After months of large-scale protests demanding that President Faure Gnassingbé step down, Togo’s main political parties are currently holding a regionally brokered dialogue to negotiate a way forward. Should the country adopt a power-sharing arrangement, as some are advocating?
As outlined in a forthcoming book chapter, my research on the reform dynamics and outcomes of post-election power-sharing in Africa suggests that the answer is: It’s complicated.
My research was based on more than 100 interviews and focused on Kenya, Lesotho, Togo, Zimbabwe and the semiautonomous islands of Zanzibar. My research revealed that elite power-sharing pacts have significant costs, including bloated cabinets, constrained democratic competition and dangerous incentives for incumbents to refuse to give up power.
However, if power-sharing is temporary, well designed and robustly enforced, it has the potential to ease tensions, end violence and deliver some important democratic reforms — at least in the short term.
Power-sharing is widespread in Africa
Power-sharing arrangements typically bring different political parties and conflict actors together, often in the form of a broad government of national unity. Philip G. Roeder and Donald Rothchild define power-sharing as “formal institutions that distribute decision-making rights within the state and define decision-making procedures.”
Over the past two decades, regional and international actors have used the power-sharing model widely in Africa in an effort to resolve violent conflicts ranging from civil wars to post-election disputes. Indeed, by my count, during the 1999 to 2010 period alone, 20 African countries adopted power-sharing pacts.
While scholars have focused on power-sharing after civil wars, much less attention is given to the power-sharing model in contexts of lower-intensity conflict, such as post-election accords in Kenya and Zimbabwe in 2008 and Togo in 2006.
Togo’s mixed experience with power-sharing
The same family has ruled Togo, a small, semi-authoritarian country of 7 million people in West Africa, for more than 50 years. Faure Gnassingbé (known in Togo as Faure) was installed as the president by the military in 2005 after his father, Eyadéma Gnassingbé, died in office.
Togo experimented with power -sharing more than a decade ago, with mixed results. After a bloody election left 500 dead, the Accord Politique Global (APG-Comprehensive Political Accord) was signed in 2006 and effectively came to an end in 2010. The power-sharing agreement included a broad array of reforms. In addition to a government of national unity headed by a moderate opposition figure (which the main opposition party boycotted), the APG called for transparent legislative elections, an overhauled electoral commission, as well as other constitutional and security reforms.
Largely due to the ruling party’s resistance and infighting among the opposition, the APG did not live up to expectations. A host of APG reforms went unimplemented, including constitutional reforms and the question of presidential term limits — an enduring issue that has driven the current protests over the past six months.
That said, some political, electoral and security reforms outlined in the APG did pass, especially in the run-up to peaceful and credible legislative elections in 2007. A more representative electoral commission was formed. Special election security forces, trained by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), have overseen elections since the APG was signed.
The current unrest notwithstanding, Togo has not seen a return to the high levels of deadly electoral violence that the country experienced before the APG was signed. Still, the current impasse threatens a return to Togo’s violent past, with an estimated 16 people having died in clashes between security forces and protesters.
Should Togo give power-sharing another chance? The 14 party opposition coalition may be reluctant to entertain the idea given the APG’s mixed results. But if all parties decide to do so, the power-sharing experience of other countries in Africa may provide a blueprint. One key factor was the character of external involvement.
In Kenya from 2008 to 2013, for instance, relatively strong and coordinated international and regional support helped deliver a new constitution in 2010 and other institutional reforms (many of which that have subsequently been rolled back).
On the other hand, in Zimbabwe, a fractured international community and a hands-off approach from the Southern African Development Community contributed to a lack of any real democratic progress during the power-sharing period (2009-2013).
External factors were just as important in Togo, with any progress during the accord largely attributed to involvement and oversight of the European Union and ECOWAS. Indeed, Gilchrist Olympio, the former president of Togo’s main opposition party, told me: “We believe that without the international community, we would not have had the Accord Politique Global.”
The path forward
Power-sharing is certainly not a panacea or a one-size-fits-all solution to resolve conflict. But my research suggests that, despite its imperfections, it can achieve some modest reforms, at least in the near term.
If political actors in Togo consider a power-sharing model, success will be more likely if the power-sharing arrangement is temporary, well designed and external actors play a strong enforcement role.
ECOWAS has thus far not played a central role in Togo’s mediation. Faure is currently serving as the body’s chair, making it unlikely that the regional body will intervene. But regional powers and a variety of international actors have stepped up. Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo is leading the mediation, with support from the United Nations, international diplomats and Togolese civil society.
This broad engagement, as well as the region’s commitment to democratic norms, may signal that the mediation will bear fruit. Ultimately, the outcome of the dialogue hinges on whether Faure can be persuaded to give up some power and whether the empowered opposition would accept anything short of his resignation.
Alexander Noyes is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexHNoyes