Togo: The small country with big potential

Charge d’Affaires Issifou Alaka

Issifou Alaka, the energetic and suave Charge d’Affaires at the Embassy of the Togolese Republic in Kuwait, is a veteran diplomat with wide experience in the Foreign Service of his country. The Times recently had privilege to an exclusive interview with Mr. Alaka.  Having served at several Togolese missions abroad, the urbane Charge d’Affaires has been instrumental in opening many of his country’s missions abroad, including the General Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Togo’s only full-fledged embassy in the GCC, in Kuwait.

“The choice of Kuwait to host Togo’s first GCC mission was only an extension of the strong and cordial friendship that existed between the two countries for many years. We opened our embassy here in October 2010, since then the mission has diligently worked to increase understanding between people of the two countries and improve bilateral relations on the government level. These enhanced ties have boosted political cooperation and diplomatic rapport on the international arena, where Togo and Kuwait share similar ideas and values on a number of issues,” said Mr. Alaka.

“As there are only a few hundred Togolese nationals in Kuwait, my main focus has been on improving mutual perceptions on the people to people level, and connecting businesses in the two countries through the respective Chamber of Commerce. Also, Togo is the recipient of several loans and grants from the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development that supports irrigation and infrastructure projects in my country. On behalf of my government, I would like to express my profound thanks to Kuwait for its assistance in support of development projects in Togo and for its help in facilitating the work of our embassy here.”

Since March 2011, as part of the ‘Togo Presidential Investment Advisory Council’, Togo has embarked on a strategic drive intended to boost the economy through encouraging foreign investments in the country, both on the individual and institutional plane. Lining up not one or two, but seven good reasons why Kuwaiti and other investors should examine the potential for investing in his country, Mr. Alaka said:

“First, I would like to point out to prospective investors that Togo is a democratic republic, were peace and stability has prevailed for more than 45 years. This is an important factor, given the political turmoil witnessed in some parts of Africa. Investors may have heard of, or probably even had unfavorable experiences in the past with investing in African countries. But one should not paint the whole of Africa with the same paintbrush. This would not be fair to Togo, a country that has enjoyed relative political stability for more than four decades and is committed to, democracy, transparent governance, institutional reforms and economic reconstruction. The country has created an economic environment that focuses on promotion of foreign investment and has placed emphasis on fiscal regulations that ensures security of investment capital.”

“Moreover, the country is constantly improving and enhancing its commercial rules and regulations with the aim of making Togo a business hub for the region. Investor-friendly laws have been implemented that include simplified processes for licensing busi- nesses within two days; the ability for foreigners to own and establish a 100 percent subsidiary; the right to repatriate or transfer capital and profits within the legal framework of exchange regulation.

Togo is also a signatory to several international treaties and agreements that guarantee protection and promotion of investments, as well as preferential access for its products to markets in Europe and United States.”

Highlighting another reason for investing in Togo, Mr. Alaka added, “Togo’s geographical location and its modern infrastructure of digital telecommunication networks, international airports and over 10,000km of highways, make it a strategically ideal place to start a business. The favorable nautical conditions, a natural deep-water port, a large harbor area, competitive port handling services and direct access to the Trans-West African Coastal Highway, make the Port of Lomé, in Togo’s capital, the favored ocean gateway to countries in the Sahel hinterland, as well as to neighboring countries.

The country is also aiming to invest in a railroad project that would link the sea-port with a dry port in the north at the border with Burkino Faso. In addition to granting tax and duty free incentives to firms located in its free trade zones, the Port itself offers plenty of potential for investment, especially in its modernization and enlargement projects that are designed to make it the center for trans-shipment to other countries in the region.

Togo’s membership in sub-regional organi- zation is also a plus point for investment in the country, clarified Mr. Alaka, “As the founding member, along with Nigeria, of the 15 nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and an active, involved member in other regional economic institutions like the eight-member West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), Togo is the preferred entree point to the markets of these countries and its population of 320 million people.

Also, as a member of WAEMU, with its single currency, customs union and common monetary policy, Togo is well placed to initiate and facilitate doing business with the other seven members of this bloc. Investors in Togo can be assured that their products and services will not only have direct access to this large and lucrative market, but that their investments will remain secure and protected within the legal and legislative framework of the country.”

Elaborating on the investment potential in Togo, the diplomat added, “Togo is endowed with abundant natural resources, including minerals like phosphate, limestone, bauxite and platinum, as well as a fertile soil that make agriculture and mining sectors important mainstays of the economy. Togo also has immense tourism potential and this sector is an important source of foreign exchange earnings to the economy.

The potential for investment in the tourism sector, especially in hotels and resorts, is immense as the government is looking at privatizing many of its own hotels. In addition to public private partnerships in renovating and modernizing its many hotels, resorts and parks there is also immense scope for developing the cultural sites in Togo. Sites, like Koutammakou, which is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, are a huge draw among tourists and provide an opportunity to develop specific theme based tourism packages.”

“However, the greatest attraction for investing in Togo is its large pool of qualified, skilled and competitive labor force. With a full-time education of 73 percent, Togo has one of the highest rates in Africa, that is complemented by several vocational training institutes and specialized schools that help provide a skilled workforce for the country. Besides freedom of recruitment that is guaranteed by a flexible labor code, financial assistance is provided to companies for learning, training and career development of their manpower resources.”

“The healthy macroeconomic framework in Togo, along with the government’s commitment to a policy of good governance and quality management, buttressed by its membership in OHADA, the organization that aims to harmonize business laws in Africa, based on the French commercial law, has helped regain the confidence of fund providers and made the country very conducive to investment by foreign institutions and individuals,” said Mr. Alaka. He added, “However, for Kuwaiti investors to come and invest in Togo we need to clear many of the misconceptions and stereotypes that people have about Africa in general. Africa is not one big, dark-continent, made up of jungles, wild animals, uneducated tribal populations, poverty and political turmoil. There is a whole new Africa out there and I invite my Kuwaiti brothers and sisters to come and visit Togo, not only will your image of Africa be changed forever, but you will also realize that Africa is the continent of opportunity for the 21st century.”