Germany is taking a renewed interest in Togo, a former colony. Post-independence ties cooled in the 1990s amid concern over Togolese authoritarian rule, but have improved. A German trade delegation visit is imminent.
Togolese Foreign Minister Robert Dussey greets his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin in 2014
When German lawmakers and business representatives visit Togo in the coming weeks, they may well encounter reminders of Germany's history as a European colonial power. Togo was a protectorate of the German Empire from 1884 to 1914 and surviving works of German architecture - such as the Governor's Palace in the capital Lome - testify to Berlin's rule over the West African territory more than a century ago.
Germany regarded Togo as a "model colony" mainly because the local population was a lucrative source of forced labor and tax revenue. But, strangely, there is little present-day criticism of the former German colonial masters in Lome.
Edem Attiogbe, director of the Goethe Institute in Lome, believes he knows why the positive image of the colonialists persists. "The German colonial era ended a long time ago and most of those who discuss such matters don't know much about it - apart from the positive prejudices," he said. The Germans were only in the country for 30 years and memories of their occupying presence will have faded during the French rule that followed it.
A new chapter in German-Togolese relations began when the African country gained independence in 1960. During late 1970s and 1980s, West Germany - this was before German unification in 1990 - cultivated close ties with Togo.
Togolese men, in traditional dress, are recruited into the army in German-controlled Togoland (around 1914)
The friendship between Togo's autocratic President Gnassingbe Eyadema and the conservative Bavarian premier Franz Josef Strauss made Togo a cornerstone in German-Africa policy. Strauss, as the leader of one of West Germany's 11 federal states, enjoyed making forays into the foreign policy arena. An adviser to Strauss once referred to the former German colony as a "model for Africa."
But the luxurious state banquets and antelope hunts that accompanied the visits by the Bavarian leader to Togo stirred controversy in the 1980s. So, too, did his off-the-cuff remarks. "We blacks must stick together," he once said jokingly. Even in those days, the jest seemed jarringly out of place.
A new beginning?
In the early 90s, relations between Germany and Togo deteriorated. Even Eyadema's most loyal supporters in Germany began to keep their distance amid reports of serious human rights violations and the lack of democracy under his authoritarian rule.
German interest in the African country only began to reawaken after tentative economic and political reforms were introduced under President Faure Gnassingbe, who came to power in 2005. Germany resumed development aid to Togo in 2012 after a break of almost 20 years. German Development Minister Gerd Müller visited Togo at the beginning of this year. However, Germany's business sector is still hesistating. That's why the delegation about to travel to Togo has adopted the slogan "Printemps de Cooperation" or "Spring Cooperation."
The delegation wants to rejuvenate ties between Togo and Germany, a move that is being greeted enthusiastically by the West African nation. On a visit to Germany, Togo's foreign minister, Robert Dussey, said German investors were welcome in Togo. "You will not regret it," he said.
Interest in German language
The economic climate would appear favorable for greater German investment in Togo. The Togolese economy has expanded steadily over the last few years and is expected to post a growth figure of 4.9 percent in 2016, according to the World Bank.
Key infrastructure projects such as the expansion of the deep-sea port and the airport in Lome are progressing well, and several German companies have been able to successfully position themselves in the Togolese market.
Meanwhile, young Togolese are showing more interest in Germany and the German language than ever before, according to Edem Attiogbe, director of the Goethe Institute in Lome. "Over the years we've seen an increase in the number of students taking our courses," he said. Enrollments have now risen to 1600 a year. Many would like to study in Germany; others need a command of the German language so they can join family members already living in Germany.
Attiogbe sees the upcoming visit by the delegation of German lawmakers and business representatives as a great opportunity. "I believe it's a sign that we can look optimistically to the future," he said.