To keen observers of the African continent, it may have become noticeable that Togo has risen to a certain level of renown among the circles of key world players. The small West-African nation, which was under the 38-year dictatorship of Gnassingbe Eyadema until his death in 2005, is rising to the foreign policy agenda of the United States, the development agenda of China and the aid agenda of the European Union. Beyond this, Togo has become one of the states to join the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a non-permanent member. All these indicate that it may be time for Togo to occupy more prominence on the global scene. American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s visit to Togo on January the 16, 2012, is a recent illustration that Togo is mounting in significance.
Four nations were visited during Clinton’s continental visit. These were Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo and Cape Verde. Her selection of Togo among the other three African nations was an important milestone, as the visit marked the first ever high-level U.S official delegation visit to the Republic. This set Togo apart from the other three nations Clinton visited during the tour, as it was not the first time a high-level US delegations had visited any of the other three countries. However, the US is only one of the key global players that has been improving its relations with Togo in recent times.
Togo is evidently also on China’s agenda. Togo and China’s relations are largely of an economic nature. Cooperation between these two nations includes infrastructure development as well as development targeted at the Togolese education, health and military sectors. China’s economic ties with Togo are not unique to the West African state, as China has pursued an aggressive African agenda in recent times. The visit by the Chinese Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi to Togo in February 2011, was for instance, only one of many engagements that constitute the Sino-African Cooperation Forum.
The European Union (EU) is furthermore, strengthening its relations with Togo. Its aid to Togo since 2007 has been in the neighbourhood of £384.7 million. Again, there is no indication to suggest that the EU is ‘courting’ Togo alone, as EU aid to the rest of the African continent reflects a general interest in the region.
These interactions with Togo have two things in common. They all imply the acknowledgement of Togo on the global scale and secondly, they all can be used strategically as a vehicle to improve the standing of this small country.
Some may ask; why is this the time for Togo to feature more prominently in the global scene? This is firstly because Togo (alongside Morocco and South Africa from Africa) is currently occupying a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. During Togo’s first term on the Council in 1982, the global landscape was conspicuously different from today’s. The number of major global players has increased with the rise of middle-income countries, giving more opportunity for the emergence of smaller states and other actors. Additionally, the Security Council’s agenda currently has more issues that relate to the African continent than it did in 1982. Africa therefore features more prominently on the agenda. This gives Togo an opportunity to lend a voice to Africa and in turn, increase its regional relevance.
Regionally, Togo is yet to become a key player. Gnassingbe Eyadema’s autocratic rule contributed in isolating Togo from much of the continent and the world. Since his death, Togo has been emerging from its pariah status. While its relations with many of its neighbours are generally amiable, its footing on the continent remains relatively marginal. Since the 2005 Togolese presidential elections, which legitimately instated Faure Gnassimbe, the African Union (AU) has progressively improved its ties with Togo. Togo has made attempts to contribute to regional and sub-regional politics by its peace-keeping involvements on the continent. Key African player, South Africa, has had cordial but minimal relations with Togo, with neither South Africa nor Togo having diplomatic representations in their respective capitals. South Africa and Togo’s current co-occupancy of the UNSC could however, contribute in deepening their relations. Sub-regionally, Togo features more prominently and is an active member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Togo is seeking to extend this prominence to the rest of the continent. The growing interest in Togo on the global stage could stoke a Togolese interest from African states.
Opinions on the motive behind the general global interest in Togo may vary. Clinton’s visit to Togo has raised some speculation on the choice of Togo as a destination. Togo’s UNSC non-permanent seat is arguably an incentive for the US’ display of interest in Togo, which will occupy UNSC presidency in February 2012. The fact that UNSC matters were on the agenda of Clinton’s near hour-long meeting with current President Faure Gnassingbe, buttresses this viewpoint. China’s involvement in Togo has furthermore, evoked assumptions of a Chinese drive to ‘colonise’ Africa. Similarly, EU-Togolese relations have given rise to suspicion of attempts to spread its influence and maintain its global standing. However, the Obama administration may simply be strengthening ties with Togo and the rest of Africa in order to cater to the demands brought about by a changing world landscape and in particular, the rise of China, which has initiated agreements with most African states. The rise of China and other powers has demanded a reassessment of US allies and this visit could be a reflection of that.
Whatever the case may be, Togo should be sure to capitalise on this opportunity to bolster its autonomy. A good starting point would be to uphold the principle of human rights and practice good governance within the nation. This would not only help to legitimise President Faure Gnassingbe’s government, which was criticised for its undemocratic accession to power, but would also set Togo on a path to good governance and stability. In the long run, this would assist Togo in securing a more prominent global reputation. Togo would also be enabled to strengthen its autonomy by resolutely focusing on infrastructural and institutional development. President Faure Gnassingbe would do well to establish crucial partnerships with the U.S, China and the E.U that would enable his nation to address debt, poverty and underdevelopment without remaining indefinitely dependent on funding. This would in turn, allow Togo to play a more active long-term role in its sub-region, the region and perhaps, globally.
A more politically significant Togo could even provide lessons for small, reforming African nations such as Madagascar, Chad, Liberia and Cape Verde, which could all seek ways of strengthening their democracies, building their institutional capacities and expanding their regional and global relevance. A success story from Togo would therefore create promise for fledgling or small African states seeking to take advantage of the changing global landscape and augment their positions in Africa and beyond.