Five Decades of Failure in Togo Under the Gnassingbé Dynasty Cannot Be Easily Forgotten or Ignored

The Gnassingbé family has held power in Togo since 1967. During that period they have managed to make Togo one of the poorest and most miserable countries in the world. In recent years — due in large part to the protests which began in 2017 — this dynasty has come under increasing international scrutiny and has been scrambling to try to improve its image. This has included holding local elections for the first time in 30 years in 2019. The government also paid $1,500 an hour to a firm in D.C. to improve the government’s tainted international image.

The attempts that the regime in Togo has made to improve its image has not been enough to mask the reality of five decades of failed governance from a family which forced its way into power in Togo. Médard Ametepe explained: “The country’s most vital sectors of health and education have never been the regime’s priority and are being left behind in favor of the military to maintain power. Of all the wealth that Togo produces, barely 02% goes to health and education. As a result, for years, these different social sectors plagued by demands for better living and working conditions have always remained abandoned.”

In 2018, doctors in Togo engaged in a strike over the poor conditions in Togo. In one instance, a surgeon was forced to use the light from a cellphone to conduct brain surgery on a patient because the power in the hospital had shut off. There are only four doctors per 10,000 residents of Lomé, Togo’s capital city. The international standard calls for 20. There are five often broken CT scanners for a city of 837,000; one nurse for every 13 beds at the central hospital, when experts recommend a ratio of one to four. Of the conditions in the hospitals in Togo, the New York Times reported:

Mothers with babies in the ward were imploring friends and family for loans to buy basic medical supplies from pharmacies around Lomé, the capital, because items like drugs, saline solution, latex gloves and packets of clean water were not available at Sylvanus Olympio University Teaching Hospital.

Education has been no different. Médard Ametepe explains that in the interior of the country children are made to learn in schools which are surrounded by straw walls and when it rains teachers are forced to send the children home because these straw structures offer little protection from the rain. There are also still parts of the country where children are made to use bricks and concrete blocks as benches.

Despite these conditions, the government of Togo now boasts about being one of the leading reformers in Africa. The same government also boasts of a decline in poverty and unemployment. Last year, I wrote about the “success model” which the government of Togo was boasting about. This is a regime that boasts a great deal about doing very little. For instance, the government of Togo treats the inauguration of a new water fountain as such a bold achievement that it requires a ceremony, with red carpet and all.

In 2018, Togo managed to have the largest gain in happiness among its citizens, which is more so a reflection of how unhappy the people of Togo were than how much progress the government of Togo has made in addressing the needs of its people. NPR reported: “Some of the vital statistics from Togo would seem to indicate a country where happiness is on an upswing. Infant mortality dropped steadily from 2009 to 2016, according to UNICEF data. And UNESCO data says more children in 2015 completed primary school compared to 2010.” Given the magnitude of challenges that still confront Togo, this progress is very mild at best. Despite these mild “improvements”, the government of Togo is asking its citizens and the international community to overlook all of the corruption, nepotism, the suppression of rights, the intimidation, the arrests, the abuse, the torture, and the murder that the Gnassingbé family dynasty has engaged in for the last five decades. The people of Togo continue to struggle and suffer as the government there celebrates its own mediocrity.

Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.

Dwayne Wong (Omowale) is a Guyanese born Pan-Africanist, author, and law student.