Learn more about Togo

Togo is a small country from a geographical point of view but big from a human one. Its 56.000 km2 are inhabited by almost 40 different peoples. In the south, the Ewe, the Mina, the Ouatchi who practice voodoo, a traditional religion that has its origins in these regions, with sacrifices, trances and wild dances. Further north, around the town of Sokode are the Kotokoli, Muslims groups that preserve pre-Islamic animistic practices, such as the dance of fire.

The Bassar and the Kabye groups, famous for their initiation rites but, mainly, for the metallurgical production using ancestral techniques. The Bassar, producers of iron obtained from the fusion of the stones collected in the neighbouring mountains; the Kabye, great blacksmiths that use heavy stones to model the iron as comes out red-hot from the forge. Fascinating perpetuation of an old knowledge already lost in the Western word.

Then we arrive to the Atakora hills, in the Koutammakou region, where the Tamberma, also known as the Batammariba, have found refuge. They built clay castles with several floors, one of the most widely appreciated African architectural models and an example of architectural sculpture.

To the north, at the border with Burkina Faso, you will find the Tchokossi and the Moba, millet growers, in the land of the savannah that, depending of the season, is covered of grey or green.

Lome, the capital, boasts a particular and original character due to its history of German, English and French colonial occupation. It is the only case in Africa. It is a town that unfolds between the ocean, lagoons, and the frontier with Ghana and is home to fetish markets where you can find remedies o almost remedies for every disease. In Lome you can also visit voodoo temples, churches and mosques in a climate of peaceful conviviality and a joyful desire to live and let live.

The Kpalime region, hundreds of miles to northwest of Lome, is characterized by hills and forests. Beautiful rolling landscapes, the ideal spot to walk and find a cool place to be escape from the humid climate of the coast.

Beautiful beaches, long golden stretches fringed with coco palms.

Lome, a pleasant capital city to travel to

A trip to Togo starts with its capital, Lome, stretching along the coast for about 12 km between the Ghanaian boarder and the new Port of the city. During colonial times the eastern part of Togo was controlled by the French (the country gained independence in 1960) and the western part by the British who had annexed this territory to Ghana. This explains why the Ghanaian border is on the edge of Lome – it is so close, in fact, that it is practically inside the city itself!

Lome is a pleasant city to travel to as you can walk freely through the bustling crowd of market sellers and admire their colorful stalls or watch craftsmen at work, skillfully fashioning wood and metal into beautiful artifacts. A visit to the Grand Marché is not complete until you meet the Togolese “Nanas Benz”, famous for selling the most fashionable wax “pagne” (cloth) of every imaginable color and design, perfect souvenirs of your tour. Lively debates can be heard from the shops as women discuss about style, colors and prices. In the evening, the city is cooled by a very pleasant breeze coming from the Atlantic Ocean. It is then that the famed vibrant nightlife slowly starts to warm up.

Travel to the magical land of Voodoo

Voodoo originally started in the south of Togo and Benin and is still the most widely established religion in the local culture, in the region around Aneho. Evidence of this is seen everywhere with temples, altars and fetishes scattered across the countryside and in the villages. Whenever there is a special occasion the voodoo initiates of the village, often more than a hundred people, are led by the “feticheur”, a high voodoo priest. They meet, sing collective praises and perform sacrifices at the altars of the gods and divinities. After the ceremony the women start chanting and, accompanied by the rhythm of the drums, others start to dance. As the music speeds up and becomes more and more frenetic, some adepts fall into a deep state of trance. Physically, they are in a catatonic state, with very strong muscular spasm and insensitivity to pain. When in trance, a state of altered consciousness, the adepts communicate directly with the spirits of their ancestors. Choose one of our tours and travel to the heart of an unmatched magic!

The people of the plateau

Once on the central plateau, between Sokode and Kara, , the landscape changes quite drastically. The thick vegetation of the south is progressively replaced by wide open areas of scrub and pastures interspersed with rocks. A few kilometres north, a mountainous landscape comes into sight, beyond which lies the valley of the Kara, home of the Kabye people. This valley is a sprawling pastoral land with houses, often made of stone, built among the fields in the shade of kapok, teak, mango, baobab and palm trees. In order to farm the little fertile land hidden between the rocks, the Kabye people, known for their hard work, have started terrace cultivation to grow their crops. The same kind of agricultural work and design can also be found in the Losso country, up in the area of Niamtougou. Throughout the whole region, mini-oases are created by waterholes, for the greatest pleasure of all travelers!

