The Republic of Togo became independent in 1960 after being a colony of Germany and France, and has developed as one of most stable countries in West Africa. Togo is working to further propel agriculture, its major industry up until now, and also to promote tourism via its own hub airport. Toshio Motoya spoke with Chargé d’Affaires a.i. to Japan Steve A. D. Aklesso Bodjona about Togo’s present circumstances and future prospects.
Motoya Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. Many Japanese people don’t know very much about the Republic of Togo. I invited you to this dialogue because I hope you will teach many people about your country.
Bodjona Thank you very much. I am extremely grateful to have this opportunity.
Motoya The ambassador of Burkina Faso, your neighboring country, has also appeared on Big Talk, and the ambassador of your neighbor Ghana has come to my wine gathering. To start, where in Africa is Togo located?
Bodjona Sure. Togo is in West Africa. It borders Burkina Faso to the north, Ghana to the west, and Benin to the East. It touches the Atlantic Ocean in the south. Togo is a member of the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), which is comprised of 15 countries. It has an area of roughly 56,600 square meters and a population of about 6.6 million people. Lomé is the capital. In Togo there are approximately 45 tribes including the Ewe and Kabye. The religions practiced include Christianity (45%), Islam (18%), other traditional religions, Buddhism, etc.
Motoya Among the Christians, are there more Catholics or Protestants?
Bodjona There are more Catholics, perhaps because France was the suzerain state during the colonial period. French is still the official language. However, historically we also have strong ties with Germany. Togo became “Togoland,” a German territory, via the Berlin Conference of 1884. Togo then became a French mandate when Germany lost World War I.
Motoya Was there chaos when the suzerain state was changed?
Bodjona I heard there was not very much disorder. Of course, the language learned in school changed from German to French, and the national system changed too.
Motoya What are Togo’s major industries?
Bodjona Agriculture is the most important industry. Sixty percent of the citizens are involved in agriculture, growing crops such as raw cotton, coffee, cocoa, cassava (tapioca), yams, and corn.
Motoya It sounds like Togo’s geographical features and climate are suited to agriculture. Is it very hot?
Bodjona There is moderate heat, and Togo is ideal for agriculture. Our harvests are sufficient so we export some products to countries like Niger and Mali. There is great demand for rice, but we cannot produce enough domestically and must import it.
Motoya Is Togo not suitable for growing rice? Since it is hot, I assumed you could grow two or three crops per year.
Bodjona Moderate amounts of water are required for rice cultivation, and this is difficult to secure in Togo. Japan has four seasons and moderate rain falls throughout the year, but Togo has clearly defined dry and rainy seasons. It’s either raining all the time or totally dry. The government is currently making efforts to boost rice productivity such as enhancing irrigation facilities.
Motoya I see. What about Togo’s mineral resources?
Bodjona We don’t have abundant mineral resources, but minerals are mined in an amount that supports a portion of the nation’s economic foundation. We have a lot of rock phosphate, marble, and limestone. We also mine small amounts of iron, gold, and manganese.
Motoya I have heard that Burkina Faso is very famous for the biennial Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), and that people involved in the film industry from across the world go there during the festival. Does Togo collaborate to put on events like that with its neighboring countries?
Bodjona Yes, FESPACO is an event that involves all of West Africa, and Togo also participates. Togo holds its own film festivals and other cultural events, but they are not as well known as Burkina Faso’s. We also put on traditional events such as a festival for African gods (féstivité des divinités noires) from across Africa at the end of the year in Aného, the former capital. Tourists from Brazil, Haiti, and other countries around the world come to take part.
Motoya Where is the central airport for West Africa?
Bodjona I think that would be Lomé Airport in Togo. ASKY Airlines, which flies to the West African countries, is based there. It functions as a hub airport from which you can fly throughout Africa.
Motoya Having a hub airport is a major advantage for tourism. Is Togo devoting efforts to promoting sightseeing?
Bodjona Yes – the government believes we have various sightseeing resources and great potential, so it is working to promote tourism. Today there is only one UNESCO World Heritage Site in Togo, called “Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba.” I think more tourists would come if other sightseeing attractions were designated as World Heritage…
Motoya What is Koutammakou like?
Bodjona Koutammakou is famous for its tower-shaped houses made of mud, called “takienta.” These buildings also have religious significance. The custom from long ago is to enter these homes backwards, starting with your feet first. People say this is to guard against attacks from wild animals or other tribes.
Motoya What other sightseeing spots should people visit?
