Sunday, March 13, 2005

The former 'Switzerland of Africa' searches for a turning point

The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt offers her musings on Togo's attempts to get out of the shadow of the late strongman Gnassingbé Eyadéma.

While neighbors Ghana and Nigeria languished in economic crises, Togo was doing quite well.

Eyadema had his faults, but he left the commanding heights of the economy strictly alone. "The Switzerland of Africa!" claimed his officials with enthusiasm, writes Blunt. Everywhere there was French food, and if the government had anything to do with it, champagne. The businesswomen in the market got so rich they drove Mercedes, Togo's famous Nana Benz.

A quarter century later, Nigeria's slowly moving in the right direction and Ghana is considered a model African country. Togo's capital, by contrast, is dilapidated and dusty. The Nana Benz were complaining loud and long, and no one complains longer or louder than a West African market woman with a grievance. There were no customers any more, no money. The printed cloth is still piled high in the market. Duty free whisky is still less than half the price it is in Scotland, but no one is buying.

But the upcoming elections may signal a chance to free the country from the control of Eyadéma and his clan. But only if they reject (and are allowed to reject) his son, Gnassingbé II, at the polls.


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