In Togo, an Activist Dynasty Confronts a Dictatorial Dynasty
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Fighting a dictatorial dynasty requires tenacity for the long run, and this Togolese activist is positioning herself for that.
Despite living in exile for the past decade, Farida Nabourema has dedicated herself to confronting institutional trauma induced by human rights abuses, nepotism and overall injustice in her native Togo. The 30-year-old activist wields the truth like a weapon on social media, using it to rally for regime change like Wonder Woman and her lasso.
Her large social media following has been the backbone of the formidable resistance movement she has been building, the Togolese Civil League. In 2014, she angered members of parliament by posting their phone numbers so Togolese citizens could bombard them with complaints about governance; in return, she was the target of a smear campaign.
“Farida’s a visionary thinker, whose life mission is to liberate her people and teach Africans the power of using their voice,” says Fatu Ogwuche, who heads Facebook’s politics and government outreach for sub-Saharan Africa. “She’s built a community across the continent that will go the distance with her in life, work and the change we seek.”
The story of Togo’s tangential turn to family property began with serial coup d’etat plotter Gnassingbé Eyadéma’s ascension to the presidency in 1967. In 2005, his 38-year stint was ended only when he went into cardiac arrest as he was being evacuated for medical care overseas. Faure, his second son, replaced him and is currently on his fourth term.
Nabourema was only a teenager when the younger Eyadéma employed brutal force and the state security apparatus to remain in power. Still, she vividly remembers the controversial elections and the accompanying carnage.
“At least 500 people were killed according to the U.N. report, but we all know it was over a thousand people,” she says. “The militaries went from home to home killing, raping, beating. We lived in fear and that fueled my anger and made me swear not [to] rest until I bring that regime down.”
Memories of this abuse may have catalyzed her activism, but another memory haunts Nabourema. Bemba, her father, was an activist beginning in his student days in the 1970s; in 1985, he was arrested and tortured with electric cords that left him with permanent health conditions. “He had many broken ribs and sustained spinal injuries which still affect him till today. His toes were hammered and his testicles electrocuted. His life has never been normal after that.”
Scared that she might suffer the same fate or worse, concerned friends and others have been urging her to tone down her activism, but Nabourema’s courageous words remain the same each time.
“It is exactly because they are capable of killing people for their opinions that I want them to go, so that our children will not grow up in a country that is so hostile to freedom of speech,” she explains. “We cannot continue living in fear generation to generation.”