Bodjona We are building national parks such as Fazao Mafakassa National Park. There, you can see many species of plants and wild animals like water buffalos, elephants, and antelope. There are hotels at Fazao Mafakassa National Park where you can relax in the midst of nature.
Motoya In the past I visited South Africa at the invitation of the South African ambassador to Japan, and went to a lodge owned by the ambassador’s friend. We took a private airplane from the airport to the ambassador’s own airfield, and then took the helicopter waiting there to the lodge. The lodge was surrounded by nature with all sorts of animals, so it was very fun. Being able to encounter animals is an extremely important tourism resource. Perhaps you could also develop safaris?
Bodjona Yes; you can play golf in the capital city of Lomé. We offer also safari tours in our park but it’s not a big safari like in some countries. Tourists also love them. We have plenty of space, so I think we will carry out development in the direction you mention.
Motoya I have visited 81 countries across the world. In some developing countries there is no water service or wells, so people have to spend many hours each day just to draw water. One third of their labor hours are taken up in this way, which means the GDP won’t grow. The creation of social infrastructure is exceedingly important. What kind of infrastructure improvement is happening in Togo?
Bodjona We can’t say the water-related infrastructure is 100%, and some people in Togo still have to draw water. The government is working very hard to resolve this issue, including digging wells. Japan is one of the most important partners on this project.
Motoya Just like social infrastructure, education is essential for nation building. What is the percentage of school attendance?
Bodjona The government has devoted efforts to this end, and the attendance rate for elementary school is 75%. Elementary school was made totally free of charge in 2008, and free lunches are provided to make it easier for parents to send their children to school. We are also continually increasing the number of schools.
Motoya If education is enhanced, the nation will definitely develop in an affluent way. I have great expectations regarding Togo’s future.
Bodjona I think so, too.
Motoya How long has it been since you became the chargé d’affaires?
Bodjona I first received Japanese-language training in Osaka for eight months, and then temporarily returned to Togo for four months. Five years have passed since I was stationed in Japan as the chargé d’affaires a.i. after that.
Motoya Where were you educated?
Bodjona I completed a master’s course at the University of Lomé’s Faculty of Law, and then studied diplomacy at the École nationale d’administration (Togo). I entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after that. After, as I mentioned before I studied Japanese at the Japan Foundation Japanese-Language Institute, Kansai.
Motoya Did you originally wish to become a diplomat?
Bodjona I became interested in diplomacy during my university studies. After joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs I did work related to Japan and wanted to go to Japan. I was able to visit Japan thanks to a Japanese-language training proposal from the Japanese government.
Motoya I suspect you were chosen to come to Japan because of your great skills. Over the past five years, I’m sure you’ve visited locations other than Osaka and Tokyo…
Bodjona I’ve been to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Wakayama, Kobe, Kyoto, Sendai, and Nagoya, among others. I would like to visit Hokkaido and Okinawa in the future.
Motoya There are APA Hotels in all of the locations you just mentioned (laughs). What is your impression of Japan?
Bodjona No matter where I go, I sense the Japanese spirit of hospitality. Japanese people strongly desire to learn about other cultures, and they also have deep affection for their own Japanese culture. For a country to develop, the people must feel love for their nation. I think that is the source of Japan’s strength.
Motoya Thank you very much. The ambassadors to Japan from many different nations say that Japan is a wonderful country. However, many Japanese people don’t think well of Japan and insist on a masochistic way of thinking. I always write about these topics in my essays in Apple Town, this monthly magazine. Have you read them?
Bodjona Yes, I read them.
Motoya The first two locations on the list of towns you have visited were Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Did you go there because they were the targets of the atomic bombs?
Bodjona Yes. When I was studying in Osaka, I wanted to learn more about the history of the atomic bombs so I went there on my own. An atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and I am also a Christian, and I wanted to learn more about the history of Christianity in Japan.
Motoya I see. It’s true that Christianity has a long history in Nagasaki, and Urakami Cathedral is the main Catholic church in Japan. The bomb was exploded right over Urakami Cathedral. I think the United States did not hesitate to drop this bomb on the Japanese headquarters of Catholicism because it was a Protestant country. There were reasons for bombing Hiroshima, such as its many military facilities and close location to Kure, a naval port. However, I feel like religion must be the reason for bombing Nagasaki, which had no army facilities.
Bodjona Countless disputes stemming from religion have taken place throughout world history. This applies both to Christianity and Islam.
