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Togo Opposition Leader Welcomes Truth Commission Report

Gilchrist Olympio says it’s time for Togolese to forget their ugly past and focus instead on the future

Gilchrist Olympio (March 2010 file photo)
Gilchrist Olympio (March 2010 file photo)

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James Butty

Togo’s main opposition leader said the time has come for national reconciliation, with peace finally reigning after decades of political violence.

Gilchrist Olympio, leader of the Union of Forces for Change (UFC) party and son of the country’s ousted first post-independence president, said the country must “look forward” instead of focusing on the past.

“About a year and a half ago,” he said, “we decided to accept the hand of peace which has been extended to us by the president, and people of my party, the Union of Forces for Change, have joined the government. We look forward to working together to rebuilding this poor, shattered country.”

The opposition leader spoke to VOA following the release of the first part of a report by Togo’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, charged with investigating political violence between 1958 and 2005.

Upon receiving the report, President Faure Gnassingbe publicly apologized to victims of violence.

Olympio said he welcomed the apology, but that the government will have to show through its actions that the words are genuine.

“Time will tell whether these apologies by the government and the president, in person, are serious or are not serious,” he said.

Several members of Olympio’s party took ministerial positions following the 2010 re-election of President Gnassingbe, who inherited power after the death of his own father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled Togo for nearly 40 years.

The rapprochement was extremely controversial among UFC party supporters, and Olympio was temporarily suspended as party leader for negotiating with the president.

Ultimately his party accepted the power-sharing deal.

Olympio said members of his party joining the Faure Gnassingbe government does not mean that he has abandoned his own ambition to be president of Togo.

“Personal ambition has never been an important element in my political career. Yes, if the occasion presents that we should play an important role in our country, I will do so. And in my own small way, I continue to make whatever contribution I can,” Olympio said.

He said he believes President Gnassingbe represents a new class of African leaders.

“I think he’s [part of] a new breed of leaders that’s coming out in Africa. And the old system of having strong men who rule the country seems to be a thing of the past,” he added. “But time will tell.”

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