Spotlight Togo

Togo, officially known as the Republicque Togolaise, is a nation that is still transforming politically and socially. A long, sliver of a country, Togo is located in West Africa and borders Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and the Atlantic Ocean. It is unique in its history, its politics, and its diversity of both people and geography.

Togo’s length stretches it across six different geographic regions – ranging from savannas, to tropical climates, to pristine sandy beaches. Its society is comprised of over 40 different ethnic groups, the largest being Ewe, Mina, and Kabre. About half of the Togolese population practices indigenous religious beliefs, such as animism and voodoo. The official language of Togo is French, a reminder of its long history of European colonial rule, as it was known as French Togoland until its independence in 1960.

The sovereign nation of Togo has had a turbulent political history up until very recently. From 1967 to 2005 Togo was led by General Gnassingbé Eyadéma. Eyadéma ruled his country as a dictator for these four decades, even with numerous assassination attempts, rioting, and international pressure. Despite the introduction of a multiparty system in the 1990s, Eyadéma still held onto control of the political power. Throughout the 1990s Togo was besieged with violent street fighting and endless human rights abuses. Even after Eyadéma’s unexpected death in 2005 his political reign did not cease – the military appointed his son, Faure Gnassingbé as the successor.

Faure Gnassingbé has remained the president of Togo, having been twice elected in formal elections, the most recent of which was in early 2010. Some reports state that the elections have been relatively free and fair, while others imply accusations of corruption and fraud.

Togo’s economy is very dependent on commercial and subsistence agriculture, which employs 65% of the population. Many basic food items still have to be imported into the country. The GDP in 2009 was $5.643 billion with the GDP per capita at $900. The poverty rate in Togo is estimated to be about 60% of the population. Many foreign donors suspended aid during the crises of the 1990s, but today Togo is again very reliant upon this support.
The education system in Togo has been improving and very recently school fees have been abolished for primary schools, which will make it much easier for all children to have access to education. As this country slowly recovers from its past four decades of repression, there are several areas of its economy that are in need of reform. One of these areas is unemployment – especially among the Togolese youth.

Togo, like many other African countries, suffers from a crippling unemployment rate among its youth. Many young people have an incredibly difficult time entering the labor market. Even those with a university education face the same economic hurdles, which can be limited employment opportunities or a lack of business skills and training. West Africa as a region suffers heavily from youth unemployment, as it frequently leads to crime, conflict, prostitution, drug dealing, and the perpetuation of HIV and other STDs.

AFRILINK’s mission is to foster entrepreneurial skills among the college educated in order to enable change through enterprise. In Togo AFRILINK will focus on increasing the capacity of the youth by teaching them the skills they need to become financially secure. Through the YOUTH BUSINESS CLUBS and mentorships the participants will develop entrepreneurial skills that will empower them to start businesses, generate employment for others, and create sustainable change.

AFRILINK will establish a Togo-based board of directors in order to allow the program to be modified to the specific and unique needs of the community in Togo. AFRILINK encourages local ownership of the development process and acknowledges how important it is to have decisions made locally by someone who truly understands the community. The board in Togo will work in partnership with the US-based board of directors.