New Internationalist


May 1986

new internationalist
issue 159 - May 1986


Map of Togo As you stroll along the palm-lined beaches of Togo's coastline, you may find yourself reflecting on what a fine example the country is of the random character of colonial frontiers. At the end of the First World War, France and Britain divided the small German colony between them, leaving the country just 50 kilometres of coastline and a slender north-south shape.

The country is more financially dependent than ever on the outside world today, with the virtual stagnation of the plantation production on 'which its economy was based. The entire agricultural sector is in decline: what export growth there has been since independence has been almost entirely in phosphates, but sales have been badly hit by the weakness of the world market.

When President Eyadéma seized power in 1967, he decided that industry was to be the main instrument of Togolese development. Appeals for foreign investment in the 1970s resulted in the creation of large capital-intensive industries.

Smaller companies have had great difficulty in competing, and the national development strategy for 1985 - 90 calls for much greater encouragement to small businesses, as well as for increased cash crop production. But the rhetoric masks the need for a fundamental reappraisal of the country's overall development strategy.

Although President Eyadéma cultivates an international image as one of Africa's wise men, inside the country he is as unpopular as he has ever been. Many of his political adversaries have died, often in mysterious circumstances. Enough people have died in prison of heart attacks in the last year to have alerted Amnesty International.

It was almost certainly no coincidence that three small bombs exploded in the capital Lomé shortly after another of these prison deaths in April 1985. Later, a series of bombs were targeted on the modern luxurious buildings which have come to symbolise President Eyadéma's rule. These included the huge Hotel du 2 Février which always appears empty when you save up enough francs to swagger through the doors for a cool drink: the price of your beer is as astronomically high and incongruous as the building itself.

After the bombings, some 150,000 people marched in the capital in support of the President. But others were arrested. You can be stopped and searched at up to a dozen road blocks just in the vicinity of Lomé, while a journey to the north of the country can be peppered with stops reflecting the increased vigilance of the police. The official press has set the rapidly deteriorating tone, demanding 'the public hanging of terrorists, and the application of the law of an eye for an eye: for any victim of an explosion, a member of a terrorist's family should be hanged.' The country is jittery, waiting for the action.

Leader: President General Gnassingbé Eyadéma

Economy: GNP per capita $280 (1983) (USA $11,490)
Monetary unit: CFA franc (Franc de Ia Communauté Financière Africaine)
Main exports: Phosphates, cocoa

People: 2.8 million (1983) (USA 234 million)

Culture: Religion: Christian; animist; some West African voodoo
Language: French is official language

Health: Infant mortality: 100 per thousand live births (1983) (USA 11 per 1,000)
Percentage of population with access to drinking water 52 (urban) 30 (rural)

Sources: Africa Review 1986; State of the World's Children 1986.

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Almost self-sufficient in food in non-drought years.

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Som Traditional role as childcarer and food producer.

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Power rests with the President.

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46 per cent men, 20 per cent women.

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Mysterious heart-attack deaths of some political prisoners.

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49 years - very low
(USA 74 years)

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This feature was published in the May 1986 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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