The small Togolese Republic is becoming an important trade and transport hub in West Africa. Its middle class is growing. The construction and transport industries are booming. So what is holding German investors back?
"Here in my office I have a TV set, which I brought with me from Germany. And all my customers want to have this TV!" There is a mixture of amusement and amazement in Lambert Dameto Nayante's voice. "The Togolese like German products more than anything else in the world," he insists.
Lambert Dameto Nayante is the chairman of the Togolese Chamber of Industry and Commerce, the CCI Togo. The economist studied in Germany and now travels back and forth between the two countries to establish business contacts.
Nayante wishes he would encounter a similar enthusiasm for his country in Germany. But German entrepreneurs are reserved. "As far as private investment by Europeans is concerned, Germany almost comes in last," Nayante says.
'Je ne comprend pas?!'
The German embassy is also trying to change that. It is even approaching specific companies, offering briefings and support. "Surprisingly, the main issue is the language barrier," Volker Berresheim, the German ambassador in Lome, says. "There are not that many medium-sized German companies which would feel at home in a French-speaking environment." Because of its colonial history, Togo's official language is French.
But Togo and Germany have historical ties. Until World War II, Togo was a German colony. "There is a great deal of openness on the part of the Togolese," Volker Berresheim adds. "That's also because the German colonial era is being somewhat idealized." In Togo people are still aware of this period. There is a Goethe Institute in the center of Lome, and German Studies at Lome University are in great demand.
Togo: West African trade and transport hub
Vice versa, however, most Germans would have trouble finding the West African country on the map. Nevertheless, the small republic has a great deal of potential. Togo's economy is expected to grow by 5.7 percent in 2015. And this is despite the April 15 presidential election, which introduces an element of political uncertainty.
The port of Togo's capital, Lome, is being massively upgraded and is supposed to become the deepest harbor of the continent, enabling modern mega freighters to also access it. In addition, the airport has been expanded. It is the hub of the regionally significant Asky airline, which serves all major destinations from Dakar to Yaounde.
German cement for Togolese construction boom
The construction and transport industries are booming. And one of the few German companies in the country is also profiting from it.
This week the Heidelberg Cement company is opening a new clinker plant in Tabligbo, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of the capital. The company has invested $250 million (226.2 million euros). Togo boasts substantial limestone reserves – an important raw material for cement production.
Endre Rygh of Heidelberg Cement in Africa says the trial operation is proceeding nicely. Rygh has been managing the production facilities in Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso for 10 years. The Norwegian says one of the biggest challenges in opening the new plant was training the employees. "What we did was to do a cooperation with the university and to identify the best talents from the engineers and technicians and put them into training in our plants in Africa and in Europe for about one and a half to two years, before we started up the factory," he recounts. Once the factory was up and running, they had engineers from abroad coach the local engineers. Eventually, the coaches left and the local engineers took over.
Corruption, no thanks
Endre Rygh is aware of the reservations many entrepreneurs have, but he thinks they are unfounded."What people often talk about is corruption. Corruption exists, but we are a zero-tolerance company. We operate without [any] corruption at all, and we do it without any major problems," Rygh says.
"There are laws – everything is clear," Lambert Nayante agrees. At conferences throughout Germany, he will continue to drive home the advantages of his country, so that one day his compatriots will not be acquainted with German companies through television alone.