Kparatao, Togo | AFP | The cow belonging to the butcher in Kparatao, northern Togo, was tied to a tree and minding its own business when the soldiers pumped it full of bullets.
Within days, the stricken animal became a symbol of the popular protests against President Faure Gnassingbe which have seen mounting calls for him to step down.
A photo of the white, long-horned beast sprawled in a pool of blood was shared widely on social media and sparked fevered reactions online for more than a week.
Its fate was even featured on national television’s main evening news programme.
But despite sparking a slew of online jokes, the killing is more than just a story and no laughing matter for the 6,000 or so inhabitants of Kparatao.
The village, some 340 kilometres (about 200 miles) due north of the capital, Lome, is where opposition leader Tikpi Atchadam grew up.
– Military raids –
On September 19, the day before the last big nationwide demonstrations, Togo’s military and police turned up in force in Kparatao.
They surrounded the village with pick-up trucks as an elite unit — the red berets — spread out conducting raids, asking questions and looking for “weapons of war”.
No stone was left unturned. They even checked under the bed of the traditional leader.
“Some of them wore balaclavas. They were very nervous,” said one local elder, Agoro Wakilou. “We thought they’d come to kill us.”
Two people have been killed since the first protest took place in the neighbouring city of Sokode in late August and the situation remains tense.
Police chief Abalo Yao claimed troops found “three Korean assault rifles”, bows and arrows, charms and 18 million CFA francs ($32,365, 27,500 euros) in counterfeit notes.
Villagers dispute the claim.
The soldiers were about to leave when shots rang out, creating panic. The butcher’s cow had been shot at point blank range.
“It was threatening the defence and security forces,” said the police.
Inevitably, news of the incident caused amusement online.
“Even animals want Togo’s 1992 constitution,” wrote one user on Twitter, referring to the issue at the heart of the opposition protests.
Others paid tribute to what they said was “the latest victim of repression of Gnassingbe’s dictatorial regime”.
The news site Togomedias.com called the death a “political assassination”.
The wall of the butcher’s house near where the animal was killed is riddled with bullet holes.