Castles of clay

A track, from Kande, leads to the region called Koutammakou where we meet the Tamberma (or Batammariba) people who have found refuge for centuries in the least accessible territory of the Atakora Mountains in order to protect themselves from the black slavery of the Arab world. The Tamberma architecture is one of the most beautiful in Africa. Their fortified houses are like small clay castles with only one narrow entrance and can be up to three storeys high. Huge fetishes, of a phallic shape, stand at the doorway to protect the house and its inhabitants from enemies and evil spirits.

The Moba people live in the north of Togo, around Dapaong. Their homes are made of clay and are built in a circular shape, with conical roofs made of straw. A wall surrounds and protects the huts belonging to the members of a same family. That is how they form small villages spread out over the territory.

Travel to Togo and enjoy!

TO KNOW MORE

Togo, officially the Togolese Republic, is a country in West Africa bordered by Ghana to the west, Benin to the east and Burkina Faso to the north. It extends south to the Gulf of Guinea, on which the capital Lome is located.

Togo is a small stretch of earth that covers about 57.000 km² with 56 kms of coast. Its population reaches around 6.8 million people, 700.000 of whom are found in the capital city. Togo is a sub-Saharian tropical nation mainly depending on agriculture as it enjoys a climate that allows good harvests.

Although the official language is French, many other languages are spoken in Togo, especially the dialects belonging to the Gbe ethnic group. The largest religious groups are those with indigenous beliefs, but there is a significant Christian and Muslim community. Togo is a member of the United Nations, the African Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Population: 6.8 million (UN, 2010)

Capital: Lome

Area: 57.000 km²

Ethnic groups:

South: Gbe people: Ewe, Mina and Adja

Centre: Kotokoli, Tchamba

North: Kabye (22%), Mossi and Moba

Main languages: While French is the official language, Ewe and Mina are the most spoken dialects in the South; Kabye (dialect of the president) is widely spoken around Kara and Kotokoli is spoken in the region of Sokode.

Major religions: 51% animist beliefs, 29% Christians, 20% Muslims

Life expectancy: 60 years (men), 65 years (women) = 2011 est.

HISTORY

President: Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe

For centuries, Togo has lived next to many great empires such as Mali, Ashanti, Benin or Mossi but never actually played a central part in any of them. Togo first came into contact with Europeans at the end of the 15th century and from then on became part of what was called the Slave Coast. With the arrival of Portuguese people, Togo became one of the main slave centre selling human beings in exchange of different European products. At the end of the 19th century, the nature of the exchanged goods became more “legitimate” when Europeans started to trade palm oil used for soap production. French and German companies fought to maintain their commercial connections with Mina people. In 1884, Togo became a German protectorate and in the following years, the German Togoland was made into the Reich model colony: The Germans tried to accomplish economic miracles all over the country. They built roads and railways and took down entire forests to grow large coffee and cocoa plantations instead. They also created direct radio connections with Berlin and undertook impressive shipyards. Despite the high economical level of the colony, the military presence in the country remained quite weak. When the First World War was declared, France and Great-Britain invaded Togoland, forcing the Kaisers’ soldiers to surrender in august 1914. After the war, the Western third of the Togolese territory was given to Great-Britain and the two other thirds (today Togo) were given to France under a mandate of the United Nations. The British quickly annexed their third (the present Volta region in Ghana) to their Gold Coast colony. In 1956, a referendum was organized in order to try and reunify the Togolese territory but the western Togo chose to be attached to the Gold Coast colony as at that time, the colony was heading towards independence. On April 27th 1960, the Eastern Togo proclaimed its independence becoming a republic with Sylvanus Olympio as a first president. Olympio had the same ideals than the first nationalists such as Nkrumah, Toure and Seghor but unfortunately he never showed the same charisma. Three years later, he was murdered during the first military coup conducted by Etienne Eyadema Gnassingbe (commonly called Eyadema). Eyadema organized a second coup in 1967 when he took over the power, suspended the Constitution, dissolved all opposition parties and started to guaranty his own political future through a unique party run by him. In 1991, multipartism was restored and in 1992, a new Constitution was adopted but the country leaders were still accused of oppressing the opposition and practicing election rigging. New elections were held in 1998 but already in 1997 many violations of the human rights had been reported and the presidential police force was being accused of murdering, beating up and arbitrarily arresting opposition members. Intimidation dealt a serious blow on the freedom of press not mentioning what the Unions went through! An investigating committee made of the United Nations and the United African Organization concluded that hundreds of civilians had been killed and that human rights had been systematically violated. Eyadema died in 2005 after being the head of state for 38 years and despite the condemnation of the entire international community, his son succeeded him supported by the military forces. Two months later new elections were held but once again the opposition claimed the votes were rigged and the opposition parties pressurized. As a consequence, the concept of democracy is still highly questioned in Togo even though since 2004 Togo began a process of normalisation of its relations with the European Union that had entirely cut all aid programs towards Togo since 1993 after a record number of human rights violations.

