Opening photo: An aerial view shows the city of Lomé, Togo. Photo by The EITI
By Harry Sullivan and Tiffany Miller
As the capital and largest city in Togo—a small, West African coastal nation—Lomé is home to more than 1.5 million residents. This thriving metropolis sports good infrastructure, a plethora of first-rate restaurants, nice beaches, wonderful seafood, reasonable rush-hour traffic, and high quality of life for the region. Togo, by extension, is breathtakingly beautiful, with varied landscapes extending from the arid north to the waterfalls and lush greenery of the Plateaux region, to the tropical beaches of the south. To top it all off, the Togolese are incredibly friendly people.
Togo’s economy largely depends on agriculture, and its tropical climate provides good growing seasons and an abundance of fresh fruit. Along with its open-air farmers markets with high-quality local produce, the capital features western style supermarkets. Lomé features a variety of international cuisine, including American, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Senegalese, German, French, and Italian restaurants in addition to delicious seafood and Togolese fare.
While the official language is French, Togo’s inhabitants also speak indigenous languages. More Togolese are learning English each year, with the assistance of the embassy’s public affairs programming. The embassy’s English Club Competition is an annual flagship program attracting thousands of students and teachers throughout the country to compete in a tournament aimed at increasing English proficiency. Post’s EducationUSA program reported a 13 percent increase of Togolese students to the United States in the latest Open Doors report, evidence the United States remains a preferred study destination.
Accra and Cotonou, the capital of neighboring Ghana and Benin’s seat of government respectively, are both three hours away from Lomé along the coast. The mountain resort of Kpalimé is about two hours away and provides plenty of hiking and sightseeing opportunities. The savanna in the north of Togo hosts two UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Tamberma fortified villages and the Nok Grottoes.
Togo obtained its independence from France in 1960 and began its post-independence period as a democracy. In 1967, Gnassingbé Eyadéma seized power in a bloodless coup. At the time of his death, Eyadéma was the longest-serving leader in modern African history, having ruled as president for 38 years. In 2005, his son Faure Gnassingbé was elected president in a flawed election. Faure Gnassingbé reformed the economy, however, increasing its growth rate. He won subsequent five-year terms in elections generally regarded as free and fair. He was reelected for a fourth five-year term in 2020 after the government passed non-retroactive term limits which allowed him up to two more terms and the possibility of remaining in office until 2030.
Togo was firmly in the anti-communist camp during the Cold War, and its pro-American leanings remain intact. In 2017, 86 percent of Togolese viewed the United States positively. Togo votes consistently with the United States in the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly on important resolutions and Israel-related resolutions. Only two other African countries have a higher incidence of voting with the United States on contested votes in the U.N. General Assembly. Togo is also an active participant in U.N. Peacekeeping Operations, and, largely thanks to U.S. funding, its troops are well-trained and have avoided incidents that have plagued troops from other developing countries.
“Our security relationship with Togo is a bright spot,” said Political-Economic Chief Hannah Eagleton. “They are a willing partner, pro-United States, and are taking an active role in regional efforts to counter violent extremism and support regional peacekeeping efforts. Any investments we make with the Togolese military will pay back in spades.”
When the government of Togo sets a goal, it is often successful. As a result of economic reform efforts, Togo’s ranking on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index rose nearly 60 places in two years, from 156 in 2017 to 97 in 2019. With a modest $6 million increase in fiscal year 2020 of the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) funds, Togo and USAID doubled HIV case finding performance at 25 supported sites in fiscal year 2020 compared to fiscal year 2019. During the same timeframe, the number of people living with HIV on life-saving antiretroviral therapy at these 25 sites increased by 49 percent, from 22,000 to 32,953. With this additional support, Togo accelerated its progress towards achieving the 95-95-95 goals of the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS to ensure that people living with HIV will know their status; those with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and those receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression. In 2020, 77 percent of all people living with HIV in Togo knew their status, 93 percent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection received sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 83 percent of people receiving antiretroviral therapy were virally suppressed. Togo is approaching the implementation of its ambitious five-year National Development Program via a government “roadmap” with the same determination. Launched by the new prime minister in 2020, the roadmap focuses on making Togo an economic West African sub-regional hub and reaches 7.5 percent annual gross domestic product growth by 2025.
