Even among the African countries undergoing striking growth, the Republic of Togo has contributed to arbitrating various conflicts in Africa and has gained an increased presence due to its political stability. Toshio Motoya asked many questions about Togo of Afognon Kouakou Sedaminou, the chargé d’affaires ad interim who just arrived in Japan this August.
Motoya Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today.
Sedaminou Thank you for inviting me.
Motoya Steve A. D. Aklesso Bodjona, the previous head of mission from Togo, also appeared on Big Talk and came to one of my Wine Tasting and Discussion About Japan events. When did you take up your post in Japan?
Sedaminou I arrived on August 3, 2016.
Motoya Thank for attending the recent groundbreaking ceremony for APA Hotel & Resort Nishi-Shinjuku Gochome Eki Tower on September 16, so soon after your appointment.
Sedaminou I heard from my predecessor that APA Group and the Republic of Togo share a good relationship, so I definitely wanted to go to the groundbreaking ceremony.
Motoya Nishi-Shinjuku Gochome Eki Tower is one of APA Hotels’ three planned tower hotels in Shinjuku. It is the second after APA Hotel Shinjuku-Kabukicho Tower, which is already opened, and will have 20 floors with a total of 710 guest rooms. It will also have large public baths, an outdoor pool, gym, restaurant, and meeting rooms. We plan to have nine hotels with 3,141 rooms in Shinjuku – including Nishi-Shinjuku Gochome Eki Tower and other hotels on the drawing board – and will devote particular efforts to this area since our current four hotels have high occupancy rates and are very lucrative. What did you think of the groundbreaking ceremony?
Sedaminou I got a good sense of APA Group’s lofty ideals and dedication to high-quality buildings and services. There are many things of fine quality in Japan, which is extremely inspiring.
Motoya Shinjuku Station boasts the largest number of passengers in the world. In contrast to the East Gate, which has many restaurants and department stores, the West Gate area is home to office buildings so there are great business-related needs there. For Nishi-Shinjuku Gochome Eki Tower, we expect that the number of tourists will increase even more and tried to create a resort hotel-style tower aimed at both business and sightseeing. I hope you will stop by after it opens in May 2018.
Sedaminou Certainly. Hearing you talk, I can definitely tell that APA builds its hotels after detailed research including land and human trends.
Motoya I am happy to hear you say that. Incidentally, Bodjona, the previous ambassador, was only in his mid-30s. You also look quite young. How old are you?
Sedaminou I am slightly older than Bodjona.
Motoya Still, you are very young. I think you are among the youngest heads of missions to Japan. Does this large number of young ambassadors signify that your country actively provides opportunities for young people to be active?
Sedaminou Yes, the Government of Togo is working continuously to provide opportunities to all social groups to gain further experience and put their skills to the service of the nation. This applies to the business world as well as government and diplomacy.
Motoya That’s wonderful. I look forward to getting to know you, too.
Sedaminou Yes, me too.
Motoya When I interviewed Bodjona, he shared various facts about the Republic of Togo. Would you also tell me about your country?
Sedaminou Certainly. Togo is a West African country. Burkina Faso is to the north, Ghana to the west, Benin to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. It has an area of 56,600 square meters, roughly two thirds the size of Japan’s Hokkaido. The population is growing and currently totals roughly 6.7 million people. The capital city is Lomé. Before our independence on April 27, 1960, France was the suzerain state, so the official language is French. Many people practice Catholicism in addition to the local religions. Togo is an agrarian nation and 80% of the population is involved in farming. The main crops are cotton, coffee, and cacao. There is also a prosperous mining industry, including the production of phosphate and limestone.
Motoya I know it is close to the Equator, so I imagine it is a hot country. If you look at a map, Togo is a long nation stretching from north to south. Are there any places with pleasant climates?
Sedaminou In general, we have a tropical climate. But it depends on the region. The capital of Lomé is on the ocean in the southernmost part, so it has tropical temperatures. The northern part, the savanna region, has a climate with temperatures from as low as 20 to 25 to as high as 40 degrees Celsius. The central part of the country can be as cool as 18 to 22 degrees, so it is probably one of the most pleasant areas.