CLIMAT AND GEOGRAPHY

The northern part is essentially characterised by a semi-savannah covered in golden grass typical of the dry season and reminding the Sahel located only a few hours drive up north. On the other hand during the raining season everything blossoms again giving the region an amazingly beautiful luxuriant landscape. The central part of the country enjoys a charming undulated landscape while the South is made of a large plateau slowly reaching the coastal plain rich in swamps and lagoons.

The climate is generally tropical with average temperatures ranging from 27.5 °C on the coast to about 30 °C in the northern regions, with a dry climate and characteristics of a tropical savannah. In the south there are two raining seasons (the first between April and July and the second between September and November), even though the average rainfall is not very high.

ECONOMY

Main agricultural products and industries: Coffee, cocoa, cotton, yams, cassava, corn, beans, rice, millet, sorghum, livestock, fish / phosphate mining, agricultural processing, cement, handicrafts, textiles, beverages

Main export commodities and partners: Cocoa, phosphate, coffee, cotton / India, Germany, Benin, Ghana, Burkina-Faso, China, Belgium, Niger and Nigeria.

Main import commodities and partners: Machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, petroleum products / China, France and USA.

GDP per capita: 900 US $ (20110 est.)

Togo is a small sub-Saharan economy heavily dependent on both commercial and subsistence agriculture, which provides employment for 65% of the labour force. Cotton, coffee and cocoa together generate about 40% of export earnings. Togo is self-sufficient as regards basic foodstuffs when harvests are good, with occasional regional supply difficulties. In the industrial sector, phosphate mining is no longer the most important activity as it has suffered from the collapse of world prices for phosphate and increased foreign competition. Nowadays, cement and clinker exportations to neighbouring countries have taken over.

As a whole, Togo presents a quite poor economy burdened with structural instability partly due to the fact that Togo is made of tens of different ethnic groups but mainly because agriculture still weighs too much among the producing activities and the reliance of the country in foreign investment is extremely costly. Togo achieved independence in 1960 and although the goals have not all been achieved yet, the country has made obvious progress : Considered the stabilizing element between West-African French-speaking and English-peaking countries, the small Togo managed to play an essential part in the creation of the Economic Community of West African States instituted in Lagos in 1975. The Togolese capital then had the privilege to be chosen as the seat of the said Convention of Lome that was ratified in 1975 (and reviewed in 1980) by members of the EU and some African, Caribbean and Pacific States in order to regulate the financial and trade relations as well as the technical and economic cooperation between developing countries and industrialised ones. Togo also took a few good initiatives regarding its domestic economy; the most impressive being the nationalisation in 1974 of the Compagnie Togolaise des Mines du Bénin (Togolese Phosphate Company) as 80% of the company used to belong to a French group when phosphate represented the most important mining industry in Togo. This company still exploits the phosphate deposits which are actually among the most important in the world and which represent the only valuable national resource. The industrial sector suffered such a crisis that from 1983, 32% of industrial investments were dropped, forcing many national industries to shut down.

