witnesses to the good functioning of the electoral commission. The Electoral Commission should modernize the electoral file by including electronic vote and counting of votes so that the system will be up to date and more accurate. It will prevent criticism and claims for fraud at the proclamation of election results.

Ensure Free and Fair Elections

One of the standards by which an election can be assessed is the fairness and freedom prevailing during elections. Therefore, for free and fair elections in Togo the stakeholders in the electoral system should avoid election malpractice such as voters’ intimidation, buying people’s consciousness, the manipulation of votes or voting lists to ensure victory. Such practices have proven to be potential sources of contestation leading to dispute that can compromise the electoral process.


Togo like many other African countries has encountered many challenges in the democratization process. Elections occupy an important place in Togolese politics. They were introduced in the period before independence when Togo became an autonomous Republic in 1958. Legislative elections were organized respectively in 1952, 1955 and 1958 and later presidential elections in 1961 after the country’s independence. These elections which took place in a multiparty system did not arise violence as is the case nowadays. From 1963 to 1967, 2 military coups took place in Togo. A military regime was installed with one party system. Multiparty system was reintroduced in the 1990s along with the democratization process. (Paragraphs 6-7)

The political scene became violent especially during election. From 2005 to 2015 election violence attained very high levels. Ethnicity, poor democratic culture and the purposeful manipulation of masses by political leaders are some of the causes of election violence in Togo. (Paragraph 8, 9, 10)

In order to mitigate election violence in Togo, the way forward is for politicians to educate their supporters to minimize ethnic rivalries in politics and promote principles of nonviolence and citizenship. The media should take part in this process through educational programs and by adopting professional and deontological attitudes. (Paragraph 11, 12, 13)

The promotion of an independent electoral system is also a way forward. The government should integrate independent electoral experts in the Independent National Electoral Commission to serve as mediators and witnesses of the functioning of the electoral commission. There should be a modernization of the electoral file and the use of electronic vote. (Paragraph 14)
20. Free and fair elections should be promoted. This could be achieved if elections stakeholders manage to avoid influencing the outcome of elections. (Paragraph 15)


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Cite this paper

Election Violence in Africa. (2020, Nov 15). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/election-violence-in-africa/

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