Tikpi Atchadam: the man shaking up Togo's politics

2017-09-07 18:20
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GALLERY: Togo's huge protest against president Gnassingbe

A huge rally in Togo has heaped pressure on President Faure Gnassingbe to enact constitutional reform, as opposition leaders warn against any attempt to delay change.

Lome - The residents of Togo's coastal capital, Lome, are used to seeing supporters of veteran political opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre pounding the streets in protest.

But the opposition had never succeeded in coming together as it did this week, when a tide of humanity turned out against President Faure Gnassingbe and his government.

Not until Tikpi Atchadam, the head of the Panafrican National Party (PNP), emerged on the scene, joining his party to Fabre's already established movement.

The tireless Fabre, 65, who has protested for years, has always been held up by the ruling party as a man from the south.

Atchadam, on the other hand, is from the north - just like Gnassingbe and his father before him.

Northern political leaders have traditionally supported the regime, according to Farida Nabourema, a Togolese activist and author.

"We've always given the impression in Togo that northerners govern and yet the north has always been neglected in terms of infrastructure and investment," she said.

"The opposition has to get together to stop this excuse."

Rapid rise 

Critics have called Atchadam a Muslim who only talks about his ethnic group, the Tem.

But after years of opposition campaigning and fruitless talks with the government over constitutional reform, he has managed to shake up a virtually paralysed political scene.

"Don't look at my scars," the 50-year-old told AFP, referring to his face and its tribal markings. "Listen instead to what I have to say."

At Wednesday's huge protests against Gnassingbe, who came to power in 2005 after the death of his father, Atchadam spoke clearly, knowing exactly what to say to stir up the crowd.

The head of the PNP is no political novice. He left the Democratic Party for Renewal (PDR) in 2007 when its leader moved closer to the ruling party.

He then left public life to plot his return to the opposition.

The PNP was created in 2014, has no representation in Togo's parliament and Atchadam himself has never run for president.

He built his support base in the central city of Sokode, some 300km north of Lome, where at least two people were killed in anti-government protests last month.

Financial and diplomatic backing has come from the Togolese diaspora, particularly in Germany.

His rapid rise in Togolese politics at the end of 2016 and last month's protests were a wake-up call for the government.

He has also become a real threat, as he asked Fabre to join him rather than going it alone with his northern support base.

'March!' 

The PNP rally in Sokode on August 19 undoubtedly left its mark and gave Fabre a much-needed boost.

At the end of last month, Fabre's National Alliance for Change (ANC) and Atchadam's PNP came together successfully to hold a day-long shutdown in Lome.

But few would have expected the numbers who took to the streets across the country on Tuesday. Fabre himself put the crowd at more than one million - in a country of 7.6 million.

"March! It's you who are going to liberate the regime," Atchadam told the crowd, urging them to meet again the next day.

"You have always demanded a united opposition. It is here, from the youngest to the oldest, it's here."

Atchadam wore comfortable training shoes during his speech, as did his new ally Fabre, who waited his turn to address his supporters, angry at 50 years of rule by the Gnassingbe family.

But ANC supporters sitting cross-legged on the dusty ground in the blazing heat were clear: "'Tikpi' is here, we're supporting him, but Fabre is still our president," said one.

Asked about his political programme, Atchadam is vague, promising that he will reveal all "in due course".

"At the moment, the priority is our unity of action. Tomorrow, when democracy is installed, every party will show its hand," he promised.

Read more on:    togo  |  west africa

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