afrol News, 28 May - The announcement that Togo's "eternal opposition leader" Gilchrist Olympio and his UFC party will join government may end decades of political strife and violence in the West African country.
Togo's main opposition party, the Union of Forces for Change (UFC), will for the first time join government, opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio told a press conference yesterday in the capital Lomé. Mr Olympio said that the deal would give his party seven ministerial posts, which are expected to be announced today.
Togo's Prime Minister Gilbert Houngbo confirmed the deal, according to a statement published by the Togolese government, which refers to it as "a historic agreement". President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé had participated in the government negotiations and approved the result.
This marks the first time that the UFC will play a formal role in government since Togo's democratic process slowly started in 1990. Togo has been dominated by the Gnassingbé family since the 1970s, first as a fierce dictatorship, later under pressure from the European Union in a slow democratisation process.
Mr Olympio has been the main opposition figure in Togo for decades and is the son of former President Sylvanus Olympio, who was assassinated in a 1963 coup. Since that, a power struggle in Togo has been fought between the Gnassingbé and Olympio families, with their respective power bases in the north and the south of the small country.
Since the 1993 multi-candidate presidential elections, Mr Olympio has been the legalised opposition's main leader and mostly also its main presidential candidate. Most elections, however, turned out to be strongly manipulated in favour of the Gnassingbé clan, many ending up in bloody riots and large-scale attacks on UFC supporters.
In the 2010 presidential polls, however, Mr Olympio stating health reasons left Jean-Pierre Fabre to stand as the UFC candidate although he remains party leader. Mr Olympio during the last months has been accused of collaborating with President Gnassingbé's ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party, or even receiving money from the RPT.
While the participation of Mr Olympio and several UFC colleagues in the Togolese government is seen as a major step forward towards reconciliation, his decision could lead to a split within the UFC party. The party's presidential candidate, Mr Fabre, today protested the decision, calling it "a solitary march by Mr Olympio" that did not have the backing of the party.
Mr Fabre, after losing the election, had united with the more radical opposition coalition FRAC in organising protest marches and claiming the official election results were manipulated. Already during these marches, which threatened to throw Togo into renewed political violence, the UFC was split between hardliners and voices promoting reconciliation.
A power struggle between Mr Olympio's and Mr Fabre's factions within the UFC is therefore already developing. Togolese media speak about a "divorce" between Mr Olympio and his former protégé. Mr Fabre claims the party leadership is behind him in rejecting a UFC participation in government, while Mr Olympio, still the party leader, says he is "the main responsible of my party," entrusted to make decisions over government participation.
For the Togolese, nevertheless, a reconciliation between the Olympio and Gnassingbé clans is good news, also meaning that the southern region of the country is better represented in government. But for the UFC, a split may seem impossible to avoid, lessening the chances of the opposition to win future elections.
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