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Nine pirates sentenced to heavy prison terms in Togo

Sitting on a bench at the entrance of a small clinic in Lomé, Kossigan, a former taxi driver on the Lomé-Cotonou axis, laments. Since the border closures imposed more than a year ago to limit the spread of the coronavirus, he has had to convert to a parking lot attendant.

The “Covid-19 has killed our activity. Some of our colleagues are sick for lack of activities, others have returned to the village”, says this forty-something, with tears in his eyes.

Togo has been living under a state of health emergency since April 2, 2020.

And although official figures indicate a low incidence of the spread of the virus with some 13,000 recorded infections and 126 deaths in more than a year of crisis, populations remain under restrictive measures and the economy is struggling.

In this small West African country of 7.8 million inhabitants, many depend on trade within the ECOWAS free trade area (Economic Community of West African States), especially since the coasts of Togo only extend over 50 kilometers.

The economic growth rate fell to 1.8% in 2020 from an initial forecast of 5.5%, according to official figures, a direct result of the global health crisis.

“The closure of the borders, the social distancing measures and the restriction of travel (…) have dealt a severe blow to economic activity in Togo”, had already noted a study carried out in September 2020 by the World Bank which decided to release $ 70 million for the country to support its economy.

“My activities have practically died out since the closure of the land borders, because most of my clients come from outside, in particular from Côte d’Ivoire and the countries bordering Togo.“Like Benin or Ghana,” complains Ms. Ablavi, 52, a fabric seller at the Lomé market.

Sitting not far from her, Edith, 39, saleswoman of cosmetics, adds: “Our authorities have no mercy on us. The air borders have been reopened since August, but why keep the land borders closed? It is injustice.”

“To the point of death”

In Deckon, the city center with dozens of shops, banks and the headquarters of large companies, traders display the same lack of understanding.

“I could never have imagined such a situation. Everything is practically at a standstill, as most of our clients come from outside. It is really time to reopen the borders.“, says Razack, telephone salesman.

“I rather have the impression that the authorities are keeping us in this situation for reasons of their own, because the number of deaths linked to the coronavirus recorded in a year is far from the deaths linked to malaria“, denounces Evariste Govi, 43, manager of a hotel in Lomé.

The latter claims to have laid off more than half of its staff for more than six months, revenues having fallen considerably.

“At this rate, I’ll have to go out of business by July”, warns this young hotelier.

Resilient economy

Some civil society organizations have stepped up to the plate several times.

“We have repeatedly alerted the government to the situation prevailing in the country. It must quickly reopen the land borders and proceed with a significant reduction in taxes” to revive the economy, explains Emmanuel Sogadji, president of the Togo Consumers’ League.

But the Togolese government is not changing course and maintains that the health situation prevails.

“The land borders will be reopened when necessary”, said Majesty Ihou Watéba, Minister of Higher Education and responsible for the care center for Covid-19 patients in Lomé, during an interview on a private radio in May.

“Should we reopen the borders for fun or keep the current state of affairs? The situation is under control, that’s what is important”, said this member of the Scientific Council.

The authorities want to be confident and assure that the economy has shown itself to be “resilient”.

“According to the outlook for 2021, the growth of economic activity should accelerate by 4.8%”, reassured on April 15 on public television, the Minister of Economy and Finance, Sani Yaya. But he didn’t say whether that will be done with the borders open or … always closed.

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