The embassy’s engagement in Togo focuses on four main objectives: democratization and good governance, economic growth and trade, peace and stability, and opportunity and development. Regarding democratization, Togo held presidential, legislative, and local elections in the last two years. Embassy monitoring and programming contributed to ensuring that little violence occurred during recent presidential and local elections. Held in June 2019, the local elections were the first in 32 years and were a part of the government’s decentralization objective. The results vastly expanded the number of elected politicians from 91 to 1,618. The hope is this decentralized structure will be a good training ground for officials for higher office, including from the opposition.
The Public Affairs Section (PAS) is helping improve these local officials’ accountability and increasing citizen engagement through a variety of programs focused on women, youth, and community leaders. Part of that effort is a $250,000 grant from the Africa Regional Democracy Fund to promote democracy and good governance in 13 municipalities. The yearlong program will inform local government stakeholders on their roles, use a digital application to report community issues to public service providers, share best practices in local governance, create sister city programs with U.S. cities, and advance income-generating programs to prove the concept.
The embassy has also encouraged better trade policies. In 2020, the government’s efforts to remove technical barriers to trade were recognized when Togo’s trade policy score on its Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) scorecard increased from 39 to 59 percent. With this improvement, Togo passed all six MCC economic indicators, qualifying the nation for participation in an MCC Threshold Program as of November 2020. This program promises to further spur economic growth by improving the quality of and lowering the price of information and communication technology services in Togo, attracting new apps and business models. The program also aims to institute a land registration system to replace the mix of traditional and modern land titling systems, which have long impeded investment.
Lomé’s modern infrastructure, featuring an up-to-date port, airport, and hotel infrastructure, has attracted various regional conferences, including the African Growth and Opportunity Act Trade Ministerial in 2017. The United States ranks in the top five of countries from which Togo imports. The embassy’s entrepreneurship programs advance economic growth. PAS has a robust African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, which resulted in the creation of a storefront in one of the capital’s major markets. In 2019, post transformed its American Center into an entrepreneurship hub offering training, mentorship, networking, funding opportunities, and coworking space to young entrepreneurs.
The embassy has engaged with the government to enhance peace and security by countering violent extremism (CVE) as a leading partner. In June 2019, post organized a first-ever social cohesion workshop among civil society actors, government stakeholders, and populations susceptible to violent extremism. The workshop gained strong Togolese government support and acted as a catalyst for creating Togo’s Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Prevention and Fight against Violent Extremism (CIPLEV) and a national CVE strategy.
Throughout the three-year term of a $250,000 grant from the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, the embassy supports CIPLEV to establish regional and local committees in which civil society works with the government to launch a holistic CVE response. Other smaller programs target women and youth to sensitize them to the dangers of violent extremism, focusing on disinformation identification and community resilience.
Although the country has reformed significantly in terms of doing business, its ranking has stagnated on the U.N. Development Programme’s Human Development Index, demonstrating the need to invest more in the health sector. The embassy has also supported Togo’s development through its Peace Corps program, whose volunteers plan to return in 2021. This program, one of the oldest in Africa, has focused on education, agriculture, and health. Other important development initiatives include the Ambassador’s Special Self-Help Program, Department of Defense PEPFAR funding, and regional USAID programs. PAS employs a wide network of professional development, academic, and cultural exchange programs to support opportunities for the advancement of girls, women, and youth. These include the Young African Leadership Initiative; two Access English Microscholarship programs; a STEM program for girls; press freedom and journalism programs; and capacity building programs for developing NGOs.
The diplomatic corps in Lomé is cohesive with a G-5 (U.S., U.N., European Union, France, and Germany) ambassadors’ group often coordinating on policy and approach to the government. The diverse expatriate community is welcoming and close knit.
The embassy has 25 direct hire positions and almost 150 locally employed (LE) staff and eligible family member positions. Aside from the Department of State, direct hires lead the Peace Corps and Millennium Challenge Corporation operations, while LE staff represent the Department of Defense and USAID. Morale is high, and the embassy has tremendous community spirit.
“We are like a village with common goals and a strong sense of community,” said Ambassador Eric William Stromayer. “That sense of being in this together is, I believe, the backbone of our mission in strengthening our 60-year partnership with the Togolese people.”
Harry Sullivan is the deputy chief of mission at Embassy Lomé. Tiffany Miller is the public affairs officer at Embassy Lomé.