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Togo in five points

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The West African nation of Togo, where President Faure Gnassingbe is seeking a controversial fourth term Saturday, has been ruled by the same family for more than half a century.

Here is some background about the French-speaking country of 7.8 million people.

Small country, big port
One of Africa’s smallest countries, Togo has 56 kilometres (35 miles) of Atlantic coastline and is wedged between Ghana and Benin on the continent’s western bulge.

The capital Lome has a deep-water port, new international airport and the ambition to become a regional hub.

Two coups
A German colony called Togoland, set up in 1884, was separated into French and British zones after it was seized by the World War I allies in 1914.

The French area, which covered around two-thirds of the territory, gained independence in 1960.

Its first president, Sylvanus Olympio, was killed in 1963 in a coup hatched by soldier Gnassingbe Eyadema, who had served in the French army.

Eyadema oversaw a second coup in 1967 and seized power for himself, going on to rule with an iron fist for 38 years.

Dynasty
Political and social unrest in the early 1990s claimed several hundred lives but Eyadema held onto power with military backing.

He won disputed elections in 1993 and 1998.

In 2002 the constitution was amended to scratch a limit on presidential terms and Eyadema claimed victory at polls the following year.

Immediately after his death in 2005 en route to seek medical treatment abroad, the military-installed his son, Faure Gnassingbe.

There was an international outcry and Gnassingbe stepped down, only to win elections two months later amid more deadly violence. He was re-elected in 2010 and 2015.
A constitutional change in 2019 imposed a two-term presidential limit but Gnassingbe was allowed to run for office twice more.

Poor, despite the growth
Togo suffered under 14 years of international sanctions and aid suspension imposed in 1993 to protest its poor record on democracy.

The money began to flow again in 2007 after reforms leading to greater press freedom, multi-party politics and the abolition of the death penalty.

Growth stood at 4.9 percent in 2018, according to the World Bank. Poverty has shrunk but still affects more than half of the population.

Phosphate was long Togo’s top export commodity, accounting for 40 percent of foreign earnings until the sector collapsed in a decade of bad management and corruption from 1997.

In 2010 the government set up a relaunch plan.

The country also produces cocoa, coffee, and cashew nuts.

Voodoo
Just over half the population practises voodoo, in which a single god is worshipped through more than 200 deities and convents are guarded by high priests and priestesses.

Voodoo originated in the region and spread with the slave trade to the Caribbean, Brazil and the United States.
Togo was part of the so-called “Slave Coast” from where millions of Africans were shipped abroad by Europeans from the 17th century onwards.


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