TRANSPORT

As far as communication routes are concerned, Togo is moderately well served as a whole with a better service in the densely populated areas. Railways are around 575 kms long including two main lines, one that goes from Lome inland and the second along the coast from Lome to Benin. Unfortunately, trains do not take passengers anymore and are only used to carry cement and phosphate from the mines to the port of Kpeme.

The road network is approximately 12.000 kms long although most of the roads are not tarred. In 1980, Togo completed the construction of its main road crossing the country south to north and that way connecting Togo to Burkina-Faso, Mali and Niger. From then on, Northern countries could have access to the ocean and Lome started to be the essential intermediary city for most West-African countries. Besides, Lome is also the centre of air transport as the Tokoin International Airport is located near the city centre. The second airport of the country is found in Niamtougou.

FOOD

Togo enjoys a well deserved reputation of being the West-African country offering the best cuisine: this success is due to the many different sauces all poor in carbohydrates and full of tasty vegetables. The typical dishes are different according to the areas but the “national” dish is always “fufu” in the whole of West-Africa. In Togo, it consists of white yam pounded into a doughy consistency served with various sauces all quite spicy! You will find plenty of “Fufu” Restaurants in the cities as well as roadside “Fufu” stands.

Plantains are also cooked a lot in many different ways: grilled, cooked, mashed or fried. When it is the right season, mangos, papayas, oranges, avocados and pineapple are found everywhere. As for vegetables, the easiest to find are tomatoes, aubergines, cabbages, courgettes and green beans. The most commonly used spices are ginger, chilli pepper, anise, garlic, basil and mustard.

MEDIA

Private media have proliferated; there are dozens of commercial and community radios and weekly newspapers, as well as a handful of private TV stations.

The daily newspaper available everywhere is the government-owned « Togo Presse » which is published in French with a few pages in Ewe, in Kabye and even in English.

Radio is the most popular media, particularly in rural areas. The main TV station is government-owned “Television Togolaise”.

“Reporters Without Borders” describes the media freedom environment as “satisfactory” (2009). Under legislation introduced in 2002, press offences cannot be punished by imprisonment.

The BBC broadcasts in the capital on 97.5 FM. Also on air in Lomé is Gabon’s Africa No 1. “Radio France Internationale” broadcasts on FM in Lomé and Kara, giving an excellent coverage of the international news.

There were 350,000 internet users by June 2009 (Internet world stats).

EDUCATION

About half of the population is under 18, reaching about 2.8 million.

75% of the Togolese children are enrolled at school although the gap between the number of boys and girls remains way too important: 80% against 63%.

The illiteracy rate among adults reached around 43% in 2000 (27.8% of men and 57.4% of women), which implies that almost half the women in the country never went to school.

Primary school is free and compulsory from the age of 6 while secondary school starts at 12 and is divided in two cycles of 4 and 3 years, but only 23% of the kids have access to it. It is important to remind that although primary school is free by law, annual school fees still exist and they vary depending on the schools, and, while public schools are easy to find in the big cities, they are very few in rural areas where education is taken care of by private institutions or religious missions forcing the kids to walk great distances to attend school everyday.

HEALTH

Life expectancy:

Total 62

Male: 60

Women: 65

Age structure:

0-14 years: 40.9%

15-64 years: 56%

65 years and over: 3.1%

Median age: 19.3 years

Mortality rate under 5 years: 98/1000 (mainly for Malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea)

Poor families: 150/1000

Rich families: 62/1000

AIDS the total population: 3.2%

Prevalence of HIV: 3.2%

Births attended by skilled personnel: 54% (97% for the wealthiest against 30% for the poorest)

Improved drinking water: 58% in 2010 with huge disparities according to the location of the area

Improved sanitation facilities: 15% in 2010 with huge disparities according to the location of the area

Health staff:

Physicians: 1.5/10.000 people

Nurses: 6.5/10.000 people

MUSIC

Traditional music is made of two styles: Kabye in the Northern part and folk Ewe/Mina music in the South. Some of the most interesting music instruments are only played during special ceremonies such as the picancala for instance, an instrument similar to a xylophone but made of stones.

Modern music in Togo was highly inspired by the Congolese style of the 60s and 70s and reggae, soul, R&B and Latin music can all be listened to on the radio.