TOGO has just announced its presidential election will take place on April 15. Given the short time political parties have to prepare, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the date was an electoral weapon, with president Faure Gnassingbe, 48, expected to run for a third term.
Several African countries are holding elections this year, but the focus has been on a handful where incumbents are seeking to dig in for more time, against constitutional requirements.
Given Faure is a near shoo-in despite half-hearted protests from activists and the opposition, his phone has been ringing off the hook, as curious African presidents seek advice on how he has made an extra term look so easy.
In the interest of time, president Faure organised a conference call, where a Mail & Guardian Africa fly on the wall listened in:
FAURE: Good morning my fellow rascals, I am told ([DRC’s] Kabila and [Burundi’s] Nkurunziza were the first to dial in? What’s the rush? Haven’t even finished my cornflakes.
NKURUNZIZA: Hey man, I’m really excited to finally hear from you, been waiting for over 20 minutes, even cancelled a meeting with some pesky American investors who want a refund, can’t recall for what. They must remember there is a premium on the cost of doing business here in Africa.
FAURE: Yeah boss, I am told you are in a spot of trouble, read somewhere about several thousands of protesters not too happy about the great work you have done for them these past 10 years. Kabila, they say you chickened out?
KABILA: Faure, the heat was too much. At least you had your papa to teach you how to ride out annoying protests, mine didn’t even have time to warm the seat. So I am here just to listen in, or, as they say on Facebook, to ‘‘read the comments”, but you never know…
FAURE: That’s tough man. I also invited Omal al-Bashir, as you know the old devil has been in office since 1980-something and is going for another term. It would also have been bad manners not to let Uncle Bob listen in, he is running the AU show now, in addition to having tonnes of experience with this kind of thing.
MUGABE: Sorry, say that again? Kind of dozing off, but these darn leg just won’t stop hurting me, sprained it the other day..
ALL (murmuring): Sorry grandpa, we saw the pictures, that didn’t look too good…
BASHIR: Hey, it’s never too serious, old man Bob here has never had things like the ICC breathing down his neck, now that’s what I call tough, you can’t travel to any half-decent country, just some boring African places. Really cramps your style.
SEVERAL VOICES: Bah, it’s not like your Sudan is all that..
NKURUNZIZA: Guys, guys, chill, I just want to know what to do to secure this thing. It’s just too sweet and yes lucrative if I dare say, not that you all don’t know…
FAURE: Yeah, it sure is good fun, being president. Thing is, you must first have some charisma, Pierre, you are really boring from what I have heard; learn to work the peasants. See, like Uncle Bob here, he has everyone hanging on to his words. Bob? Bob?
FAURE: Oh well, we’ve already lost him, though the weather’s rather hot these days around Africa; can see that from these Western tourists I keep bumping into. Is it like winter in their countries or it’s that thing they call climate change? Anyway, the second trick you do is, oh, sorry, we have Salva Kiir dialling in, welcome man!
KIIR: Eish, getting through is a challenge, not sure whether it is the phone line to your country or these annoying rebels have interfered with my masts again, by the way, where’s Togo on the map? I hardly hear anything about you…
FAURE: Sorry old bloke, these African lines are not like those I get in Paris. See, that’s the second lesson, try to keep out of the news as often as possible. That way you can bash a few protesters, throw opposition types in jail, squeeze their nuts if they are not agreeable, and dish out money, all out of sight.
NKURUNZIZA: Humph! It’s not like Burundi is Nigeria or South Africa or Kenya, yet I keep getting all these headlines. I have even let it out that I am a devoted Christian man who likes his avocados, but nothing doing.
FAURE: That’s the other thing Pierre—you musn’t come across as a soft touch. I like how you sternly warned the opposition they’d get what was coming to them if they didn’t feel your election vibe. See, Bob and Omar here, they’ve been cracking heads open for years and they are still going strong..
KABILA: That didn’t work for me…
BASHIR: You have to do it consistently my friend. See what I am doing in Darfur, been at it for years now. Additionally, make sure the opposition boycott the election, like mine have.
KABILA, NKURUNZIZA: That makes sense…
FAURE: Need to run, but one more thing: Learn how to play these red-noses against each other—all they want is stability to make sure their businesses thrive. Disregard the noises their diplomats make, it’s just that and no more. Just ensure they can hold the cocktails in peace and go anytime on safari, their wives really like the African tan.
BASHIR: Oh wow, that’s a neat trick, I have been told I am too prickly when they get on my case..like the other day when I kicked out some irritating UN types. Looks like Kiir got disconnected again. Chap should have stayed with me when he had the chance.
FAURE: Really have to dash along now guys, I am meeting with my inauguration committee, didn’t really like the chair they used last time.
NKURUNZIZA: Thanks mate, you are way wiser than your years, don’t know why you can’t teach Kabila here a few things…who leaves power while still in their 40s?
KABILA: Hey, that’s below the belt. Remember I host some of your rebels?
FAURE: Ok folks, go forth and reign, see you at the next AU do. DISCONNECTS CALL.
MUGABE: Sorry, what was that? Missed that… Hullo? Hullo?