A family have occupied the Togolese Government House for the past 50 years, turning leadership in the tiny West African State to some sort of family inheritance. Hundreds of protesters have marched in central Lome, asking for the incumbent President, Faure Gnassingbe to leave office.
In a move to silence the opposition, authorities on Thursday blocked Internet access as more protesters joined in the peaceful march.
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.
A witness said the scale of this week’s protests, which the opposition said were attended by hundreds of thousands of people, represented the biggest challenge to Gnassingbe’s rule since his ascension to power in 2005.
In the past, security forces violently suppressed protests, killing at least two people during an opposition march in August and hundreds got injured after a contested election in 2005.
A U.S. based company Dyn, which monitored the Internet, said traffic dropped off at 0900 GMT in what critics said was a move by the government to suppress protests as other African incumbents have done.
Residents said that text messages had also been blocked and the communications minister could not immediately be reached for comment.
Analysts said he may find himself isolated amid growing criticism of autocratic rule in West Africa. Francois Conradie, head of research at NKC African Economics says
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
Such changes would reintroduce a two-term limit that was scrapped by the late Gnassingbe Eyadema in 2002.
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.
African rulers, notably in Rwanda, Burundi and Burkina Faso, have moved to drop term limits in recent years in order to remain in power.