Togo - Facts and Factoids

  • If you put Togo into Google you’ll get information on a Disney film about an epidemic in Alaska. But Togo is, more importantly, a country in West Africa. In the north, the land is characterized by a gently rolling savanna. This contrasts with the centre of the country, which is dominated by hills. The south of Togo is a savanna and woodland plateau, which reaches to a coastal plain with extensive lagoons and marshes.
  • Most of my visit is in the coastal area; this tiny country is only 53 kilometres wide, the road running between the sea and vast Lake Togo to the north. The country got its name when the Germans inquired where the peoples they had met on their last visit had gone and were told ‘Togodo’ - the other side of the lake. It was later shortened to Togo.
  • The official language is French.
  • The currency is the CFA (Communauté Financière d'Afrique)
  • Togo and Benin are the home of Voodoo

Who Colonised Togo?

Togo is the only African country to have been colonised by the Germans, the English and the French (in that order). Guide Noah explains that the English and Germans were hardworking (Pull, pull!). However, the French just dress stylishly and give lots of orders. If you act in this way you are being French.

Is Togo a Safe Country?

According to the FCO it is safe to travel to all parts of Togo, except the very northern border (with Burkina Faso), There have been terrorist incursions here. There are the usual warnings about travelling in Africa: scams, political unrest, violent crime, theft and pick-pocketing, especially in Lomé, along the beach and in the markets. I don't have any problems. But I don't go out on my own after dark and I've stayed in Lomé and along the coast.

Is Togo a Poor Country?

Although Togo is among the smallest countries in Africa it is reported to enjoy one of the highest standards of living on the continent. This is because of its valuable phosphate deposits and a well-developed export sector based on agricultural products such as coffeecocoa beans and peanuts. Hence it is sometimes known as The Lighthouse of West Africa, the base for the West African Economic and Monetary Union and ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), guiding the way in promoting 'peace, stability and progress'. Despite this, a whopping 80 percent of the population still live below the poverty line. Literacy rates are low and most children are forced to work the land.

(Togo is also known as The Pearl of West Africa, but so is Cote D'Ivoire.)

Getting into Togo

I’ve flown in from Abidjan, hopping over Ghana as I’ve been there before. The visa on arrival is very straightforward - I have American dollars. I’m met by Gabriele, who manages the company who’ve organised most of my trip for me, Noah my new guide and Kofi, the driver. Guide Noah is larger than life, very entertaining and informative. Kofi means born on a Friday, if you’re a boy. I was born on a Friday, but the female African name would be Afi.

I'm going to Lomé and along the coast to see the Voodoo Ceremonies

A Wedding With No Guests

I've flown into visit Lomé from Abidjan this morning and Guide Noah’s cousin is getting married today, so we gate-crash the wedding. She doesn’t seem to mind. She’s been living with the groom for some time and they have children, but it takes a long time to save up for the expected dowry.

The new husband is sporting a red Yoruba floppy-top hat and seems very nervous. Marquees are still being set up and chairs arranged. Food is arriving, but won’t be served until there are more guests. A few elegantly dressed family members are meandering. A band is singing under a blue canvas, though they’re having trouble with a screeching sound system. We're offered drinks. I'm hopeful of some gin, but it's beer or Cinzano Bianco. We all have Cinzano. I haven't drunk that for many years. Noah explains that everyone will be at least an hour late, African style, but his estimates turn to be overly optimistic and two hours later there's little sign of anyone else and absolutely no sign of food. So we leave, in search of lunch by the beach.

Lomé and ECOWAS

Lomé is the Brussels or Switzerland of West Africa. All the big bank headquarters are here and the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) administration buildings. It’s amazingly developed, first established as the German capital of Togoland in 1897, growing rapidly from 30,000 people in 1950, to roughly a million today. It's also squashed right in the south-west corner of Togo. You can see Ghana if you look down the main road. Compared to the rest of West Africa, Lomé has what appear to be some very prosperous areas and is more visitor orientated. There are also of course, large tracts of poor housing too.

As in most African capitals, there aren't that many tourist sights in town - a cathedral, a huge Independence Monument on a circular roundabout and the usual markets and museum (in the Congressional Palace). The main attractions in Lomé are the Akodésséwa Fetish Market and the Atlantic shore: very manicured stretches of lawn (mown by goats) running along beautiful golden (but eroding) beaches, with up-market open air restaurants, that serve steaks and shellfish.

Good News and Bad News from Lomé

For some reason my bags smell horribly of petrol. No-one is sure why, but the boot of our Landcruiser stinks. However, I have been upgraded to the most gorgeous boutique hotel. The mixed seafood grill, which includes lobster, served by the swimming pool, is very good value and absolutely delicious.

Tomorrow I'm off along the coast to see some Voodoo ceremonies.

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