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Anti-German Sentiment Whipped up in Togo

Cordula Denninghof (jen)
May 3, 2005

Deutsche Welle's Cordula Denninghof spoke with the director of the Goethe Haus in Lome, Togo, after the German cultural center was burned down amid violent political unrest.

Armed men stormed into the center and burned the main libraryImage: dpa

Germany once again called for an end to the "anti-German agitation" in Togo on Monday. A speaker for the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin said the German government would be watching the situation in Lomé "with great attention and care."

Faure Gnassingbe, neuer Machthaber Togos
Faure GnassingbeImage: AP

Togo, once a German colony, has experienced widespread unrest since its presidential election on April 24. Opposition activists have rejected the victory of the ruling candidate, Faure Gnassingbe (photo) and the country has been in political upheaval since the former ruler and Faure's father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, died in February. He and his army commanders ran the country for nearly 40 years.

Goethe Institut in Togo verwüstet
Armed men stormed into the center and burned the main libraryImage: dpa

In what appeared to be related violence, armed young locals set the Goethe Institute in Lome ablaze on Friday, destroying it almost completely. Following the election, the Togolese government had criticized the German Embassy, claiming it supported the opposition. Togo's former interior minister, who lost his job after calling for the election to be delayed, had sought refuge at the German embassy.

Deutsche Welle's Cordula Denninghoff discussed the background of the rioting with Herwig Kempf, director of the Goethe Institute.

DW: How tense is the situation in [Lome] and around your building at the moment?

HK: All the stores are closed. People are holed up in their houses but you notice a tension that could break out into unrest at any moment.

DW: It appears that there has been anti-German sentiment in Togo for days now. Why?

HK: I have to say that this anti-German sentiment has really only been evident for the past few days. Before that, Togo was -- or the Togolese were -- in general very, very friendly toward Germany. They have a positive view of the German colonial times and say Germans have done a lot for the country. The anti-German mood is coming from a very specific quarter. To be precise, from part of the ruling clique, if I do say so.

DW: Concretely, what are the motives behind these attacks. Why was Goethe Institute targeted and destroyed?

HK: I believe they heard that a minister who had resigned from his job was probably being housed by an EU embassy. They say it was the German embassy. Since then, some adherents of the ruling powers have fomented anti-German sentiment. And in the past few days there were rumors that a German facility would be attacked. And they got the Goethe Institute.

DW: The man you are alluding to is the Togolese Interior Minister Francois Boko. He was let go shortly before the election last Sunday. Then he took refuge in an embassy. What is his role in the current conflict?

HK: He warned people even before the election. He said it would be best if the election were delayed. That's a statement he made on the Thursday night before the Friday election. Of course, the statement was rebuffed. It wasn't accepted. And then everyone went to the ballots. And since then, Boko has been trying to make it clear that it is better to create a government of national unity than to allow antagonisms to erupt, which now have actually already erupted.

DW: Does this imply the Germans are cooperating with the opposition?

HK: People think Boko is negotiating from within the embassy and is pulling certain strings. That's why the government has an anti-German attitude. But I have to repeat: It's not the people, but a small segment of those in power.

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