Motoya It does seem that the conflict between the Sunni and Shia denominations of Islam grows fiercer every year. I believe that Japan must break the unavoidable American “curse” of the atomic bombs in order to build a truly friendly Japan-U.S. relationship. The U.S. knew that Japan wanted to end the war, but it ignored this, completed the bombs, and dropped them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was in order to restrain the Soviet Union, decrease Comintern’s impetus towards communizing the world, and change World War II from a fierce fight into a cold war. Japan should fully recognize these reasons behind why the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs. The U.S. assumed that it would have to portray Japan as a bad country in order to insist that it had taken reasonable actions and banish its feelings of guilt. That’s why the Tokyo Trials historical viewpoint, including the Nanking Massacre story claimed by China, has been imprinted on the Japanese people, and the U.S. also gave tactic consent to the comfort women story spread by South Korea. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war is an ideal opportunity to break this course. He should declare that Japan accepts the true reasons for dropping the atomic bombs and turn the Japan-U.S. relationship towards a new stage. Very few people in Japan would voice that opinion (laughs).
Bodjona I think the Japanese people’s way of dealing with past tragedies is one of its excellent qualities. Rather than being victims and asking the perpetrators to take responsibility, Japanese people have transformed their experiences being exposed to radiation into the desire to tell the world this must not happen again. The world would be more peaceful if other countries had the same stance.
Motoya I agree entirely. All countries have suffered injury during their histories. Togo was colonized by Germany and France, and before that it has an older history of the slave trade. Regardless of the historical facts they can criticize other nations about, many countries should accept what happened in the past and carry out future-oriented diplomacy. Japan invested funds, built infrastructure, and took other measures to modernize the Korean Peninsula and make it “Japanized” through annexation – not colonization – which led to a larger population and longer life spans. Yet it constantly complains about its past with Japan.
Bodjona Throughout history, all countries have done good and bad things at times. In my opinion, we cannot progress towards the future if we do not accept and forgive all of these things.
Motoya That’s right.
Bodjona Perhaps they are using a strategy to focus on single incidents from history, such as the atomic bombs and colonization, and make them into diplomatic issues.
Motoya Japan is being tortured by several countries via this strategy, which is very troublesome.
Bodjona I can understand that.
Motoya To change the topic, I read your poetry collection that was published in 2013, entitled Rêverie. Both this book and Voile d’espoir, which came out the year before, are collections of your poems written in Japanese. You have wonderful sensibilities. Did you start writing poetry after you came to Japan?
Bodjona I have written poetry since high school. I started writing in Japanese when I was studying Japanese in Osaka.
Motoya “Mon beau pays,” the first poem in Rêverie, is about your home country of Togo. However, when I read it for the first time I thought you were talking about Japan.
Bodjona I wrote about my native country, but I was aware that people from other countries would think of their own nations when reading it. In my other poems as well, I write about what I have felt in Japanese. When I began writing poetry, I realized that I love Japan.
Motoya Through our talk today and by reading your poems, I feel that you have a Japanese spirit.
Bodjona Perhaps I have become this way by living in Japan and seeing and hearing various things.
Motoya Why did you title your book Rêverie?
Bodjona The themes of this collection are peace and love. I know these are difficult to accomplish, but I want to somehow achieve these ideals. I chose this title to share this dream with my readers.
Motoya I don’t write poems, but I write my short “APA Words to Live By” about my way of living in Apple Town each month. Some of these contain the words of Sun Tzu, whom I have studied, but the majority are my original work.
Bodjona You definitely have a life philosophy, which is wonderful.
Motoya Thank you very much. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
Bodjona I am young, myself…
Motoya Yes, you’re only 32. That is quite young!
Bodjona I will share a message of peace. Various conflicts are taking place in the world, and the power of youth is needed to construct a better world. Mutual understanding is the most important thing. I hope young people will not be bound by national borders. This will change their awareness, allowing them to get a real sense of the distance between people. This mutual understanding will change the present circumstances.
Motoya That is a fantastic message. I think your talents are proof that Togo has an excellent educational system.
Bodjona It’s true that Togo’s educational system is fairly unique.
Motoya After all, educating young people creates national power. That’s what Togo is accomplishing. Thank you for joining me today.
Steve A. D. Aklesso Bodjona
Born in 1982. After completing a course at the University of Lomé’s Faculty of Law, he graduated from the École nationale d’administration (Togo) (diplomatic option). He entered the Republic of Togo’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and studied Japanese at the Japan Foundation Japanese-Language Institute, Kansai from 2009 to 2010. He has served as the chargé d’affaires a.i. since the Embassy of the Republic of Togo was opened in October 2010.