Countries, just like people are not created equal. In the world we live in, some countries are more relevant than others and some people have it easier than others. But as people are encouraged to fight for equality, PEOPLE as the citizens of countries that are “irrelevant” have to also fight for the right to exist.
Togo is my country and I have always been so proud of it even though when I try to find tangible reasons to explain that pride, I feel ashamed not to have many. I can blame that on so many things such as the youth of our country, the fact that we were not deeply educated on the accomplishments of our nation, the dictatorship we have endured the past five decades, just to name these few. But regardless I still am proud of my country, and that pride is unconditional. With pride, comes ego and although both can be interchangeably used, they sure are not the same. My ego is hurt whenever people look down on my country. My ego is hurt whenever I hear a citizen of a neighboring country tell me we shouldn’t even exist because we are so small. I have heard things like: “Togo, is that one too a country?” because as a Togolese, I have never really seen my country as being small, or less valuable because of its size. We are bigger than Israel, Belgium and Switzerland and no one dares tell them they have no right to exist. But I was wrong and I have to painfully admit that size matters. And that size is definitely not physical, but strategic. How much does Togo weighs in Africa or world politics? How important is Togo to other nations in Africa and beyond? These are questions whose answers opened my eyes: we aren’t worth much.
Asking wrong questions always lead to wrong answers and as a Togolese, I never really cared about asking questions that matter. Why should I care about what others think of us, how they relate to or interact with us? Although politically naive as a perspective for an activist who majored in International Relations, I feel ashamed for haven failed to ask that very basic question. And the answer to that question has a lot to do with everything. How we the Togolese liberate ourselves from dictatorship, how to develop an economic policy, how we survive globalization by not being at the end of the consumption chain but manage to rise at the top of the production chain, how we are not seen as mere customers others can sell their food, clothing, religion, culture, language and values to but a nation that has something to offer and/or sell to others too. All of these are interconnected and for that, I as a Togolese have to swallow the pill of embarrassment and admit that my country does not have much to offer! We are not as “blessed or “cursed” with natural resources as other African countries. We brag about some phosphate and iron but what is that in front of the Nigerian Oil, the Guinean Bauxite, the Liberian Diamond, the Nigerien Uranium or the Malian Gold when we focus on West Africa alone? Not to say that only natural resources determine the value of a nation but when it comes to Africa, unfortunately, it is the case.
The past few centuries of Africa’s history are marked with domination, exploitation and oppression. For the rest of the world, Africa is that fat cow they can all milk natural resources and cheap if not free labor from, or that dumpster where they can sell their rotten food, cheap fabric and used electronics. African countries’ worth is determined in World Politics trough how much they can offer the West (and now the East) or how much they can buy from them. It’s either you have a lot to offer, or you are big enough to consume abundantly. If not, you do not matter and no one will care if you need help because at the end of the day, countries do not help each other, they help themselves trough others. And I got a practical experience of this, when I took it upon myself to seek help for my country as we the Togolese have risen to bring down the oldest military regime on the continent. Of all the African countries that I have visited looking for support (strategic, logistic, diplomatic, financial, political), there is only one that has so far stood genuinely to help: The Gambia, a country much smaller than Togo that had recently defeated one of the most coercive regimes on the continent. The Gambians cared more than our closest neighbors in Ghana whose biggest concern is the couple of refugees they have to host, or the self-proclaimed giant of Africa Nigeria, and let’s not even mention Western nations whose leaders manage to be the most selfless dedicated humanists in their speeches.
While touring Washington D.C, I had to present the Togolese struggle in a way that will make Americans care. And fortunately, we do not have any major resources to offer and we are definitely too broke both as a nation and as individuals to afford American goods and services. Americans are therefore not going to help because of what they can gain from Togo but what they might loose if the Togolese problem remains unsolved: immigration, terrorism, drugs. We have to basically make others know that if they do not help us, our extremely young and jobless population will embark even more on boats to Europe and America, will engage even more in drug trafficking and will turn to rebel and terrorist groups to provide them with jobs because the poor governance of their country has condemned them to unemployment and poverty. “If you do not do something about the situation in Togo, some of us will come to your country and thug around, some of us will traffic drugs and some of us will join terrorist groups to fight you”. This is what makes my beloved country matter. Need I to say it hurts even more than being teased by a Nigerian as the 37th state of Nigeria or being asked by a Ghanaian why Nkrumah didn’t just annex us while he could? Trust me, self-bullying is much more devastating.
I now despise the dictatorship I have been fighting for over decade even more. Their selfish rule of Togo has deprived us not only of our basic rights as Humans and citizens but alienated us from the rest of the world. We have been reduced to that useless kid that needs to blackmail others about making their existence miserable if they don’t help him. The even more depressive part of it is the reality of the situation. It’s not a pure blackmail as indeed our youths are condemned to result to such demeaning means to survive in this wicked world if we do not end dictatorship in Togo.
As take away, my vision about Togo has broadened thanks to this struggle as I now wish to make Togo not just a country that matters for the Togolese, but a country that the world values, respects and needs.
Disillusioned Citizen of Togo