Motoya Is the central part at a high altitude?
Sedaminou Yes, it is a mountainous area so it has clear air and abundant greenery. I recommend going there for sightseeing. Japan has four seasons – spring, summer, fall, and winter – and rain can fall in any season. In contrast, Togo has clearly defined rainy and dry seasons. We have two dry seasons and two rainy seasons. These are further divided into strong and weak dry seasons and strong and weak and rainy seasons.
Motoya I see. Bodjona said that Lomé Airport in the capital city is a hub airport for West Africa. Is it near the urban area?
Sedaminou Lomé Airport is in the city center. ASKY Airlines, with private investments, cooperates with Ethiopian Airlines to operate flights in the African countries, so as you say Lomé Airport serves as a hub airport for West Africa. A new airport was opened on April 27, 2016. It can now handle three times as many passengers, which has strengthened this hub functionality.
Motoya How do you get from Japan to Lomé?
Sedaminou There are no direct flights, so you have to transfer through Paris, France; Dubai; or Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. ASKY Airlines has a partnership with Ethiopian Airlines and there are flights between Addis Ababa and Lomé, and through ASKY from Lomé to the other African countries.
Motoya I recently attended the Rio Olympics opening ceremony. I flew from Tokyo to Rio de Janeiro via Dubai, which took 30 hours. How long is the trip from Japan to Lomé?
Sedaminou It doesn’t take 30 hours. If you set aside one day, you will be able to transfer without rushing. The same time is required whether you stop in Paris or Addis Ababa.
Motoya The ambassador to Japan from Burkina Faso boasted that the film and television festival held in his country is extremely famous. He said it is the largest film festival in Africa and draws many people from across the world. Is that true?
Sedaminou Yes, it is. I believe he is referring to the biennial Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. It includes events and competitions for all of Africa, including the Grand Prize. Of course Togo also participates in the festival, and we also have our own cinema festival to promote films from Togo and other African countries.
Motoya Do many people transfer at Lomé Airport on their way to FESPACO in Burkina Faso?
Sedaminou They do. Lomé is also seen as one of the most important cities in West Africa because of its port. The Port of Lomé has the deepest water in Africa, enabling new-model ships to anchor in that area. All cargo for Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and other inland countries passes through the Port of Lomé. On October 15 of this year, Lomé hosted the African Union (AU) Extraordinary Summit on Security and Maritime Safety and Development in Africa. I think Lomé was chosen as the host city because of its importance in maritime transport.
Motoya How many countries are currently members of the AU?
Motoya Which month offers the best climate for sightseeing in Togo? I would definitely like to visit.
Sedaminou During the whole year. However, according to your business I would recommend July, although not because of the climate. One other reason is the Evala festival of the Kabye people, which is popular across the world. It is held in a town in northern Togo called Kara. You can also see the Epe-Ekpe festival of the Ewe people in Aného, a town on the southern coast, during September. Or yèke-yèke zan, timbam-paab…these festivals are also famous. I think the best weather can be enjoyed during the dry period, which is hot yet not very humid. The dry seasons last from December to March and August to September in southern Togo.
Motoya Those festivals sound quite interesting.
Sedaminou Yes, there are other attractions as well. The voodoo market in Lomé is very fun. You can buy bird wings; animal skulls; hide; and small, engraved amulets. It’s great place to purchase souvenirs. The price depends on the scarcity of the present. Another sightseeing spot is the slave-trading center where many slaves were kept before being shipped overseas. Kpalimé, approximately 120 kilometers northwest of Lomé, is a center of crafts by Togo artisans. Many artists and artisans working in wood carving, ceramics, and other mediums live there. If you like nature, Fazao-Malfakassa National Park in northern Togo is home to many species of plants and wild animals like water buffalo, elephants, and antelope.
Motoya I have one question about the slaves. People say that 10 to 20 million Africans were transported as slaves to North and South American continents. How did the slave dealers capture these people? I cannot imagine so many people could be kidnapped in that way. Did the slavers give influential Africans money and other goods to deliver up these slaves?
