One of the most impressive people I know is Farida Nabourema, a young woman from Togo. A few days ago, I podcasted with her, here. We also podcasted in 2018, and I wrote a piece about her: “Daughter of Togo.”
Togo, as you know, is a West African country, with a population of about 8 million. It is located between Ghana and Benin. For 55 years — since 1967 — Togo has been ruled by two dictators, father and son. In recent weeks, the dictatorship has cracked down, sweeping up journalists and anyone else who may say something critical about the regime.
Farida Nabourema is a democracy leader and human-rights activist. She is the executive director of the Togolese Civil League. (Slogan: “Democracy matters.”) Much of her work, she has done through social media: rallying people and disseminating news. She is in exile, as you might guess. Nonetheless, her work is dangerous, and she is very brave.
For years, the social media and other technologies have been a boon to dissidents, all over the world. That definitely includes the Togolese. And these technologies are still a boon to dissidents. But dictatorships, obviously, are not without resources — technological ones.
Governments all over the world have been deploying spyware against their citizens. Saudi Arabia, sure, but also European governments: in Budapest and Warsaw. The Togolese dictatorship has deployed two kinds of spyware against its citizens: Pegasus, from the NSO Group, an Israeli company, which has been blacklisted by the U.S. government; and the spyware known as “Donot Team,” which originated in India, evidently.
The Togolese dictatorship is making it impossible to have any kind of space in which to voice dissent. You are watched, constantly, everywhere. Togo is very much a “fear society,” to borrow Natan Sharansky’s phrase.
In our new podcast, I ask Farida Nabourema what flavor the Togolese dictatorship is: military? ideological? kleptocratic? what? “A cocktail,” she answers. It is a military regime and a family business. One thing it is not is ideological. These guys aren’t cramming some ism down the throats of the population. What these guys believe in is — their right to rule and steal. They want simply “to loot the nation and to control the citizens of Togo for as long as they can,” as Farida says.
Who is worse? The father (the first dictator) or the son (the incumbent)? It depends on whom you ask. To Farida and her cohort, the son is worse: He’s the devil they know, or know better. To older Togolese, the father was worse.
On this subject, Farida makes an interesting point: While the father was illiterate, the son is educated — in Paris and Washington, no less. Does this increase his culpability?
Togolese political prisoners are held in inhuman conditions. Seven of them died from maltreatment in the past year. Some prisons are set up by the military, off the books, outside the official justice system. Citizens are abducted and “disappeared.”
Abdoul-Aziz Goma has been imprisoned for three years. He can no longer use his legs. He was kept in a room where he could not stand up. Do you know what his crime was? He provided accommodation to a person from out of town who had come to participate in a peaceful protest.
Leyla Nambea has been imprisoned for two years, without a trial, without a lawyer. The charges against her are vague, but apparently she is accused of being part of a WhatsApp group in which people discussed what was happening in the country. She was a nursing mother when they arrested her. She has been unable to see any of her three children, or any other family member, during these two years.
Two of the journalists recently arrested are Ferdinand Ayité and Joël Egah. Let me write the name of one more political prisoner: Dina Massahoudou, who has contracted tuberculosis and is thought to be in critical condition.
You will want to hear what Farida Nabourema has to say. She is eloquent not only about her own country, but also about politics in general: dictatorship and democracy; human rights and the denial of them; freedom and unfreedom; big countries and little countries — a whole range.
When she was 15, the new dictator — the son — killed hundreds of people. The death toll included two of her classmates. She vowed then and there, at that tender age, to dedicate her life to opposing this regime and ousting it — no matter what it cost her. She has not veered from this path. Again, our new podcast is here.
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