Africa's 'No-No' To Togo

Only 100 miles wide and 360 miles long, the strip of a country called Togo holds a big message for Africa and its path to democracy.

After the Feb. 5 death of Togo's iron-fisted ruler of 38 years, the military installed his son, Faure Gnassingbe, as successor. Togo's constitution required that the Speaker of the parliament become president and elections be held within 60 days, but the parliament pulled a fast one. Backing the military, it amended the constitution so that the son could serve out his father's term until 2008.

In past decades, African nations would have turned a blind eye to such trampling on the law. Not this time.

A bloc of West African trading partners known as "Ecowas" quickly denounced the move. They slapped sanctions on their neighbor, including a diplomatic freeze, an arms embargo, and a travel ban. The African Union also suspended Togo from all AU activities.

This pressure, along with protests in Togo and calls from the US, the United Nations, and European officials for Mr. Gnassingbe to step down, has had an effect. Gnassingbe now says there will be elections within 60 days, and the parliament formally reversed its constitutional changes.

In a world where the mantra is "Africa needs to solve its own problems," the continent's response in this case is encouraging. If haltingly, organizations like Ecowas and the AU are helping push democracy forward.

The challenge in Togo, however, is not over. Gnassingbe remains in power, with all the backing of the military and ruling elite, as well as the advantage of unfair election laws. Africa as a whole will have to keep up the pressure, and Togo's non-African trading partners should strengthen the sanctions by joining them.

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