What Should I Know About Togo?

Brendan McGuigan

Togo is a small country in Western Africa. It covers 21,900 square miles (56,800 sq. km), making it just a bit smaller than West Virginia. The country shares borders with Benin, Burkina Faso, and Ghana, and has coastline along the Gulf of Guinea.

Togo is a country in Western Africa, and its coastline travels along the Gulf of Guinea.
Togo is a country in Western Africa, and its coastline travels along the Gulf of Guinea.

A number of different tribes inhabited the lands of Togo prior to European contact. The three largest of these were the Mina, the Guin, and the Ewe. In the late 15th century the Portuguese made contact with Togo, and intermittent trade occurred. When the slave trade began to gather force in Europe in the 1500s, Togo became one of the central locations for the acquisition of slaves. The coastal tribes would capture slaves from tribes further north, bringing them to the coast to sell them to Europeans.

In the late 19th century Togo became a German protectorate, known as Togoland. Togoland would become Germany’s model holding in Africa, sustaining itself quite profitably, primarily through coffee and cacao. At the end of World War I and the fall of Germany, Togoland was split into two sections, French Togoland and British Togoland. In 1956 British Togoland would join with what became the nation of Ghana.

In 1955 French Togoland was granted autonomous status within the French union. Elections followed, and by 1960 Togoland achieved independence as the nation of Togo. The next few years were fairly tumultuous, although initially they held to democratic systems. The elected president, who had used his personal militia to target his opposition and dissolved all other parties, was assassinated in 1963. Later that year opposition parties were reinstated, and a new president was elected. A military coup overthrew him in 1967, and the Colonel who orchestrated it eventually became president in a single-party referendum.

Colonel Eyadéma held the presidency, despite a failed coup in 1986 by Togolese who had earlier fled to Ghana. In the early 1990s anti-government sentiment was growing again, and a number of opposition groups formed. The government made overtures to compromise with these groups, and a new, more democratic, Constitution was enacted in 1992. The substance of this Constitution was largely ignored, however, eventually leading to demonstrations which provoked a violent response from the government.

In the late 1990s a second attempt was made to hold multi-party elections, but these were largely viewed as corrupt by opposition parties, who boycotted them. The vast majority of seats in the government went to Eyadéma’s ruling party, and protest continued. Eyadéma died in 2005, after ruling the country for nearly 40 years, and his son was declared president by the military leaders of Togo. This was denounced by the international community, which exerted pressure on the leadership of Togo, resulting in elections. Officially these elections resulted in Eyadéma’s son Faure Gnassingbé becoming president anyway, although widespread allegations of irregularities call the results into question.

Although Togo has had a history of political violence, it is generally comparatively safe for travelers. The culture is friendly and colorful, and the beaches are widely regarded as some of the best in Africa. One of the biggest draws of Togo is the Tamberma Valley, a huge valley full of fortified villages built in the 1600s by people to defend themselves against slaving parties.

Flying directly into Togo is possible from a number of cities, but it is generally quite a bit cheaper to fly into nearby Ghana or Benin and take overland transport to Togo. It takes about three hours to get from Accra in Ghana to Lomé, and though the roads aren’t perfect, they are in decent repair.

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