Susan White in Togo
January, 2006

See Summer, 2006 for an update with photos. For background and additional information see Togo Connection

This was written following my January, 2006 teaching trip to Togo and was posted to the Togo-L listserv on the 10th anniversary of this list serv which in now being hosted by yahoo. Its address is Togo-L@yahoogroups.com and it posts news stories about Togo and commentary in English and French. Sadly, much doesn't change in Togo so I compiled this list over the last several years.

1) Taxi-motos-Lomé is huge now, but for 200-400 CFA you can take a "Z" and get to where you are going quickly. Many of the drivers are well-educated and are not driving their own motorcycles. Often they turnover 2000 CFA to the owner, and after gas and repairs they keep the rest. The most comfortable rides are the shiny new Chinese motorcycles, but it's not clear that they'll last as long as the durable "Matts". Americans on official business are not supposed to take these unless they have helmets.

2) Cars are everywhere. You can buy one at the port for 1,200,000 CFA and generally these are 10 years old and are imported and resold by Lebanese traders on big car lots near the port. Many cars get stripped of tailights, mirrors, spare tires, jacks, and anything movable and these parts are sold along the street. Used refrigerators, photocopiers, printers etc are also sold "as is or tout risque". Needless to say many of these cars are in constant need of repair. With the prices of gas now at 535 CFA/ liter many prefer to leave the car at home and take taxis (if they can afford to travel at all).

3) People love their cell phones and constantly ask me to bring more. Outside of Lomé the network can be sporadic due to geographic and power outages. There are two competing networks and calls are cheapest within the same network. To sign up for service only costs about 10,000 CFA plus pay-as-you-go cards for 5,000 CFA. Most conversations are short and many people are on a "receive-only" mode or beep their friends hoping for a call back. For the first time at the University in Lome I noticed that my students had cell phones - but they all said they couldn't afford to buy calling cards. There are phone booths everywhere and this is a popular addition for small home-based shop owners. Calls are generally abolut 100 CFA per unit and if you are calling another landline, this is quite reasonable and the reception is generally good.

4) Internet cafes. Initially, one and two computer "cybers" with erratic connections sprung up in many towns, but now, at least in the South, there seem to be fewer, bigger, more efficient franchises. Generally I pay about 300 CFA for 30 minutes and this more than sufficient to check a couple of e-mail accounts and read some news. The other clients are generally more male than female and quite young. You won't find a Macintosh here.

5) PowerPoint is coming to the universities. With portable projectors, departments are obtaining projector and biochemistry colleagues are requesting that I bring textbooks that come with CDs of PowerPoint slides. Is this pedagogical progress? Students generally do not have textbooks and if they are luckly the prof will make one copy of the slides available to the students who then efficiently appoint someone to collect money and photocopy for their classmates. It's only 10 CFA per page but their parents complain about the enormous costs of photocopying even at the lycee level.

6) Convenience stores. Gas stations have uniformed attendants who pump your gas and some have convenience stores with more upscale items. After my 4 hours courses at the University and my 15 min taxi moto ride I would get off at the local Mobil station and buy either a couple of cold Diet Pepsis (lots of prep for the next day's class) or a canned beer (maybe a little grading). Some seem to have mostly liquor and others mostly cookies. And they always had change. No matter how many times I came with a 5,000 or 10,000 CFA bill, they always had change.

7) Big houses. In Lomé you see huge houses and more under construction. Someone's got money. But many local roads are still not paved and are very difficult to negociate when it rains. Lome has various "paves" nice cobblestone roads for some of the intermediate roads. The roads leading away from Lome are generally in good repair and although the toll both near Tsevie is now finished, tolls are not yet being collected.

8) Talking about politics. Yes, people do talk about politics. The President's portrait is no longer omnipresent. I was puzzled by the attitude towards the current president. Many seem to think his heart is in the right place, but various forces/people don't let him do what's right. One example - supposedly the Presdent was not in favor of the 13th of January holiday, but it happened anyhow. Unverifiable rumors about all sorts of things are circulated by reasonable, intelligent people. Criticism, without constructive suggestions, is the general tone on many political discussions.

9) Paychecks. Civil servants and teachers were promised regular pay and it hasn't happened yet. The economy remains "cash only" except for direct deposit of paychecks, If you have a bank card, the only place to use it is the bank. I even had to buy an American Airlines ticket with cash - no credit card accepted.

10) Impunité. You hear stories about various wrongdoings that go un- or lightly punished and others where the "guilty" parties are quickly imprisoned, transferred or fined. According to some, the punishment has more to do with ethnicity and petty vengence schemes than anything else. The political talk of "reconcilation is especially galling for those who were wronged during the post-election violence because none of the government/military wrong-doers have been punished or publicly reprimanded. People of all ages and stages of life ask me about coming to the US.


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