The release of a video warning of an armed liberation of Western Togoland by a secessionist group called the “Dragons of Western Togoland” followed an uptick in separatist violence, exemplified by road closures and attacks against police stations in Volta Region in September.
This is notable because it is a marked departure from the non-violent modus operandi of the secessionist movement in Ghana until then and is explained by the involvement of new separatist groups. This suggests an evolution of the secessionist movement and portends a violent shift in future activities.
While the relative obscurity of these new groups and the lack of widespread support for the separatist cause makes it unlikely that they pose a serious risk to the country, their involvement in the separatist cause has increased the risk of instability associated with the Western Togoland independence movement given their willingness to engage in armed resistance.
In response, the government can be expected to maintain a bolstered security deployment in Volta Region and launch targeted operations to dismantle these groups, particularly given the upcoming elections and the ruling party’s likely desire to highlight its commitment to stability.
Travel to Accra can continue while maintaining vigilance and adhering to general security precautions. Maintain heightened vigilance in Volta, Eti, and Northern regions due to the increased risk associated with the Western Togoland secessionist movement.
Please be advised
Reports from October 14 indicate that a group called the “Dragons of Western Togoland” released a video in which masked armed men were seen behind their secessionist flag.
The video detailed the group’s mission, which is to liberate their “motherland”, and stated that the group had 4,300 “fully-trained soldiers” who were trained in a neighboring country to invade parts of Volta Region. The video further warned that the dragons, together with the “gorillas” were coming after 21 days to claim their “motherland, Western Togoland.”
The reports did not provide any further details on the identity of the “gorillas”, evidently another armed faction.
Over 60 people remain in custody in connection with the secessionist violence observed since September 25 in Volta Region. Security deployments have been bolstered across the region and the government, supported by the opposition, has pledged to swiftly contain the threat posed by the separatists.
On September 25, separatists reportedly blocked entry and exit points in Volta Region and attacked two police stations in Aveyime and Mepe, seizing arms and ammunition and holding three officers hostage.
On September 29, separatists torched two State Transportation Company (STC) buses in Volta Region’s capital, Ho.
The Homeland Study Group Foundation (HSGF) has denied involvement in both attacks.
Reports suggest that the secessionist group, Western Togoland Restoration Front (WTRF), was responsible for erecting roadblocks and the violence on September 25. Just 12 hours before attacking the police stations on September 25, a social media account reportedly affiliated with the group published images of a graduation ceremony of around 500 men, who allegedly underwent training in secret locations.
The chairman of the WTRF reportedly released a press statement stating that the group’s efforts for consolidating statehood commenced on September 1. The statement detailed the group’s goal to force the Ghanaian government to join UN-facilitated negotiations with an aim to declare Western Togoland an independent state. Further, the Ghanaian police were ordered to leave the region in 24 hours and surrender weapons.
Assessments & Forecast
Western Togoland, which became a British administered colony at the end of the First World War, became part of Ghana after a plebiscite at the time of Ghana’s independence in 1957. Separatists maintain that the plebiscite was rigged and that they were promised another referendum after 50 years, which never materialized. The Ghanaian government has disputed these allegations and stated that the separatists’ claim is unsubstantiated. The HSGF was formed in 1994 to advocate for the independence of Western Togoland and has been primarily active since 2017. The group has periodically held peaceful protests and rallies, and other symbolic events such as the declaration of independence during a political gathering in Ho in November 2019. Given that HSGF has been at the forefront of the separatist agenda, there was rampant speculation that HSGF was responsible for the events on September 25.
However, the violent nature of the recent separatist activities is a marked departure from the Western Togoland separatists’ usual modus operandi. The HSGF was perceived to be a largely peaceful fringe movement that did not pose a high risk of instability. In fact, even though the government was heavy-handed in their response to HSGF activities, including engaging in arbitrary arrests, the group never responded violently. This established precedent seems to verify HSGF’s strong denial of complicity in the recent violence. Consequently, these latest separatist activities seem to imply that while the HSGF may not have evolved despite being around for years, the larger Western Togoland separatist movement has. This can likely be attributed to the absence of any advancement in the separatist agenda under the HSGF, coupled with the government’s refusal to engage with non-violent methods and instead respond harshly, which possibly pushed some separatists to embrace a more radical approach.
This dynamic explains the creation of groups such as the WTRF and the “Dragons of Western Togoland” even though very little is known about them and it remains unclear how long they have been in existence. In the event that the WTRF was responsible for the violence, which is likely, the coordinated simultaneous attacks on the police stations and the blocking of entry and exit points in the region suggest that the group does possess some capability and numbers at least in mid dozens, though the exact strength of the group remains unknown. While the social media post by a WTRF sympathizer indicated that the group graduated 500 men from a training course, it remains unverified and it is possible that the post was intended to exaggerate the group’s strength to make them seem more significant. Similarly, the “Dragons of Western Togoland” claim that they are 4,300 soldiers-strong, while plausible, is unlikely.
That said, even if their strength is highly exaggerated and the groups number only in the low hundreds, the recent attacks prove their willingness and ability to engage in armed resistance, unlike the HSGF. The involvement of such radical-leaning groups portends a violent shift in secessionist activities going forward. Even though it remains unlikely that the “Dragons of Western Togoland” have the capabilities to successfully launch a coordinated invasion of the “motherland” in 21 days or even intend to do so, such rhetoric may embolden other disenfranchised youth in Volta Region to challenge central authorities, possibly through joining these groups or banding together in localized cells. Thus, while the relative obscurity of these groups and the lack of widespread support for the separatist cause makes it unlikely that these groups pose a serious risk to the country, their involvement in the separatist cause has increased the risk of instability associated with the Western Togoland independence movement.
FORECAST: The separatists are liable to launch additional attacks given the widespread attention the violence on September 25 garnered. In anticipation of future attacks, the government is liable to maintain bolstered deployments in the Volta Region, especially in light of the upcoming December elections. Additionally, the security establishment may launch targeted operations against the separatist groups while the government is likely to ask for harsh sentences against the arrested allegedly separatists. This is particularly likely because the Western Togoland independence movement is liable to constitute a significant portion of the pre-electoral discourse and the ruling party likely wants to demonstrate its commitment to stability and present itself in a favorable light. Thus, additional arrests of alleged separatists can be expected in the coming weeks.
Travel to Accra may continue while maintaining vigilance and adhering to general security precautions, particularly during the evening and night hours.
Maintain heightened vigilance in Volta, Eti, and Northern regions due to the increased risk associated with the Western Togoland secessionist movement.