Sedaminou I think you are basically correct. Slavery was a painful aspect of our history. In Lomé there is a famous slave place called the “road of slaves.” The slave-trading center on the Island of Gorée in Senegal is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site.
Motoya That makes sense. It is physically impossible to forcibly transport large numbers of people. South Korea censures Japan, saying that it forcibly transported 200,000 Korean women from the Korean Peninsula as sex slaves during World War II. This couldn’t have happened, yet it is becoming accepted wisdom in the world. The media had already been developed at that point in time, but there are no records of news reports from the Korean Peninsula describing protests of this forced transportation. Prostitution was still legal during that era and it was very common for parents in poor environments to sell their daughters into prostitution. Records state that women who became “comfort women” in that way received decent wages and even enjoyed spending time or shopping with the soldiers in some places. They also gained freedom after paying off their debts. It is certainly true that Japan also had a sorrowful history in which some people were subjected to cruel circumstances to enable others to enjoy various benefits, yet this has been warped and spread across the world today.
Sedaminou What happened is a fact, but we cannot move forward if we cling to the past. I think it’s important to somehow make progress and create the future.
Motoya I agree entirely. I would like to ask you about Togo’s system of government. It is a presidential republic with a National Assembly. Is the term of office five years for each?
Sedaminou The president is elected according to the constitution. The term is five years. The National Assembly members are directly elected to serve terms of five years. Faure Gnassingbé, our current president, was first elected in 2005 and is currently serving his third term.
Motoya It’s interesting that there is no limit on the number of times a National Assembly member or president can be re-elected. The Japanese prime minister’s maximum term of office is currently quite short at two terms (six years) according to the regulations of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the governing party. In contrast, the term limit in the United States in two terms, totaling eight years.
Sedaminou Yes. The ruling party, of which the current Togolese president is a member, has a majority in the National Assembly. The prime minister is also elected from the ruling party.
Motoya What is the scale of your military?
Sedaminou Around 10,000 people including the army, police, gendarmerie, prefectural guards, and navy. There is selective conscription, lasting two years, for soldiers.
Motoya So you have a sufficient budget for the military. Japan has no army except the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). Togo’s population is roughly one twentieth of Japan’s, and its military is around one twentieth that of the JSDF. Maybe this standard is suitable on the global stage. The JSDF has an appropriate size but there are problems with how it is operated – militaries across the world usually work according to a “negative list” that allows them to do anything but what is prohibited on that list. The JSDF is bound by a “positive list” – it can only do what is stipulated by this list, so it cannot take actions during emergencies. To ensure Japan’s security, I think we must reform the Constitution of Japan and turn the JSDF into a military of the global standard. I am quite impressed by your precise answers. Where were you educated?
Sedaminou I was in Côte d’Ivoire until high school. Afterwards, I went to the University of Lomé where I majored in law and earned a master’s degree. Then I studied diplomacy at the École nationale d’administration.
Motoya That’s an elite track for sure. I definitely hope you will serve as a bridge between Japan and Togo in the future. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.” Please send a message to the youth of Japan.
Sedaminou Young people will build the future. The world is currently dealing with various conflicts that disrupt the peace, including terrorism. I hope that young people will have a sense of responsibility and forbearance, love and passion for their work, and a strong will to achieve world peace as they are active in various fields.
Motoya I feel the same way. APA Hotel has 40 hotels in North America as of this autumn. I will work hard according to APA’s global strategy so we can build a hotel in Togo some day. Thank you for joining me today.
Sedaminou Thank you.
Afognon Kouakou Sedaminou
Born in 1978 in Côte d’Ivoire due to his parents’ work. Received his master in public right in 2003 from the University of Lomé. Received a diploma from the National School of Administration (ENA) of Lomé, Cycle III, in Diplomacy in 2007. Entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation in 2008 and has since served in positions including observer of the ECOWAS during presidential elections of Liberia and first secretary at the Embassy of the Togolese Republic in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. He took up his current position in August 2016.